5 Areas You Can Work on Today to Improve Your Relationship

Do you have a good relationship? What if I told you there are steps you can take to make it great?

Consider this scenario: You are sipping a latte across from your partner. She turns to you and says, “For starters, let’s end things. Seriously, it’s not you, it’s me”. She looks at you from across the seemingly shrinking table at Starbucks.

You should have known after the last couple of weeks of scattered short text messages, not making much time for you and the lack of intimacy. Now, you are sitting in a very public place with plenty of escape routes being told this is the end.

You knew there might be a little fall out from the Comic-Con cosplay incident, but nothing this serious. She leaves you there thinking about all that has led up to this and what you could have done better.

Working with people for a living has exposed me to a lot. Aside from pretty much every strain of the flu virus I have contracted (cough), I’ve had the treat to see common threads of good relationships.

What follows are some of the more significant areas I feel will help to enhance your relationship today.

Area 1: Optimize your communication with your partner

This didn’t make the top of the list by happenstance. More than any other issue that torpedos a good relationship, poor communication is number one. One of the best things you can do to improve communication immediately is to talk to your partner about how they want to be talked to.

Don’t assume that because you got some advice about how to do things from some random blog (except this one), you have it all figured out. Talk to your partner about how they like to be praised, questioned, and approached about sensitive subjects. Learn to speak their language to help you avoid miscommunication.

Area 2: Find a better balance between your work and personal life

One of my favorite activities that I do with the people I work with is the tombstone exercise. As morbid as this sounds, it works well to help people put their lives into focus.

Take a second here. What would be written on your tombstone if you were to die tomorrow? Once you get that down, consider what you would like to be printed on your tombstone if you die 100 years from now, thanks to advancements in longevity science? Here’s hoping!

This exercise helps identify what changes you need to make today in order to reflect how you want to be remembered. For example, today it might say “spent too much time working, not enough time on relationships”. If this isn’t how you want to be remembered, begin taking steps towards your ideal tombstone. What are the actions you can take today to get you where you want to go?

Area 3: Stay Interesting

This is one of my favorite areas to work on with people! You would be blown away by the number of adults I have worked with that don’t have interest or hobbies (BTW, parenting is not a hobby).

Even more maddening, people don’t take vacations anymore. Instead, people report on what I call faux-fun. When I ask, “What do you enjoy doing with your free time?” I often get the answer, “watching Netflix with my significant other.” I have to wonder how this person defines fun.

There is a big difference between being alive and living your life to its fullest extent. With the way virtual experiences have developed over the last couple of decades, the sense of living has been warped a bit. People can engage online in a way that feels like you are accomplishing something when you aren’t doing much at all.

Make it a point to come up with a hobby or two that you can engage in as an individual and as a couple. This might mean dusting off an activity that you haven’t enjoyed since you met your partner or discovering something entirely new. I invite you to get away from your virtual escape and actually have fun.

Area 4: Do Not Neglect Friendships

One of the biggest traps I see people fall into, including myself, when they get into long-term relationships is thinking this person will be the all-encompassing answer to their life.

No one person can be all the hopes, dreams, and provide everything that you will need in a relationship. People that think otherwise are just setting themselves up for disappointment. Putting all of your hopes and dreams into one individual is a lot of pressure to put on a person. This is why it is so important to have a healthy social circle that will allow you to spread your needs around.

A healthy social circle can mean different things to different people, and the quality of the relationships is much more important than the number of people you hang out with. Further, healthy relationships tend to encompass two well defined individual personas that come together into a couple’s persona.

It is good to have lives outside of your relationship, especially when you enjoy things that you might not be able to enjoy with your significant other.

As an example, I love all things horror. I indulge in a variety of different formats daily, from horror podcasts and books to short movies on YouTube. My significant other can not stand being frightened, and I have seen her jump out of her skin during commercials for horror movies.

Luckily I found a fun group of people on MeetUp that engage in the horror genre regularly, and I don’t have to go to the movies by myself.

Making time for good friends is an essential part of a solid relationship, give someone a call today that you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Area 5: Family Matters

Show of hands, how many of you married folks were surprised to find out what “Welcome to the family” actually meant as they got to know their partner?

It is essential to have clear and consistent communication about family and the impact that members of that family can have on a relationship. I have seen so many relationships torpedoed by an in-law or uncle that was not well communicated about before marriage.

The goal here is to get everyone on the same page about family members that might be considered difficult or quirky. While it might seem like a fun game to allow your significant other to find out on their own the blushingly inappropriate jokes your uncle likes to tell in public, it’s much better to give a heads-up.

I feel like this conversation is easy to overlook with people tending toward a passive approach that involves a lot of trial and error. My suggestion here is to really take some time to both talk about your family and show interest in your significant other’s relatives. Getting to know this side of your partner can really go a long way in fostering a healthy relationship.

Relationships are work. These areas above are good focuses to begin strengthening that bond. I know there is more out there, and if you’ve taken the time to read this far, I would love to hear anything that has worked for you that other readers can learn from. Feel free to comment on this post.

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Hi, I'm Matt, and I'm a counselor who helps people achieve optimal health. I currently offer counseling services here at Chicago Compass Counseling and specialize in eSports and video game addiction. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.