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Nine secrets to improve your relationships

A relationship between two people is strengthened by their differences. Are there other secrets to a successful relationship – be it a friendship, partnership or marriage? Clever hacks to keep things on track?

Here are a few practical tips for helping the important relationships in your life run smoothly.

1. Maintain a sense of self

It’s very easy to throw yourself into a relationship and then feel like you lost yourself somewhere in the process. Making time for you, and giving your partner personal space, is crucial. Keep up your hobbies and interests and hold in your head the things that matter to you. Rabbi Harvey Belovski in Something Understood recognises how important it is to keep a clear sense of ourselves: “I'm evolving towards a position in which a secure relationship allows and encourages considerable space for individual growth. This is not purely to avoid smothering one's partner, but to nurture a healthy and mature relationship.” Spend time apart and make the time together great.

2. Don’t be scared of conflict

Being different and promoting a sense of self invariably results in some disagreements. But conflict in a partnership or friendship isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our relationships are strengthened and nurtured by the differences between us – and partnership comes from opposition. Really, it’s how you deal with conflict that matters. Renowned couples therapist Esther Perel believes empathy is the most important thing for resolving conflict: "acknowledge what the other person is going through”, Esther states, show empathy and take responsibility for your own contribution to the problems you’re facing. Rather than focusing on what the other person is doing wrong, ask yourself: what am I doing wrong and how can I change?

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3. Have fun together

“Spend quality time together” is an oldie but a goody. Don’t let your relationship become trips to the supermarket and cleaning out the bins together. Set aside specific times to enjoy each other’s company and share exciting experiences – nice dinners, a trip to the aquarium, a lazy morning in bed. It can be particularly difficult to find time to spend with busy friends so think about locking down a regular date to hang out: curry night on the third Tuesday of every month, or an annual camping trip.

4. Communicate clearly

How many arguments are caused by simple misunderstandings? Communicating clearly and effectively is the key to avoiding disappointment and conflict. Reread a text message or email before you send it – does what you’re trying to say come across on paper? If in doubt, make time to talk things over face-to-face or a FaceTime.

Empathise with what your partner is going through. Rather than focusing on what the other person is doing wrong, ask yourself: what am I doing wrong and how can I change?

5. Don’t expect one person to be your “everything”

We can put too much pressure on a spouse or partner: we want them to be our emotional crutch as well as our lover, friend, companion, confidant and financial support. And when they fail in one area we question our whole relationship. Sometimes it’s about knowing when to go to a friend or family member for advice and guidance, and a shoulder to cry on, rather than expecting a partner to do the job. Your marriage or partnership should be your primary relationship, but not your only one.

6. Celebrate the good moments

Life can be tough, so when happy things happen make a song and dance about it. If your friend has a baby, or your partner gets that longed-for promotion, open the bubbly and fire up the barbeque. Celebrating good news brings you closer together and gets you through the lows.

7. Make yourself vulnerable

Achieving closeness and intimacy means opening yourself up. If you are prepared to show vulnerability, share your worries and fears and ask for help, then others will do the same. After conducting thousands of interviews, researcher Brené Brown came to the conclusion that the secret to connection is vulnerability: “There can be no intimacy – emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy – without vulnerability,” she says. As Leonard Cohen famously put it, it’s the cracks that let the light get in.

8. Show kindness and appreciation

We can take our loved ones for granted so it’s important to provide affirmation and perform acts of kindness – and show gratitude when others do the same. If you’re thinking of someone, send a text or email and let them know. If your friend or partner has a significant doctor’s appointment or a stressful event at work, check in to see how it went. If your friend is poorly, send them a get well soon card. Small, personal gestures go a long way.

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9. Don’t get hung up on whether you’ve found “the one”

Pop culture tells us that we should hold out for “the one.” Esther Perel says this can make modern, digital daters feel paralysed by indecision: how can we know we’re with the right person when there are millions of other potential soul mates at our fingertips? The truth, Esther says, is that we can’t. But we need to remember that “there is no one and only. There is the one you pick and what you choose to build with that person.” Success or failure doesn’t come down to whether they are “the one” for you but whether you are compatible and whether you are prepared to work hard!