Love can be called a feeling. But love is also work. It requires action, intention, and openness to sustain love over years or decades. As a student of the human condition, I have a unique perspective on relationships and the distinct ways men and women offer and receive love.
Here are the seven relationship essentials that people most often neglect—to the detriment of their partnerships:
1. Respect and affirm your partner.
Let me start by saying this is always a two-way street. Your partner should be showing you equal respect and praising you as generously as you praise them. If you’re in a relationship with a man, know that we are hard-wired to be of use. We have an acute need to know that we are necessary and useful in our partners’ lives.
In past centuries, there were pressing economic and/or societal need for a woman to be in partnership with a man. In the world of 2016, that aforementioned male need for validation and a sense of purpose is no longer fulfilled as a matter of necessity. That is as it should be. But your partner still needs to feel necessary to you, as much as ever. Be eager and willing to remind your boyfriend, husband, or partner how much they positively affect your life. Notice their efforts and show appreciation for them.
This appreciation (positive reinforcement) also paves the way for your partner to rise to the occasion when you are really in need.
If you respect your partner, show it by asking for their input, trying to understand their perspective, and communicating from a place of love and appreciation whenever you interact.
2. Encourage and support their goals.
Understanding, acknowledging, and supporting your partner in their needs and life goals is another way to show your appreciation for them. Making someone feel loved is a crucial part of your partnership. An oft-neglected method is to ask about, remain aware of, and prioritize your partner’s dreams. In the same way you want support and encouragement from your partner to follow your personal, individual goals, so do they.
3. Prioritize physical intimacy.
Physical affection is paramount to the bond in your relationship. Passionate kisses, sensual touches, and warm embraces are the fuel of intimacy and connection. Part of feeling love from someone and forsomeone is physical intimacy, in whatever way you define that. It engenders security and safety for both parties.
4. Let him be of service to you.
As a modern, independent woman, you might not need support or help from your man. Let him help anyway. As I mentioned previously, men feel most loved when they sense that they are necessary and desired.
If you need something fixed, ask your partner how to do it. If you need some life advice, consult them. If you need help with a family issue, bothersome work conflict, or any sort of planning, invite your mate to help—it will foster love and security for both partners.
5. Keep your own life.
As sacred as your relationship with each other is, it’s crucial to maintain space to be yourselves and to indulge your individual identities. We function best when we have clear minds, are fully centered, and have invested in—even consecrated—the self-care practices that bolster our emotional resources. That is the state in which we can be most present and helpful to our mates.
If your partner goes on retreats or weekends away with their friends, they aren’t running away from you; they are simply recharging for you. Give your partner space to re-energize, regroup, and refresh. Our emotional gas tanks have to be full in order for us to be our best selves in any relationship.
Give your mate the opportunity to miss you, to explore and honor the parts of themselves that are separate from your relationship, and you’ll have a much more eager, available partner at your side.
6. Communicate instead of complaining.
If you’re really irritated by something your partner is doing or failing to do, find a way to constructively criticize rather than taking the easy route: just plain criticism. When you find yourself tempted to criticize, repeat this mantra until you find a way out of your perturbation: “Communicate, don’t complain.”
If they still refuse to pick up their clothes, leave the bathroom a mess, or forget to put away the dishes, look for creative ways to inspire them. If you can’t think of one, consider how important this specific point is to you. Can you let it go?
The mess doesn’t bother your partner; they hardly notice it. But they WILL notice your repeatedly voiced frustration. Look for solutions instead of levying complaints.
7. Accept your partner for who they are.
Trying to change someone is a losing game for all parties involved. Instead of trying to change your partner, acknowledge their faults, and show your respect and love for them by helping them become a better version of who they are. The security that stems from knowing your partner treasures the quirks and peccadilloes you might be self-conscious about around others is empowering. It’s inspiring.
It makes you feel capable of being a better you. And the positive reinforcement you provide your partner when they achieve their goals, make better choices, and proceed in their journey toward eudaemonia, is enough incentive for many people to keep working toward self-improvement when they otherwise might give up. You fell in love with the person you met. So, help him be that person—only better.
Don’t waste time wishing this quality or that quality were different. Be grateful for the person your partner is today and can be tomorrow. Don’t try to force growth. It happens on its own schedule, and none of us can control it. All you can do is be a role model. Inspire change by learning and growing all the time.
Every time you feel like suggesting a change, pull out a gratitude journal and write down all the reasons you’re thankful for your partner. When you think of everything you love about a person, the grudges that stem from petty annoyances start to seem like a waste of mental and emotional energy.
It always comes back to love. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Give love as you would like to experience love. You’ll get it back—and then some.