by Delano Squires
I recently made the transition from single man to husband and have been thinking a lot about how my relationship with my wife has grown in the last year. I remember how chemistry and attraction helped fuel us in the early stages of our courtship. I also remember realizing at some point that chemistry alone was insufficient for our love to mature. Likewise, simply changing my status from single to married didn’t magically solve all of the issues in our relationship. There are no quick fixes to improving a relationship””it’s a process. Fortunately, a good set of relationship tools will help you on your journey. Here are a few that have helped us along the way.
Some of our most valuable life lessons come from some of our most disappointing failures, embarrassing mistakes, and regrettable decisions. While many of us have become accustomed to learning the hard way, that shouldn’t be the goal for our relationships. One tool that every relationship needs is a healthy dose of foresight, because oftentimes people make choices without considering how a decision made in the present will impact their future.
For example, a husband with foresight would know that it probably isn’t a wise decision to make a habit of having lunch alone with one of his co-workers if he senses himself drawn to her, especially if he’s not getting his love tank filled at home. The act of having lunch with a co-worker itself isn’t a breach of his vows, but feeding a new relationship when an existing one is starving could set him down a path that could have a disastrous ending. Exercising foresight is also beneficial to the management of finances and time. Couples can choose to ignore wisdom’s call, but their relationships will pay the price.
Money is one of the most important topics that will come up in a serious relationship. Many dating couples find it difficult to broach the subjects of salaries, credit scores, debt, and money management, but for couples who are married or sharing finances, these conversations are a necessity, not a luxury.
Two people who can’t discuss money have already communicated volumes about their relationship priorities. Oftentimes people don’t like discussing money because of selfishness. Even in marriage they see money in terms of “you” and “yours”, instead of “we” and “ours”. In fact, research has even found that arguments over finances are a predictor of divorce.
Effectively managing money often means that one or both individuals has to change their spending habits. A spendthrift might feel a rush of excitement after each new purchase but that approach might not be sustainable if he and his wife are planning to pay off their debt in one year or save for a new home. That’s why conversations about budgets, joint accounts, investments, etc. should be had well before a couple says “I do”. It’s better to talk about if, and how, you’ll merge finances in marriage than how you’ll split them up in divorce.
The ability to effectively address conflict is an absolute necessity for a healthy relationship. Disagreements are inevitable in a relationship, but not every couple has the capacity or know-how to address them in a loving, healthy way. Oftentimes, people come into relationships modeling the conflict resolution skills, or lack thereof, they have seen in their own lives. Unfortunately, much of what we’ve seen isn’t positive. Emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, and physical confrontation are norms for some people, whether because of parental upbringing, past relationships, or both. A good start is remembering to attack the problem, not the person. Your mate is not the enemy.
Effective conflict resolution requires actually addressing the issue. Oftentimes, however, one or both parties opt to mask the problem””with gifts, sex, or other issues””or ignore it altogether. Neither approach will produce positive results in the long run. There are some issues that, left unresolved, will fester and corrode the entire relationship. Successfully addressing conflict will require both parties to draw on their personal character reserves because it often involves someone having to acknowledge fault and someone practicing the art of forgiveness, neither of which is easy when tension is high and emotions are raw.
Open and honest communication
Communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship and the most common response when you ask someone for the keys to a good marriage. It is also the gateway to accessing many other important relationship tools. Even though acknowledgement is given to the importance of communication in relationships, many couples allow it to break down at the most crucial times. My wife and I are at our best when communication is frequent, honest, courageous, and edifying. We are at worst when discord and frustration sap our communication of love, patience, and gentleness.
Couples need to be attentive to both sides of the communication coin: transmission and reception. When most people think of communication they tend to focus on the former””the things that are expressed by both words and actions. Just as important, however, is the latter and the environment we create for communication. It is difficult to have meaningful dialogue when we are unwilling to discuss issues that make us uncomfortable, respond defensively to even the most minor critique, or fail to practice effective listening techniques.
There are many other tools, both interpersonal and tangible, that couples can use to improve their relationships. Some of the latter group include accessing relationship-improvement books and websites, relationship counseling, and support groups. Having an extensive set of tools is important but an individual’s character is just as crucial to the success of a relationship. People who exhibit positive character traits such as commitment, loyalty, integrity, teachability, humility, and patience are probably in the best position to utilize their relationship tools.
The right tools in the hands of the wrong person can lead to manipulation and deception, while the wrong tools in the hands of the right person can lead to disillusionment and frustration. The right tools in the hands of the right person, however, can lead to wiser decision-making, conflicts that are resolved quickly, communication that serves as an intimacy incubator, and a relationship that is characterized by love and longevity. So the next time you ask yourself why your relationship seems to be struggling, check to see what’s in your toolbox.
BMWK, what tools do you use to improve your relationship? What additional tools do you need?