How to Build Great Relationships
by lorraine sanabria robertson
You’ve finally found the man of your dreams. You’ve been wined, dined and have fallen in love. The sun is always shining; love songs populate your playlists and your heart flutters every time he walks into the room. Ahh, the sweet bliss of a new relationship—if only the newness lasted forever.
“In the beginning you look at the positives in your partner and for ways to connect,” says Lily McNair, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and provost at Wagner College in New York. “You’re less likely to think, notice and make a big deal about potential problems. As people stay together longer, that effort fades. People don’t realize those things you do in the beginning are the things you need to do throughout a relationship to keep the spark going.” Excitement comes easy in the beginning, but once the honeymoon phase has fizzled it takes work and effort to maintain a great relationship. Try these power moves to help yours thrive.
l 1do something good daily
“Be thoughtful and considerate,” McNair says. “Do and say positive things, just like you did when you were trying to connect with that person. You’ll be amazed at how good that feels.”
Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship By Doing Less, agrees. “The key to having a happy marriage is to, above all, get to know your spouse … Do more of what brings your partner joy; and do less of what irritates your partner.”
l 2 create a plan
Planning is an essential part of our everyday lives. We have business plans, financial plans, workout plans and even dinner plans. Taking the time to map out a plan for your relationship will ensure you and your partner are on the same path. “Create a vision for where you want your relationship to go,” says Ronnie Tyler, co-founder of BlackandMarriedwithKids.com with her husband of six years, Lamar Tyler. “It should be complete with measures that keep you accountable.”
l 3reach out and touch
“Research shows if you touch each other physically—holding hands, kissing, that kind of touch—it helps people feel connected,” McNair says. As we get busy, we often don’t take time like we used to early in our relationship to show affection. Remember to give each other hello kisses, slip your hand in his or hug, just because.
l 4consider counseling
Often people shun counseling as a last resort. “Couples should act proactively and view counseling as a positive intervention instead of an indication that ‘we’re really in trouble,’” says Anthony Granberry, a counselor at the Atlanta Counseling Group LLC. According to Granberry, pro- fessional counseling has become more acceptable among African Americans, yet there remains a sense a couple should be able to work through their issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kristy Christopher-Holloway, founder, director and therapist of New Vision Counseling Center, LLC, in Atlanta, agrees, “Counseling can help couples discover who they are in the relationship. It can assist with
improving communication and learning how to support your partner.”
l 5 take care of you
“In order for you to be a good partner in a relationship, you’ve got to take care of yourself,” McNair says. Maintaining your health, along with pursuing your personal goals, allows you to bring more to your partnership. Nurturing your individuality, outside interests and friendships provides balance. “It’s unrealistic to think your partner is going to fulfill all of your needs in this world,” McNair says.
“Even though you’re a couple, you are also an individual,” Christopher-Holloway says. “Having healthy time away from each other can reignite sparks.”
l 6manage money talks
Bobette and Chris Boone, married 14 years, say discussing finances is one of the biggest challenges in their relationship. They’re not alone. The couple, from Freeport, New York, consciously makes the effort to communicate regularly about money. “We talk every day about everything, including money,” Bobette says, “whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.” Staying transparent and truthful with your partner about finances is critical to maintaining a healthy relationship.
7 laugh out loud
“Don’t forget humor,”
Dr. Haltzman urges.
“Humor alone, from
a wife, has the ability
to shift a man from
being unhappy in
marriage to being
Enjoying a funny
the past or simply
finding humor in the
moment can add life
to your relationship. Laughter is a
powerful tool and should be enjoyed
l 8plan a “play” date
“Exercising together adds a positive element to a relationship,” Granberry says. Try sports or games you both enjoy and be open to experimenting with something different. He suggests golf, dominoes, basketball, tennis and jogging.
l 9make time for sex
Stress—work, school, kids, aging parents—can sidetrack your sex life. “Emotional and physical intimacy can be critically important to feeling close to your partner,” McNair says. It’s important to make your sex life a priority. Don’t be afraid to plan it.
“Spontaneous sex is great and planning sex is great, too,” McNair says. “Trying new things with each other is also great, as long as both partners agree on what they’re doing so no one feels coerced into doing something that makes them uncomfortable.”
l 10read, recharge and retreat
The Tylers are intentional about making their marriage work. “We read books, attend conferences and marriage
ministries,” Ronnie says. McNair applauds their efforts. “Marriage retreats are excellent because they allow you to focus on working on your marriage with other couples. Couples can benefit from talking with other couples and sharing and supporting each other. You learn what you’re going through, other couples have gone through and how they’ve dealt with it.”
l 11fight fair
Arguments happen; how you handle them can affect every aspect of your relationship. “It’s very important to keep communication open, even if it means you might disagree,” McNair says. “People don’t always know how to disagree with each other in a way that’s productive.”
Healthy fighting is OK, Christopher-Holloway says. “If it isn’t an opportune time to talk, set a time to talk later. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Many times, arguments are 30 percent of what’s happening now and 70 percent of a past issue in the relationship left unresolved.”
Lorraine Sanabria Robertson is an Atlanta freelancer.