Is it time to do a little self-examination when it comes to your intimate relationship? Have you ever taken the time to think about how you can be the best partner? What does it take to go the long haul? Because I believe prevention and maintenance go a long way, let’s talk about this so we don’t get to the point of intervention. Here are 6 ways to prevent problems and be the best partner:

  1. Get to know your partner on a deep level. This means be able to answer questions about your partner in terms of their likes, wishes, desires and interests. Typically, we begin relationships by asking about these things, but as you grow and evolve as a couple, do you keep up? For example, do you know today where your partner’s favorite vacation spot might be or their new favorite movie? Could you make a playlist of their favorite songs? Did you know that he secretly wanted to be a chef and has been thinking about this for years but afraid to take a step toward this goal? You get the idea. Stay current, tuned in and be known by the other.
  2. Catch your partner being good. Remember when the phrase, “Catch your children being good,” was all the rage with parenting? Well, the same applies to couples. Couples often get focused on the problems in their relationship. When that happens, things can become negative. And then, they say or notice fewer of the good things that happen. So your goal to be the best partner is to regularly comment on the positive and good things you see and appreciate about your partner. We all like to hear the positive along with problems. Make your positive to negative ratio 5 to1 and your relationship will thrive. Notice that ratio–many more positives for each negative.
  3. Give attention to your partner. Put down your phone. Look the person in the eye and listen. This is how you stay attuned to the needs of another person–time, attention and listening. If you spend too much time playing video games, watching sports and going out with friends, your partner will feel ignored. So take time to be together and listen to the concerns of one another. Our attention can too easily drift to work, children and other interests. Making your partner number one on your list will serve you both well.
  4. Manage conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. Work to make sure you address issues that arise and have good conflict management skills. This requires discussion of fair fighting rules, like: no name calling or bringing up past hurts. That’s because the most important part of conflict management is to make sure conflict doesn’t escalate. This means each of you must stay calm when you deal with difficult life events in your relationship. So regulate your emotions. Practice techniques like deep breathing, times-out and other ways to regulate your emotions. Those will help keep the temperature down in the relationship.
  5. Support each other’s dreams. First, you have to know what those dreams are (see #1), then find ways to support each other in reaching those dreams.  To do so, have some big picture conversations. Couples in therapy have told me that they rarely discuss their dreams and aspirations together. Sometimes it is because they are embarrassed or think their dreams are impossible. However, it is important to share what you believe God is calling you to do. How will that calling be worked out? What can each of you do to support that direction? Discussing this builds unity and purpose. You are a team that needs a game plan.
  6. Build a spiritual legacy. This is the most important of all. It is why my mom and dad were married 67 years and why my marriage has lasted. We share a common faith. Our faith keeps us humble and serving each other. It carries us through difficulty and encourages us. Prayer times, baptisms, sacred vows and more are part of building a spiritual legacy as a couple. Without this there is no anchor for stormy times. So, if you want to be the best partner, make sure your spiritual life is vibrant. You’ll grow together, learn to exercise grace and forgiveness and both be convicted to do the right thing.

Remember, long term relationships can be hard work but full of joy. Most of us live ordinary lives that would be boring on reality TV. Yet the love and cherishing we give to a partner is what makes us the best!

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