Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock
Source: Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock

Do you ever feel that you could benefit more from your relationships? Are you aware of whether you put more in or get more out of the key relationship in your life? It’s well-established that close, intimate relationships, whether or not they involve marriage, can benefit your mental and even your physical health.

The trick is getting those benefits to work for you.

These 5 tips could help get you there:

  1. Identify what about your relationship contributes to your sense of self-worth. The two components of a relationship that can influence your self-esteem are its extrinsic rewards, such as the social standing it provides, and its intrinsic rewards, such as meeting your needs for companionship and communication. A 2013 study led by University of Texas-Austin’s Tracy Kwang suggests that men are more likely to value the extrinsic elements, and women the intrinsic, particularly using a relationship to benefit their self-esteem. You may or may not fit this picture of the typical male or female in a relationship, but examining what your relationship does for your sense of self-worth is a key first step in helping to make it work for you.
     
  2. Focus on deepening your sense of communication and connection to your partner. If you’re more extrinsically motivated to be in a relationship, you could miss out on important ways of deepening your connection to your partner. Focusing on these intrinsic components of the relationship should stimulate you to try to communicate more openly and honestly to your partner—and your partner, in turn, will be more likely to reciprocate. A relationship based on open, honest communication is likely not only to last longer but to provide more satisfaction to both partners.
     
  3. Be willing to put effort into your relationship. A relationship will be strong and solid only to the extent that both partners are willing to work at it. Brigham Young University’s Kevin Shafer and team (2015) found a reciprocal relationship between effort and satisfaction among husbands and wives in their first marriages. The more effort you put into your relationship, they concluded, the more your partner feels that it truly matters to you, and the more satisfied (and less divorce-prone) your partner will be. This effort doesn’t have to involve buying elaborate gifts or performing unusual favors, but, as Shafer et al. found out, it should involve showing that you care about improving your emotional connection, changing problematic behavior, and taking your share of the responsibility when things go wrong.
     
  4. Use your partner as a sounding board for your other, less close relationships. It’s with the person who knows you the best that you’ll be most honest with. Your partner, in turn, is likely to give you more honest advice than anyone else you know. If you’ve got an important meeting with a work associate or need to discuss a problem with a friend, your partner can give you the best guidance. Whether it’s deciding what shirt to wear for a job interview, or figuring out how to ask your cousin not to play so roughly with your toddler at family gatherings, your partner is likely to be your best adviser. According to Ohio State University psychologist Deborah Son Holoien and colleagues (2015), being able to read the feelings and concerns of others is a strong contributor to intimacy in a range of situations. You can find out just how right on, or off base, you are in your dealings with others outside your relationship by checking in on your people skills with the person who understands you the best.
     
  5. Have fun with your partner. Too often we save our serious side for our partner, leaving our playful side at work or with our friends. Being able to laugh with your partner; to do things that are silly; and to try new things just for the sake of trying them are all ways to benefit from the positive emotions your relationship has the potential to give you. An attitude of relationship playfulness can also extend to the bedroom. University of Zurich psychologist René T. Proyer (2014) identified the “playful lover” as a relationship-personality style among an online sample of adult (non-college) men and women. If you and your partner tend to get dragged down by the stresses of everyday life, and the time constraints it provides, put it into perspective with a little humor. This doesn’t mean pulling pranks your partner or pulling embarrassing surprises, but finding a way to share in the joys, as well as the challenges, life brings you.

Getting the most out of your relationship through these tips will help strengthen and solidify not only the quality of your relationship, but the fulfillment it provides. And if things are lagging a bit, then recognizing what your relationship does for you can help give you the renewed motivation to give it the time and attention it deserves.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

References

  • Holoien, D. S., Bergsieker, H. B., Shelton, J. N., & Alegre, J. M. (2015). Do you really understand? Achieving accuracy in interracial relationships. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 108(1), 76-92. doi:10.1037/pspi0000003
  • Kwang, T., Crockett, E. E., Sanchez, D. T., & Swann, W. J. (2013). Men seek social standing, women seek companionship: Sex differences in deriving self-worth from relationships. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1142-1150. doi:10.1177/0956797612467466
  • Proyer, R. T. (2014). To love and play: Testing the association of adult playfulness with the relationship personality and relationship satisfaction. Current Psychology: A Journal For Diverse Perspectives On Diverse Psychological Issues, 33(4), 501-514. doi:10.1007/s12144-014-9225-6
  • Shafer, K., Jensen, T. M., & Larson, J. H. (2014). An actor‐partner model of relationship effort and marital quality. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Applied Family Studies, 63(5), 654-666. doi:10.1111/fare.12096

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2015

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