I describe relationships as a “journey from me to us.” As romantic as that sounds, it also implies a lot of hard work. That’s right, relationships take work. Just think about it. As you meander down life’s road together, you’re fusing two lives into one.
Two unique people, with distinct tastes, thoughts, feelings, ambitions, and personalities are now sharing a single life. And no matter how perfectly compatible you are, you’re bound to face challenges along the way.
I’m a pragmatist at heart and so I like to use “tools” to help me navigate the challenging terrain of love and relationships. In fact I’ve developed many of them for my new book, People Tools for Love and Relationships: The Journey from Me to Us.
Here are my top five. I hope you will find them as thought provoking and useful as I have!
1. Be (Not Find) the Right Person
Many of us spend years of our lives searching for the perfect person to build a life with. But we’re often disappointed to find that our prince or princess charming turns out to be imperfect. That was the case for me. I started and ended a series of relationships in search of my perfect Princess, only to see them end when the fantasy ended.
But over time, I realized that it wasn’t them, it was me. I was the one who needed to change and I learned that it’s just as important to learn how to be the right person as it is to find the right person. Work on perfecting yourself, rather than endlessly searching for that perfect other.
2. Let’s Talk About Money
One of the worst mistakes that couples make is avoiding discussions about money. This includes how you deal with your shared expenses (whether you’re living together or not) and your general financial philosophy (are you a saver or a spender?). And if you don’t get clear on these issues early on in your relationship, potential conflicts will certainly bite you later on. Each of you should be clear about your financial philosophy, and how you want to deal with money in any relationship you see going somewhere. You’ll be happy you did when the times get tough.
3. It’s a Movie, Not a Snapshot
It’s all-too-easy to lose sight of the big picture during times of emotional strain and conflict. In times like these you need to remember that your relationship is more like a movie than a snapshot. It’s a series of events and memories, and not a single particular event. And, as in a movie, following every low point there is often a high point around the corner. It’s important to keep this perspective in mind when emotions flare—remind yourself that this is just one of many moments in your relationship, and the movie will improve.
4. More Is Not Always Better
I often refer to relationships as “a journey from me to us,” because sharing your life with another requires surrendering a degree of your independence. But in doing so, it’s also important for each partner to value and protect each other’s individuality and uniqueness. One of the biggest mistakes that couples make is failing to create appropriate boundaries for themselves within a relationship, and they end up smothering each other.
Each of you should maintain your own interests, hobbies, and time to yourselves. The space you give each other will help your relationship to breath and grow. You don’t have to be together every moment of every day. Ask any retired couple.
This is the simplest and most effective thing you can do when fighting with your partner. Yet it’s often the most difficult, especially when you’re convinced that you’re right, which is most of the time, if not always. That’s why there is an argument – two people each believe that they are right. Apologizing isn’t easy, even if there’s very little at stake. You have to put aside your pride and be willing to compromise on some points, even when you feel strongly about them. An apology is the quickest and surest way to put a dispute to rest, or to resolve any hard feelings that may have resulted from it. An apology builds trust—and trust is the foundation of all good relationships. So apologize, apologize, apologize. Even if you’re right. And do it quickly, before one or both of you have permanent scars.