Great relationships can feel elusive sometimes, right?
I’ve spent most of my career studying and talking about successful relationships – in business and in life – and I still mess up.
That’s why I’m constantly seeking insight from other thought-leaders, like Alex Blackwell. He wrote an article years ago that still resonates with me today. It’s a straightforward explanation of how to grow and maintain great relationships.
It reminds me that I can keep it simple and still succeed.
Here’s what I learned…
The secret is there is no secret.
We all know that “perfect couple” who seems to coexist with ease and understanding. We witness their genuine connection and wonder, “What’s their secret? Is it chemistry? Destiny…? Hypnosis?”
It’s just hard work. That’s the “secret”.
Blackwell believes that great relationships are built on a commitment to put in the effort, each and every day. Just like following a healthy diet, budget, or exercise regime, we need to commit to healthy practices in our relationships.
Here they are…
Blackwell’s four habits that will help you build great relationships.
1. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
Blackwell urges us to put away our Hollywood notions of romance and relationships and, to put it bluntly, get real.
Great relationships take effort, time and commitment. There are going to be days full of blissful romance and wonder. There are also going to be days of extreme strain and stress.
Successful couples understand that their lives are inevitably going to be a mix of both. They seize the great days and weather the bad days knowing they’ll both pass.
Blackwell suggest that we avoid getting too high over the highs…and too low during the lows. Neither state is permanent or sustainable.
These extreme highs and lows are fleeting moments at best – they aren’t an accurate measure of the success or failure of your relationship.
2. BE SELFLESS AND THOUGHTFUL EVERY DAY.
Cruise control is great if you’re on a long drive across the prairies. It has no place on the journey towards a great relationship.
According to Blackwell, successful couples are constantly asking themselves,
“What can I do today to make my partner’s life better?”
Small acts of thoughtful effort make a big difference. Something as simple as buying a package of your partner’s favourite cookies, taking over a task you know they hate, pointing out a praise-worthy quality in your loved one.
You’ll know what love language your partner speaks, and how to speak it to them in even the smallest way…every day.
Great relationships are strengthened by give and take…with an emphasis on giving without needing to take. Blackwell calls it the “relationship bank”…you make deposits all week without planning on making a huge withdrawal…ever.
This might seem obvious. How many times do you hear struggling couples say, “We just don’t communicate.”
I’m willing to bet these couples are exchanging some verbal communication – and it’s probably not pretty. It’s not whether or not they’re speaking to one another, rather what they’re exchanging that’s crucial in Blackwell’s eyes.
All too often we fall into the habit of coaching our partner instead of actively listening to them. And we lose out on an opportunity for genuine understanding and growth.
Sure, you’ve “communicated” your laundry list of grievances. But have you actually told your partner what you want from them, exactly? It doesn’t matter how long your partner has known you, or how well you think they should know you…they can’t read your mind. Nobody can.
Be clear about what you want or need – and be prepared to ask your partner what they want or need.
Couples in great relationships haven’t learned everything they need to know about their other half. They’ve simply found a way to communicate honestly and clearly, without judgment or preconceived notions. They’re willing to learn something new.
Blackwell suggests that we ask our partner how they feel about a certain situation...then shut up and listen.
We have to resist the urge to give our two bits unless we’re asked for it. And if your partner stalls in the conversation, ask them to elaborate, don’t jump in with your own point of view on the matter.
Listen with the intent to understand, not to respond.
4. TURN NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES.
We’re all going to be handed lemons at some point. People in great relationships have mastered the art of making lemonade.
Relationships will be challenged by internal stressors – raising kids, household finances, health concerns – and external stressors – work, extended family or friends. It’s natural for trouble to flare up during these times. So how do you put out the fire?
Blackwell has an interesting exercise that helps you and your partner get past the stress and strengthen your relationship in the process:
- Ask your partner, “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate our relationship/intimacy/support of one another?” Give your partner time to reflect and give an honest reply.
- If the answer is “Seven.” ask this follow-up question, “What are three things I can do to get our relationship to a ten?” Be prepared for some tough feedback.
- Validate the feedback and resolve to follow through.
- Finally, ask this question, “What are three things you can do to get our relationship to a ten?” This puts your relationship back on equal footing and demonstrates that both of you have to invest in its success.
Great relationships flourish when couples take these learning moments as an opportunity to turn negative feedback into positive growth.
There isn’t a magic formula or secret ingredient to great relationships. It’s just a matter of acknowledging it will take effort, and a commitment to make the effort in a deliberate, meaningful way…every single day.
This article was originally published in 2012, and has been updated in 2020 just for you!