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Whether you are in a new relationship or have been together for years, there are basic rules that always apply if you want a long-lasting relationship. Of course, every couple is different, and some rules may not work for you, but there are general guidelines that will help you and your partner create a successful and healthy relationship.
As with anything on the internet, take what resonates with you and leave the rest. There’s no magic formula for a perfect relationship, but there are definitely some things you can do to make yours stronger and longer-lasting.
Here are 14 relationship rules you need to know.
1. Don’t take your partner for granted
Make sure to show your appreciation for your partner, whether it’s through words, actions, or simple gestures. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking our partners for granted, especially if we’ve been together for a long time. We get comfortable and complacent and stop doing the things that made us fall in love in the first place.
You know your partner will always be there for you, so you stop doing the little things that made them feel special. But don’t take your partner for granted! Those little things are what keeps the spark alive in a relationship. It will make your relationship stronger and happier. Try planning night-outs and dates, as doing so has been shown to promote closeness and commitment. 1 Show them how much you appreciate them with thoughtful gestures and quality time together.
2. Show affection to your partner
Acts of affection are important in any relationship. They make your partner feel loved, appreciated, and valued. Plus, they help to build a strong emotional connection between you two.
So make sure that you regularly show your affection for your partner in both big and small ways. Hold hands, give them a hug or kiss, tell them that you love them. It’s a way of showing them that you love and care about them, and it can help to build a stronger, more intimate bond between you.
It will also help that you know your partner’s love language, the concept developed by Chapman in 2010, which suggests that people have different ways of expressing and receiving love. 2 These love languages are: quality time, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, and words of affirmation. 2
By knowing your partner’s love language, you can make sure that you are expressing your love in a way that they will understand and appreciate.
3. Don’t compare yourself to other couples
Comparing yourself to other couples is never a good idea. It can make you feel insecure, jealous, and resentful. Plus, it’s a surefire way to start arguments with your partner.
Every couple has different ideas about relationships. There is no right or wrong way to be in a relationship - what works for one couple may not work for another. Roads to contentment begin with acceptance of the fact that every couple is unique. So instead of comparing yourselves to other couples, focus on what works for you and your partner.
4. Make time for your partner
Spending quality time with your partner is essential for a happy and healthy relationship. It’s a chance for you to connect with each other on a deeper level, without any distractions.
So make sure that you set aside some time every week to spend with your partner, even if it’s just an hour or two. Turn off your phones, put away your work, and focus on each other. Talk, laugh, and just enjoy each others’ company. These quality time moments are what will keep your relationship strong and lasting.
Here are some ideas for quality time together:
- Watch a movie together
- Take a walk around the neighborhood
- Cook dinner together
- Play a board game or cards
- Cuddle on the couch
- Go on a date
In addition to spending time with your partner is a good way to improve your relationship, individuals who often go on steady dates are often seen by their peers as people with high levels of self-esteem. 3 So make time for regular date nights, even if you’ve been together for years.
5. Be honest with each other
Honesty is key in any relationship. You need to be able to trust your partner, and that can only happen if you are honest with each other. Honesty is part of the list published by the CDC that details five characteristics that make up a healthy relationship, and 79 percent of American girls believe that no honesty means no relationship. 4
Being honest with your partner doesn’t mean that you have to share everything with them. You can still have some privacy and independence in the relationship. But it does mean being honest about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences. It also means being honest about your needs and wants.
If you’re not being honest with your partner, it can lead to problems in the relationship. Secrets and lies can create distance and mistrust, so make sure that you are always honest with each other.
6. Communicate effectively
Effective communication means being clear, concise, and honest. It also means listening carefully to what your partner has to say and trying to see things from their perspective. Effective communication in a relationship is shaped by basic techniques such as open-ended questions, listening, empathy, and assertiveness. 5 It’s how you share your thoughts and feelings with each other, and it’s essential for problem-solving.
One tip for communicating effectively is to use “I” statements. For example, “I feel upset when you stay out late without telling me where you are.” This allows your partner to understand how you’re feeling without placing any blame on them.
It’s also important to be aware of nonverbal communication. Those in romantic relationships have been found to have the ability to recognize their partner’s emotions through nonverbal cues. These self-focused emotions, such as envy and pride, are unique to romantic relationships and can play a role in how couples communicate with each other. 6
Things like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice can all send a message that words cannot. So make sure that you’re always paying attention to your partner, and vice versa.
Communication is never easy, but it’s worth the effort. With effective communication, you can solve any problem that comes up in your relationship.
7. Be a good listener
Listening is just as important as talking in a relationship. It’s how you show your partner that you care about them and their thoughts and feelings. Plus, it’s essential for effective communication (see above).
Attentive listening, especially during times of self-disclosure, is essential in maintaining intimacy. 7 Individuals who have less attentive partners are more likely to grow distant from their partner and resort to more problem-oriented coping and more negative dyadic coping. 8
So what does it mean to be a good listener? It means being present and engaged at the moment. An attentive listener knows how to acknowledge, be patient, and be open-minded. They make an effort to understand what their partner is saying, and they don’t judge or criticize them. They also don’t try to fix the problem or give their partner advice. That’s not their job. An attentive listener also knows how to back channel, or show their partner that they’re listening through things like facial expressions and body language. 9
Just by listening, you’re showing your partner that you care about them and that you want to make things work. So make sure that you always take the time to listen to what they have to say.
Struggling to keep your relationship afloat? Here’s how you can actually make it work.
8. Respect each other
Respect each other’s needs and feelings. It’s one of the most important relationship rules. If you don’t respect your partner, then the relationship will quickly fall apart.
Respect is shown in many ways: through words, actions, and decisions. It’s about valuing your partner for who they are and recognizing their worth. It means treating them with kindness and understanding, even when you don’t agree with them.
Respect is also about giving each other space and privacy when needed. It’s about listening to each other and valuing each other’s opinions. And it’s about being considerate of each other’s feelings, even when you’re upset.
9. Don’t rely on your partner to make you happy
No one can make you happy except you. Your partner can contribute to your happiness, but they are not responsible for it. You need to find happiness within yourself and then share that with your partner.
If you rely on your partner to make you happy, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Resorting to dating and getting into relationships to make you happy only show how dependent you are on others to determine your happiness. This dependency will keep you from being selective enough in choosing a partner and from developing a strong relationship. 10
It’s important to remember that you are in control of your own happiness. So find things that make you happy and enjoy them! Whether it’s spending time with your friends, going for a walk, reading a book, or watching your favorite movie, make sure to do something that brings you joy. Be happy with who you are, independent of your relationship status. Then, and only then, you can be truly happy in a relationship.
10. Don’t try to change your partner
Appreciate your partner’s quirks and differences instead of trying to change them. It’s one of the most important relationship rules. After all, you fell in love with them for who they are, not who you wanted them to be.
Trying to change your partner will only create resentment and conflict. It’s also a sign that you’re not accepting them for who they are. If you can’t accept them, then the relationship is not going to work.
Instead of trying to change your partner, focus on appreciating their differences. Embrace what makes them unique and special. This will help you to build a stronger, more loving relationship.
11. Be supportive and understanding
Be there for your partner when they need you. Life is full of ups and downs, and it’s important to be there for each other during the tough times.
Being supportive doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything your partner does. It just means that you’re there for them, no matter what. You listen to them, offer your support, and give them your time and attention. Individuals in relationships who felt that their partner gave them constant support and showed support availability during stressful times reported more satisfaction in their relationships than those who didn’t experience any type of support. 11
Being understanding does not mean that you have to actually understand why your partner is upset. It just means that you’re aware of their feelings and willing to listen to them. Sometimes it’s impossible to understand what someone is going through, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support them.
Offer your support and understanding freely, and your partner will appreciate it. It will help strengthen your relationship and make both of you happier in the long run.
12. Initiate discussions
Constant communication is a key ingredient in any successful relationship. Talking about the bad times as well as the good times will help you to connect with your partner and build a stronger relationship. Couples in romantic relationships who spend a great deal of time talking about both the good and bad in their relationship are more likely to report greater satisfaction, perceived more positive qualities in their relationships, and experienced greater closeness with their partners. 12
Of course, this doesn’t mean talking, or worse arguing, just for the sake of it. Choose your battles wisely and try to avoid petty arguments. If you do have a disagreement, try to discuss it calmly and respectfully.
13. Set boundaries
When people think of relationships, they often think of love and intimacy. But it’s important to remember that relationships are not just about the good times. They’re also about setting boundaries.
Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that you have to share everything with your partner. You’re still two separate people, and you need to respect each other’s privacy. Boundaries serve two purposes: they define and protect you. 10 They help you realize the things you are and the things you are not. And they keep you from getting hurt or taking advantage of your partner. 10
One of the most important relationship rules is to respect each other’s boundaries. If you’re not sure what your partner’s boundaries are, ask them. And be sure to listen to their answer. Don’t try to push their boundaries or ignore them. That’s not fair to either of you.
14. Get feedback from friends and family
Friends and family can be great sources of support and guidance when it comes to relationships. They can offer impartial advice and help you to see things from a different perspective. If you’re not sure what to do in a particular situation, talking to someone who knows you both well can be very helpful.
When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy for you to get swept up in the emotion of it all and lose sight of your true self. People may sometimes act differently in relationships than they normally do in other situations. Asking your friends and family if you are being yourself in your relationship can be a valuable way to get some outside perspective. 10 This will also help you see the relationship more clearly and make better decisions about it.
By following these basic relationship rules, you can build a strong, healthy, and happy relationship with your partner. So take the time to listen to each other, respect each other, and be there for each other. These are the foundation of a solid relationship. And if you can do these things, then you’re on your way to a lasting and fulfilling relationship.
Secrets to a healthy relationship: Books every couple should read
It's no secret that a healthy relationship is key in a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship. This list of books about healthy relationships will help you learn how to communicate better, resolve conflict, and deepen your connection. From classic self-help books to more modern reads, these titles will give you the tools you need to build a strong and healthy relationship.
- Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships
- Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship
- Love More, Fight Less: Communication Skills Every Couple Needs: A Relationship Workbook for Couples
- Infidelity Recovery Workbook for Couples: Tools and Exercises to Rebuild Your Relationship
- Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are
Harasymchuk, C., Walker, D. L., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Planning date nights that promote closeness: The roles of relationship goals and self-expansion. Journal of social and personal relationships, 38(5), 1692–1709. doi.org ↩︎
Samet, N., & Kelly, E. W., Jr (1987). The relationship of steady dating to self-esteem and sex role identity among adolescents. Adolescence, 22(85), 231–245. ↩︎
Debnam, K. J., Howard, D. E., & Garza, M. A. (2014). “If you don’t have honesty in a relationship, then there is no relationship”: African American girls’ characterization of healthy dating relationships, a qualitative study. The journal of primary prevention, 35(6), 397–407. doi.org ↩︎
Grover S. M. (2005). Shaping effective communication skills and therapeutic relationships at work: the foundation of collaboration. AAOHN journal : official journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, 53(4), 177–187. ↩︎
Reis, H. T., & Shaver, P. (1988). Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck, D. F. Hay, S. E. Hobfoll, W. Ickes, & B. M. Montgomery (Eds.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research and interventions (pp. 367–389). Oxford, UK: Wiley. ↩︎
Kuhn, R., Bradbury, T. N., Nussbeck, F. W., & Bodenmann, G. (2018). The power of listening: Lending an ear to the partner during dyadic coping conversations. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 32(6), 762–772. doi.org ↩︎
Rusu, P. P., Nussbeck, F. W., Leuchtmann, L., & Bodenmann, G. (2020). Stress, dyadic coping, and relationship satisfaction: A longitudinal study disentangling timely stable from yearly fluctuations. PLOS ONE, 15(4), e0231133. doi.org ↩︎
Hogan, J. N., Crenshaw, A. O., Baucom, K., & Baucom, B. (2021). Time Spent Together in Intimate Relationships: Implications for Relationship Functioning. Contemporary family therapy, 43(3), 226–233. doi.org ↩︎