Whenever the topic of relationships comes up—whether familial, friendships, romantic, or work—my ears perk up. Why? I’m fascinated by how people communicate, navigate conflict, set boundaries, express love, and everything in between. It’s complex and it’s subjective. Being human can be so messy and beautiful that talking about it always provides another way for me to experience life. And because of that, perspectives on relationship advice can differ widely.
So you can imagine my joy when I ended up at an impromptu dinner last month and sat next to a newly-married friend. She shared their origin story and the lessons she’s already learned a few months into marriage. That conversation sparked a table-wide, fully-engaged convo about relationships.
Featured image by Kristen Kilpatrick.
Everyone at the table was either married or dating, and the length of these relationships spanned as early as six months to over 10 years. As the newly coupled-up one amongst the group, my curious mind couldn’t sit still, and I had a million questions for everyone. The first one being, “what’s one of your favorite things about your partner?” Was it an excuse to share my own favorite things about mine? Absolutely. But not only do I love seeing peoples’ faces light up, it gives me a glimpse into their individual core values and we ended up feeling all the more connected.
The entire evening fed my soul and left me wondering what my closest pals’ relationship advice would be. So I asked a few of them, “What’s one piece of advice you’d give anyone entering a new relationship?” A few said this exercise brought them a little closer and for some, re-ignited a spark that took them back to their early days of dating or marriage.
I loved getting a peek into their relationships and hope there’s a little something you get to take away from their experience, too, no matter what kind of relationship you are in or want to grow.
Take Care of Yourself
Erika & Charlie
We think the most important thing is to take care of yourself and carve out that time early on. Love to take that silly dance class? DO IT. Need to go out on a run to get your head straight? Ask for what you need from your partner to be able to prioritize those little things.
I feel like we aren’t the best duo to ask about a new relationship since we have been together forever and ever, but some of our old advice might translate. We think it’s incredibly important to take vacations just the two of us, not a group trip, no kids, just us. Getting out of the day-to-day grind is so important to remember who we are just the two of us. An older couple we met on vacation once said to us “you pay for health insurance, car insurance, pet insurance… time alone with your significant other is relationship insurance” and that really stuck with us. We try to adventure together as much as possible. One other silly one—WAIT for your partner to watch the next episode.
Allow Each Other To Change
Jon & Amanda
Jon: Make space for each other as individuals, not just as a couple.
Amanda: Don’t expect that you will always be in the same season as your partner whether it be career or personal. You may be growing in different ways at different times. Make space for each other to change.
Gina & Jodi
Gina: The author Elizabeth Gilbert says, “telling the truth is a kindness. And withholding the truth is an unkindness.”
I love this so much because it reminds me to stand in my truth and to share my truth—to communicate. This is not easy to do. In fact, it’s really difficult, and often makes people extremely uncomfortable. My wife and I met as college students at the University of Texas Catholic Center. We were living the exact opposite of standing in our truth by having a covert “relationship” that we refused to name or talk about.
We didn’t want to voice our feelings for each other lest they be true or end what was then a tumultuous relationship at best. That started to change when we were able to speak our truth out loud, to share with our friends and eventually our families. And now, 16 years later, we continue learning that lesson in our marriage. Our truths are often very different. But telling the truth is a kindness. And, as God and Liz Gilbert, say… the truth sets everyone free.
Jodi: Stay curious about your partner! We are each a work in progress and there is so much to discover. My wife and I have been together for 16 years, married for five. We fell in love in college, and the thing that continues to amaze me is that no matter how much I think I know about my wife, there is always more to discover. The human soul has no edges, no ending. We are each infinite and constantly growing, changing, learning.
Loving my wife means being curious about her, just as I am curious about the depths of my own heart.
To love is to embrace the infinite, which is both awe-inspiring and impossible. And since loving someone is not a destination, but a journey, I invite you to stay curious—about yourself and your partner. Whether you journey together for many years or just a season, you’ll glimpse the beauty of the infinite if you stay curious.
Honor Their Interests
Jen (husband: Aaron)
There’s more than one way to skin a cat sounds like strange relationship advice. But what I mean is that there are so many different ways to have a healthy, joy-filled, satisfying relationship. It’s far too easy to look at other couples, either in real life or shows and movies and decide that they’re #relationshipgoals. In reality, relationships are dependent on the personalities, needs, and wants of the two people in the actual relationship.
I don’t think there’s a more genuine way to show you care than taking interest in what interests someone—their career, hobbies, interests, friend groups, music and television preferences, and so on. It doesn’t mean you have to mirror their enthusiasm for these things, but asking questions about them and digging into why that thing is important or interesting to them can go a long way in understanding your partner and what makes them tick.
Notice How They Treat Others
Evangelina (husband: Keith)
Notice how your partner treats others. The person serving your dinner or filling your water glass at a restaurant, your friends, your family. New relationships are so fun and exciting and more importantly they should be respectful. If your partner treats you one way but all others differently, that’s something to consider. I tell everyone that the reason I knew Keith was the one for me was for that exact reason. He was himself with me and everyone else around us. He was respectful of others and treated people with kindness. I hear him say, “I appreciate y’all” to the person who serves our food or fills our water. Those small details are extremely important.
Carve Out Time for Your Passions
Blake & Steve
Steve: Try to find the humor in everything because it’s almost always there, but be careful about when you point out the humor!
Blake: Clear and thoughtful communication is essential. You must understand that humans are inherently different from each other and no single person was put on this planet to make you happy. It’s your job to make yourself happy. Having separate interests is very healthy and actually lends itself to many discussions around those individual passions that sometimes even become shared passions.
Maintain Your Independence
Jack & Riley
Jack: Don’t be afraid to be yourself in front of your partner. Abbreviating yourself to meet unrealistic standards you or your partner have set for each other doesn’t help anyone and stifles the authenticity of the relationship. For example, I have a toxic relationship with the Cleveland Browns football team who cause me a great deal of anxiety and sadness most Sunday afternoons during the autumn months.
I don’t bottle those negative feelings inside while watching them flail on the field week in and week out. Instead, I experience them fully and outwardly, oftentimes in front of my wife who initially was alarmed by my enmeshment with the franchise but eventually grew to honor and respect my personal space (masochistic “me time”) on Sundays.
Riley: If you really like someone, it’s understandable to want to attach early on. But true partnership requires room for individualism. It’s not about being similar or different, together or separate. It’s finding a way to create a bond that exists outside of each person so that eventually, as that bond blossoms, you can create an impenetrable, protective layer that encapsulates your relationship. From the beginning, Jack and I committed to allowing each other to grow and expand without allowing our likeness (or rather, at least in my case: obsession) for one another to seep into our independence.
This looked like not taking each other too seriously, finding creative ways to feed our needs, respecting that those needs weren’t always the same, leaning into chaos with compassion, developing trust, and choosing a commitment to comprehension rather than exhaustive communication. What’s beautiful about this way of loving is that I’ve discovered neither of us is ever right or wrong, good, or bad. We are only uniquely ourselves, deeply lovable as we are.
Find Someone Who Shares Your Values
Natalie & Andrew
Andrew: Before finding myself in a long-term relationship, if you had asked me what I was looking for in a partner, I probably would have said somebody who shares my same interests and hobbies. While shared hobbies are a bonus and can be a great way to spend time together, I’ve learned that what’s more important are shared values and a broad-stroke approach to life. Do you laugh together? Natalie makes me laugh all the time, which enhances my life far more than if she was an ardent, but humorless, fan of cricket or football (the kind you play with your feet!).
Rather than force all of my interests on her, and vice versa, we’ve learned to respect the other’s lack of interest in some of the things we like and enjoy them independently. In the end, it makes the time we do spend together far more enjoyable for us both.
Natalie: I second what Andrew says! Forcing anything in our relationship has never really panned out for us, and I’d say this is most true where arguments are concerned. When the emotions are flying high and “talking it out” turns to yelling it out, trying to force resolution when you’re not in that headspace can just make matters worse. A little time spent in separate rooms can do wonders and sometimes going to bed angry is the best path forward. Whenever we’ve gone to bed in a silent (but palpable!) huff, the first words out of both of our mouths the next morning are always, “I’m sorry.” From there, it’s usually pretty easy to find a resolution.
Navigate the Relationship Together
Michael (wife: Anna Margaret)
My one piece of advice for those headed into a new relationship is to be open to learning about strategies that can help the couple move forward. For Anna Margaret and I, it’s been learning tools to help us navigate conflict. Whatever works for the team is the right answer. We sometimes put the conversation (or argument) on hold to let emotions cool off. Generally, that helps us come back together in a way that allows for us to communicate more clearly and effectively.
What’s your best relationship advice? Let’s hear it in the comments!
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