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Make The Most of Your Relationship

By David Bottomley

Happy intimate relationships are neither instinctive nor easy so most people have to learn how to best experience them.  The quality of our relationship with our partner is important and is fundamental to our well being and psychological health.  How we relate to our partner will affect how we think, feel and behave.  A healthy relationship is one in which both partners are happy and they grow as individual people as well as a couple.  It is one in which there is honesty, mutual respect, commitment and trust.  It comprises mostly positive and constructive interactions.   

Relationships are about love – loving and respecting one another and the following quote by Dante clearly illustrates its importance.

“Love - its presence, its lack, its distortions - is the single cause explaining all the joys and sorrows of humanity.”

Ideally, the features of happy relationships are as follows:-

  • They are based on mutuality, harmony, integrity and cooperation.
  • There is little drama.
  • You own and take responsibility for your own feelings and emotional baggage.
  • You do not depend on each other to have your needs met.
  • You respect one another’s boundaries and privacy.
  • You do not compromise all the time.
  • You encourage the other to follow his or her path.
  • You maintain your sense of self.
  • You refrain from projecting your feelings onto your partner.
  • You stop blaming your partner for your own unhappiness.
  • You communicate honestly and responsibly.
  • They are enjoyable.

There are no easy answers to building happy and satisfying relationships.  Rest assured that most problems can be worked through if you are committed and in love with your partner.  Relationships take time, effort and energy and a lot of patience!

Let’s look at some common problems experienced in relationships together with some potential solutions:

a) Unhappy relationship?

Maintaining relationships is one of the most stimulating challenges of life.  Loving people in spite of their faults is especially challenging.  If we develop relationships properly in the first place, then maintaining a relationship will be much easier in the longer term.


  • Have realistic expectations of your partner and of yourself.  As well as the positives there will also be fewer misunderstanding, disagreements, frustration, mistakes, doubts and many other unpleasant experiences.  We need to be realistic in relationships, which will allow us to be more forgiving and accepting.
  • Work at communicating more effectively.  That is, be more open, be honest, listen more, respect the other’s point of view, have empathy and don’t make value judgements.
  • Be supportive, encourage feedback and voice problems sooner rather than later.
  • Resolve conflict as quickly as possible and try to aim for win-win outcomes.  Be solution-orientated.
  • Decide on roles and who makes what decisions.
  • Communicate about sex and sensuality.  Spontaneity, reciprocity, excitement and mutual appreciation are important topics to discuss.
  • Have fun and keep your sense of humour.  Laugh together, joke together, go out together and enjoy each other’s company.
  • Learn to agree on financial matters and try to have common goals and values.
  • Be clear as to whether or not you wish to have children.  If you do have children, discuss and agree on how they will be disciplined, who is to be responsible for them and how you wish to raise them.  Please remember that all parents need a break from their children on a regular basis.
  • Acknowledge your personality differences because your differences will be a strength.  Try not to focus on differences as faults, rather as qualities which contribute to the partnership.
  • Acknowledge that leisure and recreational activities are important to both individuals and couples.  Try to agree on how you will spend your quality time either together and separately.

b) Do you place your partner’s needs first

Many people place their partner’s needs ahead of their own and in return they expect their own needs to be completely fulfilled. This is not a good basis for a relationship. Be aware that no one is responsible for fulfilling your needs except yourself.


  • Do not feel obliged to be responsible for meeting your partner’s needs.
  • If you meet your own needs, you are in a better position to contribute to your partner’s and family’s happiness. 
  • Make sure you have sufficient resources to pursue your own interests and pleasures.  This means, committing enough of your own time, money and energy to doing things that are good for you.

c) The role of commitment in relationships

To be committed emotionally to our partner means to be ‘in love’ with him or her.  If we have issues with commitment you need to ask ourself if you are harbouring any fears of loving someone completely.  Be aware that the honeymoon period will not last beyond a few years.  The reasons for becoming married will be different from the reasons for remaining together.  In an emotionally committed relationship staying together is more than an obligation or a duty.  It is an emotional process that deepens our relationship, which will reflect your own personal journey.


  • Add romance to your life and go out together.
  • Look for the positive qualities in yourself and in your partner.
  • Treat each other with respect.
  • Nurture and support each other.

d) Difficulty saying ‘no’

Saying ‘no’ is about self-respect – not doing something we don’t wish to.  People need to feel that they can say no in a relationship.  Often we don’t say NO in order to keep the peace and we fear stating our truth.  This fear keeps us trapped and abuses our self-respect. 


  • Learn to say ‘no’ with gentleness, consideration and compassion.
  • Learn assertiveness skills so that you can communicate more honestly with your partner.  This will also help with your self-esteem and confidence.

**Consider enrolling in the program ‘Path to Positive Communication’.

e) Guilt and shame

Our own personal guilt and shame are often carried over into our relationships through our upbringing.  It is not really fair to do this but at some point most of us do it without even realising it. 


  • Avoid manipulating through guilt.
  • Avoid using the language of, ‘should’ or ‘must’ when communicating with your partner.
  • Similarly, be careful with non-verbal gestures that demean or humiliate your partner.
  • Avoid telling your partner what to do.

f) Problems with sex life

Sexual difficulties often develop as a result of other issues.  We need to look at our fears of intimacy, communication problems, commitment issues etc.  Underlying sexual problems are usually the result of emotional or psychological issues.


  • Style and frequency of sexual activity needs to be mutually agreeable.  If it is not, it won’t be a great disaster.  It means you may need to communicate openly and honestly with each other.  Be solution-focused, positive, adaptable, understanding and flexible in your thinking.
  • Try not to use sex as a way of punishing or humiliating each other.  Sex need not be about power or control.

g) Wanting to be in a relationship

There may be different reasons underlying why we are not in a relationship, for example, coming out of a hurtful relationship and needing time to grieve.  However, some of us may feel ready to make a commitment so we may consciously desire a relationship but there may be difficulty in meeting people with similar interests or values. 


  • Forgive previous hurts and learn to trust again.
  • Be patient and try not to be afraid of being alone for a while.  Have faith that what you have envisaged for yourself will happen – and don’t settle for second best.
  • Nurture in yourself the very same qualities you are expecting in a partner.
  • Be aware of your negative thinking, eg. “all the good ones are taken and I’ll never have a good relationship”.
  • Think in a positive way about yourself and about any potential partners out there.
  • Keep yourself attractive.

More articles:  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 . 8 . 9 . 10 . 11 . 12 . 13