Several years ago, on their 50th anniversary, my 87-year-old grandfather looked at my 84-year-old grandmother and said, “This right here, our relationship, this is my greatest accomplishment.”
My grandfather’s words have always remained with me. They were beautifully romantic, but more importantly, they were delightfully true. Healthy relationships are accomplishments. They take commitment and work, and two people who are willing to meet in the middle and put in the necessary effort.
If you’re in a relationship, intimate or platonic, that could use a little help, the tips below will come in handy…
1. Let go of old wounds through forgiveness.
Every moment of your life you are either growing or dying – and when you are physically healthy, it’s a choice, not fate. The art of maintaining happiness in your life and relationships relies on the fine balancing act of holding on and letting go. Yes, sometimes people you trust (including yourself) will hurt you. Being hurt is something you can’t avoid, but being continuously miserable is always a choice. Forgiveness is the remedy. You have to let go of what’s behind you before you can grasp the goodness in front of you.
2. Come clean when you make a mistake.
An honest heart is the beginning of everything that is right with this world. The most honorable people of all are not those who never make mistakes, but those who admit to them when they do, and then go on and do their best to right the wrongs they’ve made. In the end, being honest might not always win you a lot of friends and lovers, but it will always keep the right ones in your life. (Angel and I discuss this process in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. Stop gossiping and start communicating.
A good rule of thumb: If you can’t say it to their face, you shouldn’t say it behind their back. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” Life is much too short to waste talking about people, gossiping, and stirring up trouble that has no substance. If you don’t know, ask. If you don’t agree, say so. If you don’t like it, speak up. But never judge people behind their back.
4. Give others the space to make their own decisions.
Stop judging others by your own past. Never act, judge, or treat people like you know them better than they know themselves. They are living a different life than you are. What might be good for one person may not be good for another. What might be bad for one person might change another person’s life for the better. Allow the people in your life to make their own mistakes and their own decisions.
5. Do things that make YOU happy.
If you want to awaken happiness in a relationship, start by living a life that makes you happy and then radiate your happiness into your relationship. If you want to eliminate suffering in a relationship, start by eliminating the dark and negative parts of yourself, and then radiate your positivity into your relationship. Truly, the greatest power you have in this world is the power of your own self-transformation. All the positive change you seek in any relationship starts with the one in the mirror. (Read The Four Agreements.)
6. Show your loved ones your kindness in small ways every day.
Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. Always be kinder than necessary. You never know what someone is going through. Sometimes you have to be kind to someone, not because they’re being nice, but because you are. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
7. Say less when less means more.
It takes some courage to stand up and speak; it takes even more courage to open your mind and listen. Pay attention and be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble. The people in your life often need a listening ear more than they need a rambling voice. And don’t listen with the intent to reply; hear what is being said with the intent to understand. You are as beautiful as the love you give, and you are as wise as the silence you leave behind.
8. Let your love and trust overpower your fear.
You never lose by loving; you lose by holding back. No relationship is impossible until you refuse to give it a chance. Love means giving someone the chance to hurt you, but trusting them not to. Without this trust, a relationship cannot survive. You cannot just believe what you fear from others; you have to believe in the good faith of others. If you are ever going to have someone trust you, you must feel that you can trust them too.
9. Accept, don’t expect.
Unconditional acceptance is something we want, but rarely ever give out. Remember, people never do anything that is out of character. They may do things that go against your expectations, but what people do reveals exactly who they are. Never force your expectations on people, other than the expectation that they will be exactly who they are. Who they are is not what they say or what you have come to expect, it is who they reveal themselves to be. Either you accept them as they are, or you move on without them. (Read Getting the Love You Want.)
10. Let the wrong ones go.
Know your worth! When you give your time to someone who doesn’t respect you, you surrender pieces of your heart you will never get back. All failed relationships hurt, but losing someone who doesn’t appreciate and respect you is actually a gain, not a loss. Some people come into your life temporarily simply to teach you something. They come and they go and they make a difference. It’s perfectly okay that they’re not in your life anymore. You now have more time to focus on the relationships that truly matter.
Remember, even the healthiest relationships have small flaws. Being too black and white about the quality and health of a relationship spells trouble. Accept the fact that there will always be difficulties present, but you can still focus on the good. Instead of constantly looking for signs of what’s not working in your relationship, what you need to do is look for signs of what is, and then use this as a solid foundation to build upon.