By Ted Kewin and Denise Jaden, author of Never Enough
In the beginning, relationships are really quite simple, aren’t they? You like someone, you go on a date, you date some more, and eventually you decide to commit. At this point you and your mate have a common goal: to make it work. You’re both excited about your future together.
Skip ahead 50 years and look at the couples who finish each other’s sentences and help each other through little everyday tasks like getting up from a chair or making dinner. Anyone on the outside can see that they add to one another’s lives. They’re living a simple and happy life together. So what happens in the middle? Why do relationships have to get so complicated?
Here are some keys we’ve found to help make things simple again.
Tune in. When you’re dating, you think you’re listening, but are you really? Or are you just stuck in your way of thinking while your mate is stuck in his or hers? Make it a habit to repeat back what you think the other person has just said to you. You’ll be surprised the amount of times that you’re wrong! Eventually you can learn to understand each other better, and, yes, even finish each other’s sentences!
Win-win. A lot of people use the word “compromise,” but should you always feel like you’re sacrificing? In a relationship, rather than looking for reasons why you should get your own way, try to look for ways that you can also make it a winning situation for your mate. If your focus is wrong, your relationship can easily become a self-serving factory, rather than a safe place where you can both grow as people. Here’s a tool you can try using to find the win-win in your situation: Have your mate rate from 1-10 the importance of the thing that they want, and then you do the same. Rather than telling your mate why he or she doesn’t need what they want, talk through why what you want is important to you, and how you might make it less important.
Mine for gold. Give your mate the benefit of the doubt. Remember that there was once something that attracted you to this person. They can’t be all bad! Think of a time when you were in the simple stage, when you saw the good in this person’s heart. Focus on this instead of the faults you might see before you.
We’re different. Remember that men and women often don’t think the same. A woman wants to be everything to her man. She wants to be the person that fulfills him and makes him feel alive. The thing is, a man will feel alive often only by his own ambitions and conquering. It’s nothing personal toward his mate if he’s unfulfilled, but perhaps she can help him find what he’s lacking.
Keep a united front. Never argue publicly, or even in front of close friends. Keep your fights to yourselves. Remember that others will only remember the fight and the faults that they see. They likely won’t be around when you work things out, and may have trouble forgiving either you or your mate. Also included in this point: Curb the urge to correct your mate in public. The people you’re with may not notice, but your mate will. One simple correction could negate all the work you’ve been putting in to making your mate feel safe with you.
Do the right thing. Say you’re sorry when you’re wrong. Do you have a problem admitting when you’re wrong? When was the last time you admitted it? Realize that if it’s been a while, this may be your problem and not your mate’s. Everyone is at fault sometime, and humility, from both parties, is essential to keep a relationship strong.
Let go. Isolate the problem you’re dealing with and don’t bring up past arguments or faults. Let go of past offenses. Having more ammo is not the point of a relationship. Getting along and supporting one another is.
Right or happy? Do you think people who have been married 50 years just naturally agree on everything? They don’t. Many of them have just learned to stop sweating the small stuff. They can allow their mate to be right in areas they may not agree with, because they’ve realized it’s not worth worrying about.
Invest. Book a weekly date night. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but try to make it a time that encourages having fun together and getting to know one another better. Yearly retreats to learn relational skills are also a great idea.
Relationships don’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to take you 50 years to make yours better. Wouldn’t you like to be the only couple at the table who is still on their first marriage? Or the couple people look at and wonder, “Why is their relationship so easy?”
Ted Kewin and Denise Jaden have been married for over 18 years—a few of them even happy ones! For many years they collaborated on running a natural bodybuilding federation in their home province of British Columbia, Canada, and led a youth group together at their church. Ted works as a strength coach and lifestyle consultant. Denise is the author of two young adult novels, Never Enough and Losing Faith.