5 Ways to Improve Your Next Relationship
No relationship is perfect. I know, shocking, right? Unicorns don’t exist (not anymore, at least), and there is no such thing as a “perfect relationship”.
And while that’s kind of a drag to learn (especially the bit about the unicorns), it also means that there are things you can do to constantly improve upon your relationship. It means that things can almost always get better.
So whether you’re currently in a relationship that you’d like to enhance in some way, or whether you’re single and would just like to know how to make your next relationship better than your last, here are five ways I’ve found to go about improving any given relationship:
1. Work on yourself first.
I’d like to break this down into two distinct categories:
It’s become a cliché, but you really do need to learn to love yourself before loving anyone else. Despite how often you fuck up, I assure you that you’re not fundamentally broken or flawed.
You’re worthy of love, and you’re worthy of being with someone who appreciates you for who you are. So drop the self-condemning, hypercritical view of yourself and get that self-love dialed-in.
How do you do that? Well to start, before diving into a relationship with someone else, first get back in touch with who you are. Tap into your core self and remember what makes you unique. Remember what lights you up.
In my own case, my heart leaps when I see snow flurries coming down for the first time each year. Seeing those flakes in the air reminds me of the exhilarating feeling of speeding down a mountain on my snowboard. It reminds me of how it feels to carve my own path.
This is my core self. It’s the same girl who, when first starting to date her ex-husband, told him that he wouldn’t get to see her much on the weekends during the winter months unless he learned how to snowboard and started hitting the slopes with her. She’s fiercely independent, secure in who she is, and unafraid to pursue what she loves.
Whenever I’m in alignment with my core self, I’m determined to pursue what makes me happy, what lights me up. And if a guy enters the picture, he’s welcome to join in the adventure and share in my happiness, but there’s no way in hell that I’ll let him pull me away from it.
Before bringing someone else into your world, first get clarity on who you are when no one else is in the picture. You’ll know once you’ve found your core self and once you’re allowing yourself to live from that space because it’ll feel as if you’re in total alignment. It’ll feel like you’ve come home.
Our relationships are never perfect because we, as humans, are forever imperfect. Odds are, you possess some traits or bad habits that aren’t serving you (although you might not be prepared to acknowledge or admit it).
I know I do. I even have a name for this flawed part of myself - “prim kim” (short for “primitive kim”). She’s the side of me that’s ruled by a scarcity mindset and reacts to things purely by way of the fight or flight mechanism. She acts from a place of fear and pain, and she lashes out in an instinctive effort to protect herself.
Do you have a part of yourself that’s like that? Many of us do.
It can be a good practice to identify this side of yourself to the extent that it exists within you. Because by acknowledging its existence and calling it out, you can gradually work to disassociate yourself from it.
Recognize that this negative part of yourself isn’t who you really are - it’s not your core self, and you have the ability to work on getting rid of it. Adopting this approach will give you a bit more objectivity and awareness whenever that fearful part of you gets triggered so you can learn how to mitigate and control it.
The bad habits you’ve picked up over time and any negative patterns that you’ve developed will affect the course of any relationship you’re in, which leads me to my second recommendation.
2. Confront, manage, & deal with past trauma.
Your perception of your current relationship will largely be colored by your past relationships. As such, old wounds or things that happened to you in past relationships can lead you to perceive danger that doesn’t actually exist in your current relationship.
We all naturally interpret the present in terms of the past. Be careful not to make unfair assumptions based on that tendency.
For example, I was “the victim” in my relationship with my ex-husband. He had issues with both anger and substance abuse. So I repeatedly got hurt. And, as a consequence, I got into the habit of playing the role of the victim and expecting the worst of my partner.
So when I entered into a new relationship following my divorce, that habit I’d developed picked right back up, and I started expecting the worst of my new partner too.
If he was going out to bars with one or more of his friends, I figured it would result in him getting plastered and me getting hurt in one way or another. I was afraid that he’d let me down or hurt me, not because he had done anything to warrant that assumption on my part, but because that’s just what I’d come to expect from my partner, whomever he was.
You need to do your damnedest not to compare your new partner to your ex. Your partner deserves more than that, better than that, from you. And engaging in those sorts of unhealthy comparative exercises will only lead to unhappiness and conflict.
Instead, work through any past traumas you might have, reset your expectations, and then move forward once you are ready.
3. Accept responsibility for yourself.
In essence, you need to own your own shit. Take responsibility for whatever part you play in disagreements with your partner (not everything is your partner’s fault), and take ownership of any negative habits or patterns that you might have contributed or brought into the relationship.
To offer up another personal example, I’m really bad at directly asking for things that I want when in a relationship. I’m not exactly sure when or why I picked up this trait (I probably learned it while growing up), but I tend to be more passive and indirect in my style when it comes to communicating that I’d like something from my partner.
I’ve historically had negative associations with the idea of being assertive in expressing my needs in a relationship context. So I’ve usually gone the quiet and subtle route in attempting to get my needs across, which (understandably) has tended to drive my partner completely insane since he has no easy way of determining what I might want at any given time. To him, it feels like I’m playing a game that he can’t win.
I’ve learned to recognize and acknowledge that my tendency for indirectness can be an issue that I bring into my relationships, and so it’s an area in which I’ve made a concerted effort to grow and improve. I’ve actively worked on being more direct in asking for things that I want, and I’ve sometimes even solicited my partner for help in holding me accountable.
We all have baggage. That’s not a problem that’s likely to go away. But make the choice and put forth the effort to carry your own baggage. Don’t saddle your partner with it.
4. Learn how to end fights quickly.
Things won’t ever be perfect. Every couple has issues. You’ll get into fights at times, and you’ll hurt each other’s feelings. That’s to be expected.
But relationships are delicate things that need to be cared for and cultivated.
And sometimes we make the mistake of choosing to add fuel to our fights and drag them out. Oddly, sometimes doing so even makes us feel more connected to our partner - by making us feel heard or giving us attention we’ve been craving. Consequently, we can get caught up in a negative pattern around this and find ourselves fighting more and more regularly.
Although the fighting may draw you in at times and make you feel as if you’re connecting with your partner, you’re not. Often, you’re irreversibly damaging your relationship, chipping away at its foundation while also loading it up with more and more unhappiness and resentment. Gradually, you kill any potential for connection with your partner.
So instead of continuing to engage in this negative pattern, learn how to quickly deescalate conflict and remove yourself from fights once they start.
Notice the tendency you have (because we all have it) to fuel emotions you’re experiencing with your thoughts. For instance, when you feel sad, you think about the fact that you’re sad and become sadder as a result. Your mind ruminates on that emotion and your thoughts amplify it.
Learn how to let go and disengage from emotion or highly emotionally-charged situations. Learn to avoid falling victim to your thoughts.
Only you have control over how you choose to respond to something. So even if your partner’s words sometimes hit an emotional nerve or trigger something within you, you always have the option, the opportunity really, to let it go versus blowing up and to forgive instead of holding a grudge.
The faster that you can learn to move from a place of fighting and conflict to a place of connection or play, the healthier and happier your relationship will be.
5. Continuously update.
People have an incredible capacity for change, and we change constantly. The person you initially started dating will more than likely be a bit different a few years later. We all shift and shed and grow new layers over time.
With that in mind, try to always be learning more about your partner. Get into the habit of regularly updating what you know about them. Don’t make the mistake of taking your partner for granted or presuming that you know all there is to know about them, or your connection will fade, and one or both of you might slip away.
Share who you are and who you’re becoming with your partner. Continually invite them into your head and heart.
And check-in with your partner periodically to learn what new things light them up or excite them. Be open, accepting, curious, and playful. Uncover new points of connection.
See if you can continue to discover and nurture some shared interests, but also don’t be afraid to invest time and space to cultivate any unique interests you might have from your partner.
And be sure to keep learning, growing, and evolving on your end as well. Because life is our opportunity to grow. Our journeys of self-discovery and self-improvement can continue throughout our lifetimes.
There’s no limit to our capacity to continually grow and improve, and that same truth also applies to our relationships with others. We’re armed with boundless opportunity in these areas. So let’s go get after it.