Too often, the friend part of a romantic relationship takes a back seat to the sexual. And especially, after the infatuation stage passes, the friend part becomes core to the relationship’s longevity as well as to the pleasure that each of you derives.
It is in that spirit that I offer the following suggestions, distilling and building not just the lessons from my 30 years as a personal coach and husband of even longer, but the core advice of other experts, for example, the iconic John and Julie Gottman, authors of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages.
Listen and ask. That’s probably the most potent key to deepening your friendship and, yes, your love for each other: Listen and ask follow-ups, for example, “Tell me more.” “Can you give me an example?” What’s the implication? And What do you want to do about it?
Listen-and-ask is a sign of caring and respect, plus you just might learn something. Alas, listen-and-ask is more difficult to implement than it seems: When your partner wants you to listen, you may prefer to focus on yourself, your child, your work. We might be angry with our partner. So active listening, the kind in which you’re really processing what’s being said and the feeling behind it, requires a commitment, deciding that the benefits of doing at least some active listening daily probably outweighs the opportunity cost. Like any habit, it becomes easier with practice. So commit to, every day, one brief stint of active listening. Of course, it’s appropriate that you invite your partner do the same for you. And of course, you needn’t be available for quality conversation on demand. It’s perfectly appropriate to say, for example, “I can’t listen now. Can we talk in say 15 or 20 minutes?”
Demonstrate respect. You can show respect not just with active listening but by bestowing earned praise for behaviors your partner values, even if they’re not your priority. For example, if your primary value is in homemaking and parenting, and your partner’s is about contribution at work, look for legitimate opportunities to praise the work and, more broadly, that you honor your partner’s approach to the life well-led. You also demonstrate respect by trying to fully empathize if not support your partner’s position in a conflictual situation: perhaps one that’s in the family, or a problem s/he’s having at work.
Initiate conversations about what your partner is interested in. For example, if your partner is worried about his or her mental health, reputation, whatever, ask about that.
Please avoid snipping: consciously or not jibing at your partner when unnecessary, for example, correcting irrelevant errors and, more seriously, finding ways to make your partner feel less than, to no benefit.
Conversely, do look for opportunities to find agreement, build on your partner’s assertions, and, as mentioned, dispense earned praise.
Compromise. Not every problem has a win-win solution. The wise partner does some things s/he’d prefer not to do but that the partner values, for example, seeing grandma often or dealing with the front yard.
If you end up feeling that you’re doing most of the compromising, instead of demanding change, ask while not making your partner feel defensive, for example,
I feel I’ve been doing a lot of the compromising, for example, spending less, keeping the house cleaner than I’d otherwise want, spending more quality time with you in the evening when I’d prefer to do some work. I’d really appreciate if you could more often compromise about what we watch on TV, who our friends are, and how quickly you’re ready to listen to my issues. Is there any legitimacy to my request?
Have a relationship summit. That’s a series of honest conversations about the practical parts of a relationship: money, communication, home, work, children, extended family, recreation including friendships, substance abuse, goals and dreams, divorce/separation, and spirituality.
You might agree on three of those topics, one to be discussed for a few minutes every night for the next three nights. Start each of those meetings by each of you writing one thing you like and one thing you don’t like about how your relationship is handling the topic. Share with each other what you’ve written. End the meeting by each of you saying one thing you want to do differently. If there’s nothing, that’s okay — Not every area needs improvement and not everyone is ready to change, at least at that point. Considering having a relationship summit once or twice a year. At a time in which my marriage was struggling, our first marriage summit was what helped most.
Do activities that bond. Beyond sex, what do you easily enjoy together: Taking long walks? Cooking together? Playing a game or sport together? Doing activities that you both enjoy is a painless way to deepen the relationship.
Long-term relationships require work. After infatuation’s anesthetizing effect has faded, real-world issues become clear. No formulation, let alone one that can be presented in a brief blogpost can turn a troubled relationship into paradise, but If you’re persistent in implementing even some of the aforementioned ideas it should help, maybe even enormously.