Developing Successful Relationship Strategies
What is your strategy for relationship success? I truthfully ask this question with a sense of irony because the vast majority of people would say, my strategy for what now? Here’s one of the bottom lines for life, successful people have strategies. There are different areas for success, it’s not just finances or work-related. People seek success in health and fitness or just feeling better about themselves. Feeling comfortable in your own skin is a point of major success that is completely overlooked and there are specific methods and strategies for success in that area just like there are methods and strategies for success in any area.
I hypothesize that we don’t think about relationships in this context because of how much emotion is involved – and for the most part, being rational and methodical can’t co-exist with strong emotions when it comes to relationships, it’s important to find a balance. There’s a time to be strategic and deliberate and there’s a time to sit back and enjoy the ride. If you want your relationships to be positive, successful ones that thrive, you need to implement effective and successful strategies.
Your relationship is like a third entity when you have a significant other. Think of your relationship like a pet. You can feed it and take good care of it so that it will be healthy, you can treat it with contempt and let the resentment of unrealistic expectations slowly kill it or you can just kind of do whatever and allow it to become an unruly and undisciplined monster. Most people just wing it but the health of the relationship is much like the health of anything else, really. If you don’t take deliberate action and steps to ensure it’s healthiness, it will naturally deteriorate into an unhealthy state. This is the principle of atrophy. If you don’t exercise your body, your muscles will naturally atrophy. If you don’t give your relationship a good workout in order to keep it strong, it will also atrophy.
Young people are especially adept when it comes to winging it. Early in the dating cycle we tend to just let things happen as they will without even considering that there could or should be a strategy to the whole thing. The painful mistakes of bad relationships inevitably teach them hard lessons and it’s after that, sometimes, that people actually seek to apply any strategy to their love life. The least of which is making a list of red flags and deal breakers. Winging it, playing it by ear, and going with the flow are all recipes for letting your relationship lose the strength that is necessary to make it a lasting one.
Contaminating a Relationship
Again, think of your relationship as a separate, living and breathing animal. You can feed it and make it strong or you can contaminate it with the poisons that kill it slowly. Relationships can honestly get so unhealthy and sick that the damage can be irreparable and sometimes relationships need to end if the people involved want any chance at living in a healthy way and not die with bitterness and regret running through their veins. So many people participate in the behaviors that contaminate their relationship and the truth is, you don’t have to even if your partner does. If you feel your partner has contaminated the relationship beyond a hazmat clean up crew ability, then perhaps it’s time to think about ending the relationship. Yet keep in mind your partner is more likely to do healthy things for the relationship if you do them first. Nobody ever gets into a relationship hoping that it will fail. Do good things for the relationship and hopeful your partner will start reciprocating. Here’s a short list of ways that people contaminate their relationship:
- Making a big deal over small and trivial things
- Making accusations
- Being overly critical
- Having double standards
- Having unrealistic expectations
And here is a short list of ways that people contribute to relationship atrophy:
- Making other things such as job or kids a higher priority than the relationship
- No longer going on dates together
- No longer putting effort into the relationship because you are committed (this includes keeping up your personal appearances to remain attractive to your significant other.)
There are a lot of components to relationships – being a friend and support, having fun together, your sex life, etc. How is the health of your relationship? Should it be on the cover of a magazine or should it be taken behind a barn and put out of it’s misery? No matter what the case might be, you probably have nothing to lose by adopting some winning strategies. If you assume that your relationship is safe and assured because it’s committed than you might find yourself in a bad place down the road.
There are a lot of winning relationship strategies but for now we’re just going to start with some of the basics. You can also think of your relationship like you think of an investment account that climbs and increases when you put things into it or it drains if you don’t. Treat your relationship like you did when it was new. Start with the little things. Say, “good morning,” “have a good day” and “I love you.” Say please and thank you. Point out things you love about your partner. Give them compliments. Take them on dates. Surprise them with things you know that they love. (this doesn’t have to be expensive either, you could pick up their favorite candy bar or treat when you stop at the gas station.) Mix things up, get creative and keep it fresh.
Working on Yourself
As a therapist, I have seen time and again, the one strategy that has failed over and over. Couples that adopt this approach almost always end up contaminating their relationship and that is: expecting the other person to change. Couples almost always end up pointing the finger of blame at each other. They expect each other to change but are less willing to put effort into themselves. Your relationship is far more likely to see good results if you focus on your own positive growth.
I want to be really clear here though, there’s a subtle yet important distinction. You have to have a personal and positive connection with the changes that you’re pursuing. For example, learning how to be less anxious, losing weight and getting in shape, working on being less depressed and having more fun. When you make those personal investments for bettering yourself, you’re more likely to see your own partner invest in their own positive changes. Maybe you decide you want to sit under a tree in the backyard for ten minutes a day to meditate because you want to release some tension and be more present, your partner will notice those positive investments.
As a word of warning, this is also when a lot of people learn whether their partner is actually good for them or not. There are going to be plenty of people in this world that will tell you that it’s selfish to make your personal healthiness a high priority and I contend, strongly, that the world would be a much healthier place if everyone invested in their own personal growth instead of trying to make the people and their world around them to make the changes. Be the change that you wish to see in your relationship. Make a list, plot out a personal strategy for how you want to be for your partner and then make it happen. Be that change.