Do You Make These Relationship Mistakes?

It would be brilliant if relationships came with an instruction manual. They could work something like a car’s dashboard—warning lights flashing early enough in advance so you could pull out the manual and see what was going wrong and how to fix it.

In reality, there are many, many mistakes we can make along the course of our relationship. Most of them, we don’t pick up until it’s too late. Many can be avoided with a little effort and forward-thinking.

Here are three common mistakes that may just sound familiar.

Sky-high expectations

Oh boy, am I a sucker for this one.

I have to work really hard to keep my expectations in check, especially around big life events—like my wedding.

You see, I often have this vision in my mind of how things “should” be (usually colored by stupid Hollywood rom-coms, I’m ashamed to admit) and when they don’t play out perfectly, I can get a little (read: a lot) cranky.

For instance, after my wedding I expected the honeymoon period to last for months. As blissful newlyweds, I thought we’d be surrounded by a special loving glow, wouldn’t be able to keep our hands off each other for months, would stare into each other’s eyes for hours (okay, that one I’m joking about, except for one teensy, soppy part of me that would kind of relish it) …

In reality, it was only day three of our honeymoon when my husband got food poisoning and the dream was instantly crushed. I was left walking the beach at sunset alone while he broke out in cold sweats back in the hotel room.

Having unrealistic expectations will only lead to bitter disappointment. Be realistic about things. Your partner is not a mind-reader. Of course there are certain reasonable expectations that every relationship needs to survive: fidelity, intimacy, and trust are but a few. Next time you’re feeling disappointed or let down in your relationship, ask yourself if your expectations were realistic or not.

Letting romance slide

It all starts out great, with romantic dinner dates and bunches of flowers. But there comes a point in every relationship when suddenly it’s less wooing and more leaving the toilet door open.

Romance is a beautiful thing and we do need to work hard to keep it around after the first stages of love disappear.

I bang on about this all the time. “Romance” is really just code for “making an effort.” The very nature of romance is that it’s impractical, thoughtful, and often spontaneous. When we no longer have endorphins to inspire our romantic gestures, we need to dig a little deeper to bring it out.

Go and do something romantic and impractical and spontaneous for your partner today. It can be as simple as a text message telling them you love them, or as elaborate as telling them to dress up and meet you in town, then surprising them with tickets to a show.

Non-communication

You and your partner must keep talking. Always. Otherwise you’ll turn into one of those couples you see in restaurants who sit there in silence, poking their food with their forks.

Keep in the habit of having discussions. About anything and everything. Sit and read the newspapers together and chat about stories in there. Find some conversation-starters, and turn to them when it’s been a boring week. Have a little break away from each other for a night or a weekend so you have something to talk about when you reunite.

Verbal communication and socializing is one of the great joys we have in life. Stay in the habit and you’ll be firm friends forever.

These are just three common mistakes in relationships. Got any more for us?

Moving In: Your How-to Guide

Years ago, it used to be that you would get married before you moved in with your partner. Not so anymore, as people everywhere opt to “try before they buy” when it comes to living a deux.

Sure, it sounds like a sensible idea in theory—you know upfront if you’ll be compatible, not to mention the financial convenience of the arrangement—but studies have shown that it doesn’t always work that way in reality:

Psychology Today reports: “To help figure this out, let’s look at what research on living together might tell us. Well, most studies done from 1995 forward showed that couples that lived together before marriage had higher divorce rates as compared with couples that didn’t. Other findings included poorer mental and physical health, including depression, especially for women.

“One explanation for these findings is that the burden placed on women is not compensated for in a living together environment. Since women are known to do the lion’s share of housework, the thinking is that a woman would go from taking care of her own place to having to do the housework and other domestic errands in the two-person apartment or house that she shared with her boyfriend. All this extra work occurs without the benefit of the financial and emotional security that comes with the commitment of marriage.”

I moved in with a boyfriend once. We were both very excited about it—our new little apartment was fantastic. I was barely out of university, and finances were somewhat strained between my measly graduate salary and his fledgling business.

Things were a little tough. But then, they almost always are. The big mistake came when after only three months, he panicked and moved out. We broke up.

Then, when he was at a comfortable distance from me again (i.e. in a new house) he came asking if we could get back together.

The key here, in my opinion, is that we weren’t committed enough to making it work.

There are going to be potholes while you settle in to life together. I think it takes a good six months to iron out the kinks. If you’re not committed to making it through those obstacles, it’s all too easy to cut and run.

Let’s talk about how living together usually goes.

We aren’t always in the habit of talking seriously about moving in first. What is more common is that someone’s lease is up, or someone’s flatmate announces they’re moving overseas and there will be a forced change to the living situation. At this point, of course it makes sense to move in together. You’ve already been spending four nights a week together, someone is no doubt living out of the boot of their car and sick of it and not combining rent payments just seems crazy, right?

Decision made. The truck is hired and the co-habiting can commence.

First there’s the obligatory honeymoon phase: you rush home to cook dinner together and snuggle on the couch to watch movie marathons in your domestic bliss.

Then slowly, the glow fades and it’s all flannel pyjamas and wet tea bags on the sink. You argue about his ugly armchair, her stuffed toy collection, and whose turn it is to do the laundry.

It’s the harsh reality of living with another person, but with a little strategic foresight it doesn’t have to get out of hand. And: it does get better.

Learn to bend before you break

Battles over which way the toilet roll should hang and in what order the cutlery sits in the drawer aren’t massive, life-changing events.

Learn to adapt. Let the little things go so you can save your energy for the real arguments—like scrubbing the shower.

Have a proper discussion about finances

Sit down before you even move in together and come up with a solution for how you will manage your finances.

There is generally a spender and a saver in every relationship. Let the saver take charge of the finances. But the spender should also be very active in the planning and keep an eye on the books as well.

You may want to join your finances, or keep them separate and contribute to a shared pool. Either way, you need to work it out ahead of time to save the arguments—money is the biggest factor in most relationship arguments. For some handy tips on how to budget as a couple, take a look at this three-part series.

Get access the tools you need

Many couples have one thing they swear has been their “relationship saver”—dishwashers, a cleaner once a fortnight, a man cave. If you really are at a stalemate over a particular issue, think laterally to solve it.

Keep making an effort

I found when my now-husband and I moved in together (after we became engaged, as I had learned my lesson the first time) that we became an instant old, boring, married couple. It was suddenly waaay too easy to sit on the couch in our tracksuit pants every night watching mindless television. Dinners went from candlelight at the dining table to pasta in a bowl on our laps.

Keep making an effort with your partner at home. Schedule date nights, cook the occasional gourmet meal, and don’t change straight into your sloppy clothes as soon as you walk in the door.

A little effort goes a long way, and it is your spirit and attitude to living together that will get you through the hard times.

Any other words of wisdom from our readers when it comes to living together? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

4 Cozy Fall Date Ideas

Fall is the perfect season for lovers. After all the beach weather and parties of summertime, Fall is a great segue into cooler months that mean cozy nights on the couch and comfort food cooked in your own kitchen.

To make the most of this visually spectacular, romantic time of year, here are four Fall date ideas for you to try.

1. Go apple picking

Apple picking

Copyright Maridav - Fotolia.com

It’s harvest time for this crisp, ripe fruit! Find a nearby orchard where you can take out a basket and pick your own shiny apples.

Once the hard work is done, stop for a cider at the orchard (I guarantee they’ll have a café that makes the most of their wonderful produce there), then head home to bake apple pie from scratch. Don’t forget to pick up the vanilla ice cream on the way!

2. Have a picnic

It’s a shame to let all those leaves put on such a show if no one is around to appreciate it. Rug up, find some extra blankets to snuggle in, and head to a picnic spot among gorgeous trees.

Take mulled wine or hot chocolate in a thermos, some pumpkin pie and gourmet cheeses. Make some time to build piles of leaves and jump in them while you’re at it.

3. Enjoy football season

Football is back! Spend a night watching your local college team play while huddled in the bleachers under a blanket with some burgers and fries. Even if football isn’t your thing, pick a team and cheer hard. Getting into the sporting spirit is guaranteed to warm you up.

4. Scream!

Get into the Halloween spirit early with a classic horror movie marathon at home. Snuggle on the couch with popcorn and candy while you shiver at the likes of Hitchcock and Kubrick.

All that adrenalin may just get your heart racing … in more ways than one!

How do you like to spend cool Fall days with your sweetie?

On “Fatherless Children”

Fatherless children have been getting a lot of bad press lately.

The British PM, David Cameron, blamed the London riots on a lack of solid male role models and has declared himself ready to “tackle fatherless children.”

In the increasingly-heated debate about same-sex marriage, the conservatives are holding up the same card, claiming children without fathers are much worse off.

This was most recently seen in the case of Australian Senator Penny Wong, who shared the happy news that she and her partner are expecting a baby, only to be met with vile comments from conservative religious groups about gay parents violating a baby’s “human rights” and saying that children “generally did best if raised by a mother and a father”—to mention a few.

Actually, they’re wrong.

A first-of-its-kind study from 2010 showed the exact opposite—two mothers equates to well-adjusted, better behaved, smart children. Sometimes moreso than in the traditional nuclear family model.

Regardless, words like those the above are not fair on single parents around the globe, who are doing their best to raise children on their own when there’s no option for a second parent to be involved.

I was raised by a single mother from the age of seven after my father died. I am not rioting in the streets. I am not suffering from behavioural issues and I was not a difficult teenager.

Children do not need fathers. Or mothers, for that matter. They need love. And the more of it they have, the better.

A family is what you make it.

My family was just us girls—my mother, my little sister, and me. We loved each other and looked out for each other.

My extended family—godparents, uncles, aunties, surrogate mothers, and fathers—all stepped in. I never felt alone. I never felt the need to rebel, and certainly never to set things on fire.

Rather than twist the research to serve prejudiced views, I think we can extrapolate a little further to say:

Children fare best when their parents take an active interest in their lives, when they feel supported, and are encouraged to flourish. It doesn’t matter who that comes from, so long as they are loved.

FeelGooder Asks: How Do You Keep Your Relationships Strong?

I’m always fascinated when I meet people who have reached their twentieth, thirtieth, or fiftieth wedding anniversaries (or longer!) and are still together. The first question I always blurt out is: What’s your secret?

I love the answers. No one has ever told me it’s easy. My own grandmother tells me that she and my Pa always had fun—that was their key. And it’s true. They were always laughing, pulling stupid pranks on each other, telling jokes, organizing costume parties, and so much more. They adored each other and they loved to laugh. I make it a point to keep playing in my relationship as much as possible.

On Valentine’s Day 2010, the world’s longest-married couple took to Twitter to share their wisdom and advice in bite-sized pieces for the younger generations, who were all invited to tweet questions.

The Fishers' Twitter stream

The Fishers' Twitter stream

Together 86 years, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher (with the help of a technologically-savvy young thing somewhere) delivered their gems of marriage insight to the World Wide Web.

When you are more than 100 years old, I’d say you’ve seen nearly everything. They struck me with their calmness and certainty in what they have, and the sheer solidarity of what it takes to get through almost a century together.

When asked how they knew they were right for each other, they said: “We grew up together and were best friends before we married. A friend is for life—our marriage has lasted a lifetime.”

And when asked about the hard relationship times they said: “Remember marriage is not a contest—never keep a score.” They emphasise teamwork and a willingness to do what needs to be done.

These days, they enjoy sitting on their porch talking. After all these years they haven’t run out of things to say to each other.

What advice would you give to someone asking how to keep their relationship strong? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from someone else? What do you do in your own relationships to make sure they survive the distance?

Is Marriage Really That Difficult?

Another celebrity marriage has bitten the dust this week, with the announcement of J.Lo and Marc Anthony’s split.

Headlines around the world are proclaiming the couple fell victim to the clichéd Seven-Year Itch, which scientists revealed a few years back to be nothing more than “we’re bored with our marriage.”

In further alarming statistics, there has been a spike in younger couples (under 30s) who aren’t even making it past the four-year mark in their marriages—the media last year coined the “three year glitch” for these attention-deficit couples who seemingly decide to splash out on a white wedding with all the trimmings, then up-and-leave when things don’t go their way.

If you’re not willing to compromise and you still have time on your side, there’s no compunction for Generation Y when it comes to divorce.

Certainly, our modern society has no stigma attached to divorce. So we have this new trend of practice marriages—”starter marriages”, which are a dry run for the real marriage that will come later in life.

Except it’s not a dry run. It’s the real thing.

You’d think the easier option for the warm-up would just be to move in together without signing the papers, pledging commitment, and making your family buy you expensive towel sets and fancy toasters.

But you have to ask yourself: is marriage really so difficult that you can’t last more than 36 months before contemplating divorce?

Are couples weighing up the pros and cons far too late? Shouldn’t you be sure before you walk down the aisle?

And once you have wed, shouldn’t you do everything in your power to try and make it work before divorcing? Is three years a long enough time to say you really gave it your best shot?

There are obvious exceptions—cheating, lying, abuse are all valid reasons to end a marriage.

But studies showing that couples are more annoyed by their partner’s weight gain and spending habits are what really get me. These aren’t marriage-dissolving issues, surely?

Author Christine Meinecke has hit the nail on the head with her book Everybody Marries the Wrong Person. Every marriage will move from infatuation to disenchantment, she says. And there is no “right person” out there. Marriage cannot succeed without mature love, which is self-responsible.

“Self-responsible spouses do not try to change their partners. Instead, they focus on managing their own insecurities and dark moods, expectations and reactions.”

What genius. Don’t blame someone else for your problems. Be self-aware and be prepared to self-improve. This will obviously work only if your spouse is willing to do the same.

Marriage is hard. I don’t think anyone goes into thinking it will be easy. And you only have a marriage just as long as you’re both willing to work at it. But that’s the point of marriage. That’s exactly what you’re committing to do—work at it, no matter what.

What do you think about three-year marriages? Are couples less willing to try and make it work these days?

3 Ways to Show Your Partner You Appreciate Them

It’s easy to take things for granted sometimes. We don’t mean to, but it can naturally happen—it’s the path of least resistance, after all.

But a little bit of appreciation goes a long way between sweethearts.

I just watched this beautiful documentary about Sally and Sam, which left me in tears but also made me very grateful that my husband and I both have our health, and each other.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user theswedish

If you think you could probably do with giving your partner a little extra gratitude, here are three beautiful ways to show your partner you really do appreciate having them around.

1. Thank them

Just because your partner makes dinner every night or mows the lawn every month, doesn’t mean you can’t thank them for it. Even if it has been their job for the last twenty years, even if they got up to the baby during the night just once and you’ve done it a hundred other times, thank them!

Thank them sincerely, and thank them often.

2. Compliment them

Stop for a moment and pay your partner a compliment—let them know you notice them. Perhaps you love that color blue on them, you like their new haircut, you think they give great hugs. Whatever it is, lavish them with a compliment … or three!

3. Do something lovely for them

Take time out of your day to do something just for your partner. It may be as involved as cooking their favorite three-course meal and serving it by candlelight, as cosy as giving them a shoulder rub, or as simple as bringing home a tiny present you know they’ll love.

Do you appreciate your partner as abundantly as you could? What’s your favorite way to show your appreciation?

How Your Family Impacts Your Relationships

Reading this heartfelt and honest piece by Kylie Ladd on Mamamia.com.au last week, I remembered something that I had long-forgotten from when my husband and I did our pre-marital education course a few years ago. Ladd talks about the restrained family upbringing her husband had, and how it has impacted his emotional connectedness with her today.

It’s called Family of Origin theory: the family that you are raised in impacts enormously on the person you turn out to be. Your habits, your emotional expression, your way of interacting with loved ones … right down to how you sort your cutlery drawer, even (spoons to the left, thank you very much).

The idea is that each person brings with them into a relationship their own idea of how a family operates, based on what they’ve had ingrained in them over the years. This can prove problematic if two different systems start to clash.

Different attitudes, value systems, rules, customs, and taboos may cause friction between partners, or may turn out to be so hardwired that they prove hard to change, even if you want to.

If you are starting your own new family together—whether that’s just two of you, or it involves children—it’s worth talking it over first to make sure expectations are managed and any potential sticking points can be sorted out early.

How to talk about it

The exercise we did was a great way to get on the same page about what life was like for each other in our childhoods. It involved a huge sheet of butcher’s paper each and a few colored markers. We divided our sheet up into eight panels by making folds.

If you’d like to play along at home, here is what each of the eight panels featured:

  1. Family Tree: Draw your immediate family tree, showing your parents, you and any siblings you have.
  2. Communication: Write down some key points about what communication was like in your household. Was it quiet and calm or energetic and chaotic? Were you listened to? How was affection demonstrated?
  3. Roles: What role did your mother play? Your father? You? Your siblings? Was everyone happy with the roles they played?
  4. Family Values: What were some overarching family values? Some examples from the sheet I have kept include generosity, striving for excellence, care, and respect. Also ask: Was appearance important? Were possessions important?
  5. Conflict: How was conflict managed in your household? Was there yelling? Was there silent treatment? How quickly was it resolved?
  6. Rituals and Culture: When was family time? Did you go on holidays often? Was dinner always at the table? How were Easter, Christmas, and other events treated? Was there close community that you socialized with as a family? Any cultural traditions that were observed?
  7. Money: What was the attitude towards money? Did you feel financially secure? Who was in charge of the finances? What did money get spent on, as a priority? Were you aware of any money problems?
  8. Education and Work: Was education important? What about higher education (College/University)? Were good grades encouraged? Were your parents happy at work? Was job satisfaction emphasized?

Sit down separately and answer all these questions on your sheets, then bring them together so you can talk about them. After each panel, ask each other what you like and would like to keep for your own relationship and family, and what things you intentionally would like to change.

It turned out that my husband and I come from families with very similar family values and traditions, but the way each communicated was completely different. It definitely shows in our own interactions—Denis doesn’t back away from conflict at all; in fact he kind of seems to enjoy it. I prefer to keep quiet and mull over problems rather than get them out there. Our upbringings in regards to money, among other things, are also extremely obvious.

You may be surprised at the new level of understanding you gain of your partner after doing this exercise.

Do you and your partner come from similar families? Share similar values?

The Art of the Compromise

I received a text from my mother the other day. She was chuckling over the little spat I’d just told her about that came off the back of hubby and I moving house.

We’ve been back and forth about what items to keep, what should go where, and what should be thrown out (interestingly, I always think his belongings should be thrown out, while meanwhile he earmarks only my things for the trash). Anyway, that’s besides the point, and was to be expected.

“Ha … step two of married life!” read my mother’s message. “Compromising!”

I assume she means that the honeymoon period is over and now we’re getting down to real married life business. The compromise.

Learning to cut a deal is an essential part of a healthy relationship.

Plenty of people hate the idea of compromise. They like things to go their way. They don’t see why they shouldn’t. Maybe you were just born stubborn (like my Taurean husband) or maybe you’re used to getting what you want (hello, boardroom managers and Generation Y*).

Well, it’s simple. There are two of you in a marriage. Both have your own completely valid opinions, and both have your own ideas of what constitutes an ideal outcome to any given situation.

There is definitely an art to compromising. Remember—the very definition of the word means that you should both be happy with the end result. It doesn’t mean that someone constantly gets steamrolled into something they don’t want to do. And it doesn’t mean that you grudgingly give in to your partner and then resent them.

Compromise is not about winning or losing. It’s about workability. And it’s about caring about how your partner feels and wanting them to be satisfied, not debating a point for the sake of it.

Keep talking

You’re each entitled to your own opinions—about anything from whether to eat Thai food for dinner down to how your children should be educated. Which means you are also entitled to voice that opinion—ideally, in a calm and civil manner.

Giving your partner the silent treatment while secretly fuming is not productive. Not telling them what you want and then giving them the silent treatment is certainly not helping either.

Keep the lines of communication open and honest and make sure you both get heard. Remember to use “I” statements and not accusing “You” statements.

Pick your battles

Ask yourself: are you just arguing over the small stuff through force of habit? Does it really matter whether your underwear gets folded a certain way? (Something I compromised on years ago after I realised my very particular husband likes things done the way he likes them done and that my sub-standard underwear-rolling was upsetting him. True story.)

Save yourself for the things that you really do care about.

Be sure you’re square

If you have to debate the pros and cons, make lists, or hash it out over a few sessions, do that. But regardless of how long it takes you, make sure you’re both happy and there’s no resentment lingering once you’ve made a decision. Be clear to your partner that you want them to be happy. They should want the same for you.

What do you think about compromise? Are you good at it? Any tips to share?

*I myself am a Generation Y, so please don’t think I’m Gen-Y-bashing! You know as well as I do that we’re used to the good life.

Moving On After Heartbreak

Most people, by the time they’re grown, have experienced at least one heart-break in their romantic life. You know: the gut-wrenching kind that leaves you scarred for life.

After being hurt so badly, it can be hard to think of moving on. Sometimes you may think you’ll never get over your lost love.

Broken heart

Image by Kiomi

While it may take time, once you think you’re ready then go ahead and get yourself back out there. Here are some handy tips to help:

1. Be brave

Just because you’ve been hurt before, doesn’t mean you should stop seeking relationships. You will need to let your guard down eventually. Love does hurt sometimes, but other times it’s amazing.

A great relationship will blend the both beautifully into one long journey—although, in a great relationship, the ups will far outweigh the downs.

2. Work out what you want

I believe you should learn something from every relationship and sit down and work out what you want from your next one. What will the relationship look like? What sort of qualities will your new romantic interest have?

Something amazing happens when we write goals down. The universe manifests to help us along and get our needs met. Just be careful that you don’t make your tick-boxes too specific. It’s not: “He must have blue eyes, blonde hair and be an architect.” Think more like: “Kind, family values, laughs a lot.”

Once you’ve written it down, put it away and forget about it. Chances are, you’ll find your list years later and realize it is a very accurate description of your new love!

3. Be your own person

When you do start dating again, don’t be one of those people who forgets about all their friends and gives everything up for their partner.

Keep your own hobbies, and try not to see them seven days a week. As exciting as falling in love may be, you don’t need to be attached at the hip.

If you are, you’re setting up patterns for failure later in your relationship—no one can maintain that level of contact with someone. And your friends won’t be happy, either, if you ditch them every time someone new comes along.

4. Have fun!

Take the opportunity to try new date ideas, push your comfort circles a little and explore new things. If you’re having a lot of fun on your dates, there will be barely any time to get nervous about it!

What tips can you add from your experiences moving on after heartbreak?