My husband and I celebrated 7 years of marriage this week. Like most couples, we have been through ups and downs, highs and lows. We have come to appreciate the more painful and challenging times as they have  provided invaluable opportunities to grow individually and as a couple.

Marriage and all relationships take a great deal of hard work but they are worth every drop of love and effort that is put into them. I’m by no means a relationship expert, but by learning and applying some basic spiritual principles, the entire course of our marriage has changed for the better. Here are 10 simple tips you can start practicing today!

  1. Communicate.  Be careful how you use (or don’t use) your words.  This is especially tough for me as a Sagittarius! Although I’m usually well-intentioned, I have a tendency to put my foot sometimes. I’m getting better at choosing my words more wisely and speaking simply and from the heart. Silence is also very powerful – it can either hurt or heal depending on how it is used. At times, my husband keeps things bottled up inside and holds back from sharing his emotions with loved ones. He has learned that by communicating and expressing how he feels, people can grow closer together. Remember, each time you speak (or don’t), you have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship or damage it.
  2. Pause.  Sometimes it’s difficult to stop and think about what you are saying when emotions are running wild. In these instances, take some time to process your feelings. Tell your loved one that you need some space and assure him or her that you will come back. Return with a conscious intention to speak calmly with an open mind and softer heart.
  3. Empathetic listening.  Sometimes we think we are listening, when really we are listening to ourselves… what we are going to  say next or how to counter the other persons arguments. Try setting aside your own story and really listen to what the other person is saying and not just what you are hearing. Imagine how this person feels in his or her shoes without making it about you.
  4. Take responsibility.  Instead of focusing on your partners faults or being defensive, recognize how your own words and actions could be causing or perpetuating the situation. I find it helpful to ask myself, “What am I doing to make this situation worse?” and “What can I do to make it better?” Resolve to change the only thing you can change –  your reaction.
  5. Benefit of the doubt.  Although most of us are capable of intentionally saying or doing mean-spirited things to hurt the ones we love when we are upset, conflict is rarely the result of malicious intent. In these instances, acknowledge and communicate your hurt to your partner, but remember a vicious crime wasn’t committed toward you. Instead, see the innate goodness in your partner instead of vilifying him or her.
  6. Let go of being right.  You might be convinced that your perspective is right or have difficulty understanding someone else’s view. Be open to seeing how the other person could also have a valid point  and create room for his or her feelings to co-exist alongside your own without insisting that they are wrong. A spiritual teacher once asked, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” It’s not a contest of who’s right or wrong –  the goal is for both of you to feel loved, respected and valued.
  7. Forgiveness.  Being human means you will make mistakes – as a partner, friend, child, parent, or any other role you’ll take on in life. This goes the same for the people in your life. Forgive your own mistakes and imperfections, and those of the people around you… and move on.
  8. Continual nourishment.  In order to grow and to flourish, relationships need to be nourished on a regular basis. My husband and I make a point to set some time aside with no distractions. This is not a time to discuss work or problem-solve, but a time to renew and develop our relationship. Taking time to compliment one another, being generous with affection, giving a simple or thoughtful gift, doing an act of kindness and lavishing appreciation are all ways to nourish your relationships.
  9. Be a team.  Yin and Yang are defined as opposite but complementary forces that combine to form harmony. Similarly, people have different strengths and abilities. When combined and partnering together as a team, we can do great things! Remember you are on the same team. My husband and I chose a favorite quote by the Baal Shem Tov for our ketuba (Jewish marriage contract) which serves as a wonderful reminder. “From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven, and when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, the streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from that united being.”
  10. Give for the sake of giving.  Try going against your nature and really let go of the expectation that your partner is someone who is there to make you happy and instead focus on truly giving/serving/sharing/meeting your partner’s needs instead. You’ll be amazed at the results!

What tips do you have for creating stronger relationships?  Please share by commenting below! Photo by Nirrimi.