by Nick Notas
We all know about the running joke that romantic relationships are a source of misery.
We grew up on shows like Married With Children where Al Bundy hated having to hang out with his wife Peg. We hear friends challenge each other with, “You’re so whipped!” And serious couples give us ominous warnings such as, “Don’t get married.” or “It’s all good now, but wait until the honeymoon is over.”
These may make us laugh but they also reinforce that our partners are a burden on our lives.
It’s true that maintaining a happy, healthy relationship takes work. But that doesn’t mean it has to suck.
The secret lies in finding a relationship that makes life easier and more fulfilling for you.With a compatible partner and mutual support, your relationship should decrease outside stresses, increase productivity, and improve the quality of your lives.
Take initiative and lend a hand
You shouldn’t need to be told to help out. If you’re sitting around and there’s something that you know needs to get done (such as the dishes or laundry), do it. Most of the time it takes only a few minutes.
I understand you might be tired or need to unwind. But those tasks aren’t going to do themselves. They will just continue to pile up and usually cause more anxiety for you and your partner.
Maybe you think, “My girlfriend/boyfriend will take care of it.” Great, but don’t be surprised when they start feeling overworked and taken advantage of. And don’t be surprised when your sex life diminishes.
Stress kills libido. If your girl always comes home to chores, she’s not going to feel sexy for you. She’s going to be tired and tense. Instead, take some of the workload for her. She’ll be relaxed and grateful — a winning combination to get her in the mood.
Don’t associate certain duties to yourself
It’s 2014, there are no gender-specific jobs. Men: you can wash dishes, cook dinner, and fold laundry. Women: you can put up a shelf, change your oil, and kill that scary spider (or take it outside, your choice).
Do the above sound like ridiculously sexist statements? They are, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard people in couples say, “I don’t do that kind of stuff” or “That’s her job, not mine.” Those are bullshit excuses.
If you have a task system to keep you both organized, great. But even with that system, there will be times where one of you has to fill in for the other. Be willing to adapt and do something you’re uncomfortable with.
Stay healthy together
The hardest part of working out for many people is just starting. Once they get going, they become motivated and feel a sense of accomplishment. Having someone there with you is the best way to be held accountable.
Mr. Rogers went swimming every morning with his wife. I go trail running and hiking with my girlfriend. We throw the football around. We even have high-intensity dance parties.
Working out with someone else makes exercise fun. That’s why personal trainers are so effective. You can talk and keep each other distracted. You can make each other laugh. And you can challenge each other to keep pushing.
If you have different regiments, that’s still not an excuse. I do weighted bodyweight exercises while my girlfriend does regular bodyweight exercises. She may jog while I’ll sprint back and forth next to her. You can always find a way to make things work together.
Teach your partner what you know and like
I’m a tech nerd and I know my girlfriend will never be. It’s not her passion and I completely accept that. But I still take the time to teach her about my interests.
It helps her understand my world but there’s also immense value in it for her. She uses that knowledge to fix her MacBook Pro. She uses various applications to teach her students music. And she can hold conversation about many technology-related subjects with different people.
Teaching one another about passions also creates shared interests. Maybe you teach your girlfriend about craft beer and then you find a new hobby together visiting breweries.
Your partner doesn’t always have to share your interests but they should still understand and respect them. That can only happen if you take the time to educate them about it.
Communicate what you want done
Every day we have goals we want to accomplish. But no one can read your mind — you need to tell your partner what’s important for you to get done.
Whenever I hear someone complain about their partner not giving them time to themselves or to get work done, I ask, “Did you tell them about it?” The answer is usually “no.” You can’t blame someone or be mad at them for what they don’t know.
If you need alone time to study, speak up. If you want to see a friend you haven’t connected with in a while, let them know. If you’re trying to focus or work out, convey that clearly.
Not only will your partner be more understanding and supportive of your needs, they may even be able to help making things easier. Which brings me to…
Ask for help and allow yourself to be helped
It doesn’t make you weak. You aren’t inferior because you could use help with something. It actually means you’re confident enough to accept or know when you need assistance.
Having terrible luck landing a new job? Get your partner’s input on your resume and job search. Need help dealing with a difficult family situation? Ask for advice.
I’m a professional coach and writer. I still ask my girlfriend to edit and review my articles because she has a great literary eye. My posts come out tremendously better because of it and I learn so much from her.
In return, I have more free time to help with her side music business. She plays harp for high-end weddings and events. I carry her harp to the events, move her equipment, and take care of the logistics, such as finding parking around Carnegie Hall. She has more time to focus on practicing, tuning her instrument, and performing.
It’s a wonderful setup that allows both of our businesses to thrive.
Don’t keep score
Do things out of the kindness of your heart. Using favors and errands as a bargaining chip or to hold it over someone’s head is manipulative.
You’ll immediately lose your partner’s trust. They’ll feel like you’re only doing those things out of spite. This is a downward spiral that is nearly impossible to come back from. It has been the death of many relationships — don’t let it kill yours.
Does that mean you should blindly keep quiet when your partner doesn’t invest or help in return? Hell no. But going the passive-aggressive route or throwing it in their face is not going to help the situation. This only creates resentment and further deters your partner from contributing.
There’s a better way to approach that situation. . .
Communicate when your expectations aren’t being met
As a relationship progresses and especially once you move in together, you become a support system for each other. That system only succeeds when both people are equally involved. For all the advice you implement from this article, expect the same from your partner.
If you feel like you’re the only one putting in effort, you need to address that with healthy communication. Don’t attack or shame your partner. Instead, express your discomfort calmly with “I” statements. “You” statements come across as accusatory and can put the other party on the defensive leading to no progress. Try…
“I’m feeling overwhelmed and need your help. I feel like I’ve been doing the majority of the housework lately and it’s too much for me to handle myself. Do you think you could help me with X and Y during the week?”
A fair and caring partner will understand. They may not have even realized their shortcomings. They will work to resolve the problem and strengthen the relationship.
Of course, your expectations need to be reasonable. You shouldn’t be a slave driver or have a compulsion to fix everything right then and there with no leisure time. And you have to put in as much effort as they do.
Unfortunately, when you’ve addressed issues multiple times and have seen no initiative from your partner, you may have a bigger problem. Consider if you’re with someone who’s compatible and truly respects you. If the answer is no, find a better match before things get more serious.
That’s why it’s so important to have standards, understand what you want, and choose a suitable partner in the first place.
Encourage each other’s independent lives
Younger couples and new couples often want to spend every moment with one another.
And why wouldn’t they? They’re excited to learn about each other and the sex is amazing.
But there’s something to the old idiom, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Take it from a guy who smothered his ex-girlfriend to the point where she saw spending time apart as her freedom.
You need your own friends, passions, and hobbies. You need to have your own experiences. You need to learn to be self-sufficient and stand on your own. And so should your partner.
Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for co-dependency. You will lose your sense of self. You’ll end up relying on another person for your own fulfillment and even forget how to be happy without them.
If you need to constantly be with your partner out of control and insecurity, you’re on a losing path. You can’t keep a tight grasp on someone forever. This always creates resentment until they gain the courage to leave your clutches.
Your best bet is to support them in doing their own thing. Recognize that it’s good for them to have different interests than you. Don’t take it personally. Don’t feel threatened by it. Accept it as a healthy part of being a self-confident person.
Being independent gives you more to talk about when you’re together. It makes you appreciate your time together more. It builds trust. It builds attraction because we all desire confident, self-directed people. And it allows you to grow so you can both grow as a couple.
Your partner isn’t supposed to save you or be your source of joy. All they can do is support and encourage you, but you still need to build a great relationship with yourself.