Relationships may be full of “movie moments”, but by no means are real relationships as perfect as you or Richard Curtis would like them to be. No, sir. Because life in movies is all blinding white teeth and endless costume changes, doors flung open right on cue, and kissing in the rain. In real life, people are crooked and strange and three-dimensional, doors never open at the right time, and kissing in the rain just makes your mascara run. Boo.
Real life relationships are full of petty arguments and watched clocks. Real life relationships sometimes mean sleeping with your back to one another; they mean PMS, TMI and unscripted DMCs. But they are also infinitely better than watching two impossibly perfect, half-baked characters smooch as the credits roll. Because they belong to us, and — in the right partnership — they add a whole extra, wonderful dimension to our lives.
There is no guarantee that any relationship is going to work, but setting the right conditions helps enormously. Here are AHW’s five golden rules of relationship etiquette; feel free to carve them into stone, proclaim their divinity, and/or repeat them with your S.O. on a daily basis.
… Or just, y’know, practise them.
- Be rational. Learn to articulate your troubles without passive-aggressive eye-rolls and name-calling. Learn to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and think — really think — what he or she is getting at. By all means argue, but learn to argue well. The key word with relationship rationality is “learning”: it’s often the hardest part. But once you figure out how to stand back and assess a situation objectively without flying off the handle, you’ve essentially cracked the secret code to a successful relationship. Boom.
- Be grateful. Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving! My mother-in-law famously said that there are two things you can never say enough: “thank you”, and “I love you”. Start being grateful for all the little things your partner does, notice them and tell them so. Those little messages, the cuddles in bed, that times he bought you take-out because you didn’t feel like cooking, the cheap Chipotle dates where you laugh so much that guac snorts out of your nose: say “thank you” for those things and really mean it. Tell your S.O. that you’re grateful for their presence in your life. The power of positive affirmation is greater than you think.
- Be honest. You might hide the whole truth because you think it’ll make your partner’s life easier, but being honest and open with each other about the way you feel is crucial. Do you feel like you’re being spoken down to, are you worried about your partner’s relationship with someone else, or are you just sick of dirty clothes lying all over the floor? Say something! If you leave the small issues for fear of not wanting to start an argument, your frustrations will only blow up into something more serious in months or years to come. It’s possible to raise issues and handle them in a mature and reasonable manner though … Refer back to Rule #1!
- Be loving. My husband and I joke about those tacky mantra canvasses that seem to be the cornerstone of the Target home decor section, but in all seriousness: you need love and laughter in a relationship, or what are you left with? Don’t be afraid of saying “I love you” — and often. Go to bed at the same time and fall asleep together. Hold hands. Have pun wars. Have sex, lots of sex! Understand what you can do to make your partner feel loved; sometimes the biggest gift you can give is quality time, and other times it’s a kind word or a soft touch. Be sensitive to that. Develop loving habits that suit the pair of you, working on what you both want and ignoring what you’re told to want. Make that — and only that! — the basis of your relationship. And never go to bed angry.
- Be selfless. Remember: you’ve made a commitment (whether it’s legally binding, or simply an implied sense of fidelity) to another person and, therefore, you should be absolutely committed to putting your significant other’s needs and desires at least on par with your own, and treat them with equal importance. This doesn’t mean giving up your own identity, but simply learning to care unconditionally for your main squeeze without resentment. Occasionally it will feel like an effort, and other times it will seem natural; if this feels like a constant struggle, maybe it’s time to reassess your priorities.