How to build a stronger relationship

Hugh Wilson
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
You might be loved-up now, but how do you know you'll still have that loving feeling in January 2012?

Let's face it, most relationships don't work out, and nearly half of marriages end in divorce. But even if that statistic sounds grim, there is another way of looking at it.

Because it also means that more than half of marriages last, and that many people stay together year after year, happy in each others company and with no desire for anyone else.

So what's their secret? How do long lasting couples do it? That's what newlyweds Mike Clear and his wife Alanna were trying to find out when they set off to travel the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina, asking successful couples they met along the way for their relationship secrets.

And having finished that epic journey, they're about to do the same over in the UK. Supported by the relationship site matchaffinity.com, they'll be criss-crossing the country in motorbike and sidecar, interviewing countless couples to find out what it is that keeps people together through the good times and bad.

Given the insights he must have gathered already, we thought we'd ask Mike for his top love resolutions for men in 2011, the tips that will make all our relationships run a little smoother in the months ahead.

Embrace your differences...
You don't have to be clones of each other to get along just fine. Sometimes you just have to change your perspective.

"Alanna and I are somewhat out of sync," says Mike. "She's an early riser and I'm a night animal — she passes out every night at 11 and leaps out of bed in the morning in a good mood. There are times when this can cause a fair amount of friction."

But one couple they met gave them a different perspective. If your body clocks are out of sync don't fight it, embrace it. Consider the time apart your personal space, where you do the stuff you want to do (whether that's playing video games or catching up on work).

It works for other areas of conflict, too. If you change your perspective you can make a virtue out of a necessity.

....and embrace her interests
"It's unrealistic to think that you and your partner will love all of the same things — but it's crucial that you make the effort to show enthusiasm for what she feels passionate about," says Mike (whether that's line dancing or French film).

Men find it too easy to mock — after all, that's what we do every week when we're out with the boys — but your partner yearns for your encouragement and support in everything she does.

Recognise things will get tough
Men want their relationships to be perfect, or at least easy. But every relationship goes through rocky patches.

"If you can get through those bumpy times, it strengthens you for the next one," says Mike. "You build on it...those bumpy times are what make a relationship strong, and help you to get through whatever life throws your way."

Keep laughing
It's self-explanatory, but it's something many couples fall down on. "Many couples we met attributed their success to a good sense of humour," says Mike.

Relationship expert Judith Wallerstein, who Mike and Alanna met in California, reckoned that wherever you find a home with a light-hearted atmosphere, you usually find a solid and lasting relationship at the heart of it.

Show respect
Being in a relationship is all about respect, as Mike learnt from a couple he met called Wendell and Judy.

"To them a loving relationship is based on 'always showing respect for the other around other people, and never showing them up publicly'. Showing a united front when in the company of others can help anyone's relationship grow."

Don't go to bed angry
It's a cliché, but Mike says it's a tip they heard again and again. Men will often let an argument drag on rather than confront it, but that's a sure way to foster resentment.

"A fantastic couple we met in Dawson City, Yukon, told us that you should always try and resolve an issue before it has the chance to get out of hand," says Mike. "Their trick to ending an argument is to get some perspective and think, '...this is the person I'm going to be with for the rest of my life... will arguing over the price of chips at a grocery store really matter when we're 80 years old?'"

Make money work for your relationship
Many couples fall out about money. Instead, Mike says it should work for your relationship, not against it. Don't have separate bank accounts (you're supposed to be a team), don't spend impulsively and do put a little aside — even if you can't afford much — every month.

When you come to spend that money together, on something you both want (a holiday, something for the house, a new TV), it will feel like a small victory for your partnership.

Make small gestures count
Small non-verbal gestures, repeated through the day, also work. Men, in particular, sometimes forget that the small things can mean a very great deal.

"Wendell and Judy even taught us a small gesture to say 'I love you', says Mike. "A hand squeeze (or a thigh squeeze when I was driving the bike and Alanna was in the sidecar) — three squeezes said 'I love you!' Non-verbal communication is really important."

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