If there’s one thing I’ve learned about relationships in my time in the dating scene, it’s definitely that there are few absolutes. You can date a ton of women who all love cats, and once you’ve collected a good assortment of cats from previous relationships, you’ll eventually end up with a woman who really doesn’t like them.
It’s pretty much like that with everything, too – we’re all different, and we’re all into different things. However, there are some general guidelines that pretty much cover any relationship, and talking about them can help keep things going on the right track.
Unfortunately, most people don’t talk about their problems until they’re already feeling the urge to walk away. This is so sad, because – at that point – it’s almost always too late. The good news is that, by simply talking about these standard expectations with your partner, you can set yourself up for happiness that may have been lacking from your previous relationships – and, you’ll fall into the habits that make good relationships great.
Curious to know what those general guidelines are? Whether you’re trying to maintain a happy relationship, or trying to help fix a troubled one, these 17 things are the biggest keys to your partner’s happiness with her. How many are you letting slip through the cracks?
1. Compliment her.
I know, I know. We’ve all got self-confidence, and self-confidence implies that you don’t need another person’s input to let you know your value. Still, you should compliment your girlfriend. Like, a lot. She deserves to hear that she’s gorgeous, smart, funny, and kind.
2. Hang out with “couple friends”.
When we get into a relationship, we have a tendency to neglect our single friends. While we should make sure we’re not cutting them out of our lives (unless there’s a valid reason to do so), you’ll also want to hang out with other couples to do “couple things”. Double dates can be fun, and sometimes you can even get group discounts – score!
3. Remind her you care about her.
Most people want to feel cared about and appreciated in their relationships. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but trust me – those people need to be appreciated and cared about it, maybe even more than the rest of us. Remind your girlfriend how much she means to you, and she’s more likely to stick it out through your other mistakes. (Just remember, a good portion of “caring about her” is that you actually have to try to learn from your mistakes.)
4. Keep her secrets.
If I were to ask you if you respect your partner’s rights to privacy, I’m sure you’d say you do. But when’s the last time you talked about a fight you’d had with someone who wasn’t your girlfriend? When’s the last time you told your best friend about your sex life? All of these things are in direct conflict with your girlfriend’s private life staying private – so try to break the habit as soon as possible.
5. Watch romantic movies together.
Believe it or not, there’s actually an emotional benefit to watching those sappy, cheesy romantic movies. (Okay, maybe not the totally cheesy ones, but definitely the ones that sound interesting to you.) Then, after you’ve finished watching the movie, talk about what you watched! Did the relationship on screen make you think of your relationship, or of one you’d like to have? Why or why not?
6. Learn and grow together.
The happiest couples are the ones that take time to enrich their lives, both together and separately. Enroll in a cooking class, or take a trip out of town. Learning new things and having new experiences are paramount to a happy life, so why wouldn’t you want to share those things with your partner?
7. Talk about your day.
It might seem silly to talk about your day with your partner, especially if you already live together. But happy relationships thrive on both presence and storytelling, so your ability to relay the highs and lows of your day will bring you and your partner closer together. She wants to know what’s going on, but you’ll have to find the way that works best for the two of you.
8. Talk about the hard or embarrassing things, too.
Often, we feel tempted to leave out the things that we don’t want to talk about. Chances are pretty good that these are the real things your partner wants to know about, though – and your ability to discuss them will bring you even closer than all the small talk in the world ever could.
9. Focus on how we feel, as opposed to what she did (or didn’t do).
When we talk about problems in our relationship, it’s easier to lay the blame on someone else. But when you focus on what your partner did wrong, instead of how it made you feel, you’re setting yourself up for confrontation. Try phrasing your complaints as “I feel ____ because ____” and give your partner permission to respond the same way. This puts your emotions front and center, which makes it easier to keep them within your control.
10. Have fun with each other.
Couples who play around together are generally happier – but the type of play you do is up to you and your girlfriend. Some choose to play video games, others choose to play sports, and others like to get it all out with a bit of roleplay in the bedroom. Whatever works for you is the perfect play for you and your girlfriend – but first, you’ve got to discuss what it is.
11. Cook for each other, and with each other.
There’s something special about a home-cooked meal that will always be greater than going out to eat. However, most people don’t like feeling obligated to cook – so make sure you’re both giving it a go. Don’t just cook for her, either – every so often, make a date out of cooking dinner! Even if the recipe turns out terrible, at least you got to have fun in the process.
12. Encourage her.
It’s really easy to be a critic. We often criticize without even thinking, because people ought to know better than to take things personally. But she’s not “just being sensitive” if she’s upset by those criticisms – she needs to be encouraged, too. If all you do is put her down, even with the best of intentions, she’s not going to feel cared about and appreciated (and we already went over how important that is).
13. Compromise (without sacrificing).
Compromise is a particularly tricky area for most people. It’s hard to find the right balance between forcing our own way, versus giving up our autonomy completely. But if you want your relationship to last the long game, you’ll need to negotiate so that neither of you feels taken advantage of.
14. Cuddle with each other.
Even if you’re “not really a cuddler” (read: me, pre-2013), there are numerous psychological benefits attributed to cuddling with someone you care about. It boosts your overall mood, stimulates the production of oxytocin, and shows your partner you’re in it for the long haul. Aww.
15. Message her when you’re apart.
When you live with your partner, it can be really easy to dismiss that thing you wanted to tell her because you’ll see her in a few hours (or days) anyway. But why do we stop ourselves from sending those sweet “I was thinking about you” messages? They show her that she’s on your mind, even when she’s not in plain sight, and that’s something special.
16. Get fit together.
Most people could stand to get a little more exercise, but that same portion of people don’t really enjoy exercising. By drafting each other as your primary workout buddies, you increase your chances of following through with your goals – because you’ll both be actively engaged towards the same target, and can keep each other accountable. It might even make your workouts a little more fun!
17. Define yourselves (and your boundaries).
Finally, one of the things that can degrade a relationship over time is having too much closeness. I know, I’ve just spent the last however-long telling you about more things you need to do with your partner, but that doesn’t mean you stop being your own person. You need to establish who you are separately, and define the things you’re uncomfortable with, separate from your partner – otherwise you’ll never truly understand how you work together.