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All romantic relationships have one thing in common: They don’t really begin until one or both parties want it to end.
Hear me out.
When a couple first gets together—when everything is running smoothly, the new love tingles are still present, and both people are on their best behavior—that’s a courtship, not a relationship. Similarly, when there is confrontation, miscommunication, resentment, and impatience, there is disaster happening, not a relationship. In that window between fantasy and nightmare, reality exists—and that is where relationships live. Relationships are never smooth sailing. They can be majestic at some times and ugly at others. But if you live in either extremes all the time, it’s probably time to reflect on the state of your bond.
My wife Rina and I have had our challenging times just like every other couple. We’ve spat over dishes, dogs, business, noise, silence, TV, kids, family, guests, and whatever other stupidity our minds can pitch up. But we never cross the line of being disrespectful to each other and we don’t carry resentment because we find quick resolution. One moment the dust is kicked up, the next we make up. We never let dysfunction—which we define as when a problem is realized, but not rectified—set in.
If you think your relationship is operating from a place of dysfunction, try these principles to get it back on track. Notice that these tips are not for your partner—they are for YOU. When one person in a relationship steps up and changes the dynamic, the other person tends to follow suit.
See also: This One Thing Helps Our Marriage Thrive. Our Secret May Improve Your Relationships, Too
Relationships take work, but more importantly, they take work on yourself. The ability to apologize and take responsibility for your actions, behaviors, and feelings is vital for your own well-being—and for your relationship.
When problems crop up, ask yourself, “what’s my responsibility in this scenario?” Rina and I can get overwhelmed by disagreements about family dynamics regarding our kids or parents. We both process challenges differently. Rina’s process includes talking it through within the day and I need some time and space to gather myself. But sooner than later, one of us will apologize and take responsibility for our behavior. Since we understand that we process in our own ways, we don’t get as upset with one another, otherwise this could become a vicious cycle. Instead it ends quickly because we hold ourselves accountable and I have a deep respect for that.
When you get stuck in a battle about who is right and who is wrong, it’s easy to forget that your partner is looking for the same things you are: love, support, validation, and nurturing. So the next time your partner expresses an opinion or thoughts on a topic that differs from yours, consider thinking “maybe they’re right.” The goal isn’t to discover that they ARE right; it’s to give your ego a rest expand your ideas beyond your own. Putting yourself in their shoes and validating how they are feeling can deepen your connection.
See also: How Fear Can Hurt Your Relationships—And How to Overcome It
Feeling that you are owed something is a sure-fire relationship killer. I guarantee you that if you feel owed, so does your partner. But keeping score of how much you’ve put into the relationship—and how much your partner isn’t putting in what you wish they were—only breeds resentment.
Instead, notice what they are contributing. The fact that they are in partnership with you means that they are fulfilling your desires for friendship, companionship, and sexual intimacy—just maybe not in the way you want them to be. Remember that your partner is doing their best.
When there’s something in the house that hasn’t been done, many couples default to the mentality of “why didn’t you do…” Rina and I have shifted our script to say “thank you for doing…” Say I didn’t do the dishes before coming to bed. Instead of getting upset at me for that, Rina may say, “Thank you for taking out the trash.” She changes her focus from something I might have forgotten to do and instead honors what I did do. This makes me feel seen and much more likely to remember the next time about something I may have forgotten to do. We do this for each other and it’s very helpful to keep the relationship positive and grateful.
When you feel indebted to your partner, it brings about gratitude and a sense of reverence. Next time you feel owed something, stop and ask yourself, “how can I serve them instead of being served?”
My nature is to speak loudly and boldly. Rina knew this when we started dating. (She’s loud, too. I call her my basher. She’s small but she has a heavy foot!) Of course, I can be quieter in moments she needs me to, but overall, this is a trait that isn’t going to change.
You entered into a relationship with your partner knowing who they were. To make your partnership work, you have to accept those traits and not try to change them. Take a few moments to make a “let it go” list of all your partners traits that they had prior to you two ever dating. Not who you wish you dated, but who you actually dated. Not the potential of who you thought they could be, but the person in front of you. You chose to be in this relationship knowing this information prior to signing up for this long term.
The moment you get triggered by something your partner does that happens to be on this list, you must let it go if you want to be happy and to have a healthy relationship. It won’t be easy—but it will be worth it.
About our contributors
Rina Jakubowicz, founder of Rina Yoga and Super Yogis, has been teaching yoga in English and Spanish for over 20 years. Her husband, Eric Paskel, is an international yoga teacher, marriage-family and child counselor, and motivational speaker.