When I read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer piece on Russell Wilson (back in 2017), I was struck by something he said. He said, “I’m truly grateful every day to get to come home…it puts a smile on my face every time.” I instinctively knew he was referring to the quality of his relationship, and not just saying he had an easy-going (old-timey) wife or that he liked coming home to a particular style of house. I’ve lived with caring best-friend type partners, one particularly controlling dude and other types that I’m going to say are hard to categorize. What I’ve learned from these [varied] experiences is this: who we come home to matters. Other people’s vibes affect ours and the most impactful, are the people we live with.
Can we just say, life is nicer when you have a partner you like coming home to? It’s absolutely true. How we live at home affects how we live and feel outside our home. Home is where we want to chill after the world stresses us out. Home is where we should feel “at home.” So, it stands to reason that the person we want to share our life with and stick around for will be someone who makes us feel good to be at home.
We want partners who make us feel lighter: who make life feel there’s a little fun in it and we definitely don’t want 24-7 emotionally draining. But that’s just what a lot of relationships are. And not a lot of people are going to stick around for that.
So what are some good relationship habits that will make your partner want to stick around? To come up with the following list, I asked some “goals” couples about the things they do that keeps them happy individually… and as a couple. I also flipped a couple of toxic habits that I KNOW ticks off most people to come up with this list of relationship habits that will make your partner want to stick around.
Seth Godin said this about fairness:
Fairness isn’t a handout. Fairness is the willingness to offer dignity to others. The dignity of being seen and heard, and having a chance to make a contribution.
In relationships, so many people put themselves first. They look at only one side of the equation (theirs) and forget that relationships are partnerships. If you want a happy home, give your partner the dignity of viewing what they bring to the table as equitable to what you bring.
Fairness is one of the most important relationship habits.
- Remember, no one really likes Diva-behavior and Lording ways in their home. Even if you pay all the bills, yours cannot be the only opinion that counts.
- Agree on who does what chores and confirm that it feels equitable to both of you. Work out compromises (including getting help) for those chores that no one wants to do.
- If you hog the closets in every room, make sure he has a Man Cave or her, a space of her own.
- Don’t treat an adult like a child around others. It’s your job (yes, I did say job) to be thoughtful of your partner’s feelings in public.
- Lose the “Take me as I am” attitude. One of the most draining types of people to spend your life with is someone who believes that love means accepting any version of themselves they show up as. This type believes that accepting 100% of their bad behavior is a gesture of love. It’s not.
Be friends first
Relationships built on friendship and mutual caretaking feel easy and comfortable. “Easy” and “comfortable” are words that also describe what we want our home to feel like. Show up for each other the way you would a friend. Here are some relationship habits couples who are Friends First have.
- Have each other’s backs no matter what. They never let in-laws and outsiders come between them.
- Know each other’s hopes, fears, and backstory and help each other feel safe.
- Build each other up! They point out the good (not just the problems) in their partner and relationship.
- Support what the other person is interested in, even when it scares them.
- Don’t cheat. Unless you agree to have an open relationship, it’s understood that fidelity is required. The same goes for financial honesty. Let’s just say that anything that’s important to know (like, I have a child with my ex) should be disclosed ASAP. Failure to disclose important stats (even if done out of fear) is a LIE of omission.
Trust is HUGE (I would put that in extra large font if I could)! One of the most unfriendly things you can do in a relationship is to hide important things from your partner. Remember, once even a little bit of trust is gone, your relationship may never recover. You want to treat each other as friends first, which usually guide you to honesty.
Be thoughtful and generous
At home is where we usually get our emotional needs met. Do you know yours? Do you know what your partner’s are? After doing The Five Love Language quiz, I was surprised to learn that I love receiving gifts. Haha! Here I was thinking that I’m the Ms. Spiritual/ Low Maintenance type. Turns out, I will forgive a lot of “quirks” if you buy me stuff… and a simple apology or backrub won’t do!!! You and I may THINK we know a person based on their actions or who we “type” them to be, but people can be so much more complicated than that. That’s why I highly recommend finding out what your partner’s Love Language is. Knowing it, you and your partner can ensure you meet each other’s emotional needs at home by being thoughtful and generous to meet THEIR needs.
- If your partner is studying for an important test or is under pressure at work, give them what they need to do well. Be a little more patient and give them quiet or other consideration THEY need.
- If your person’s Love Language is words of affirmation, bookmark these examples of words of affirmation and make sure you keep their love tank filled.
- Go out of your way to do nice things for each other. It’s one thing to do the easy thing, it’s quite another to go out of your way (for example, to drive 100 miles to pick up your partner from an event).
- Learn to cook your partner’s favorite dish or learn something else that means a lot to them.
- Be lavish! Something I like to do for someone who shares my love language is to give “packages” for Christmas or milestone birthdays. I won’t just buy the golf clubs, I’ll buy a weekend golf outing with the boys too. I’ll add premium golf balls and nice gloves to the gift “package.” Big gestures that mean a lot to your partner say “I see you and want you to be happy.”
Be kind and loving
What’s the difference between this habit and being thoughtful and generous? Thoughtful is what you do and kind is who you are. Being kind and loving is one of those relationship habits that really matter in the long run.
A celebrity couple that many people put up as relationship goals is Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. Dax has said that he and Kristen are very different, so different that they had to have couples therapy at the beginning of their relationship. Why does he bother if they’re so different? Kristen, he told USA Today, is genuinely the nicest person I’ve ever met. “She has a personality that I want to be sitting on a porch with when I’m 80 years old.” Kindness may not matter on Twitter, but it matters in our homes.
- Work out your personal stuff and your work stress so that the energy that you bring to your partner can be loving and kind to be around.
- Accommodate a few idiosyncrasies and quirks. It’s a loving thing to do.
- The Love Language of physical touch is uber important to some people but everyone loves non-sexual physical contact. It can make anyone purr, feel closer to you and more “at home.”
- Assume the best of your partner. S/he will want to live up to your good expectations.
- If your partner puts on a few pounds, don’t just tell them to lose weight. Look at what’s changed and help them handle that situation better.
Have relationship goals
In every healthy relationship I’ve seen, each person have their own lives separate from their relationship. They leave space for the other person to be themselves while simultaneously working for the growth of the relationship. The “us” in their relationship is the priority and each person have at least one night a month for “me-time.”
- Design your life with someone who wants the same important things as you do.
- Understand that you’re individuals and WILL have differences to work out.
- If you need to unlearn some habits for the health of your relationship, get on it.
- Work as a team and keep your eyes on what you’re trying to build together.
- Like a business, meet regularly to review what’s working until you no longer need to.
Learn to communicate
Just as learning your Love Language will help two people meet each other’s emotional needs, learning your communication style will help each person feel heard.
- Shutting out your partner when you feel down are communication habits that put distance between couples. Behaviors like being defensive and rolling your eyes fall in this category. It isn’t cute, it feels awful. Work on yourself, get help with old habits and fears and learn to communicate effectively.
- Learn active listening because it makes your partner feel heard and valued.
- Cut out the nagging. It hurts your intimacy and drives your partner away. This is another area where learning to communicate effectively will help you both. Learn to negotiate boundaries and be heard without nagging.
- Looks matters. Torn tees and smelling funky says “stay away!” In a nice tee and shorts combo, you will feel comfy but still, look inviting. If you have kids, put toys away and keep your bedroom looking like a bedroom.
- Apologize and admit your mistakes! When it matters, apologize with more than words and don’t keep repeating your mistakes. Your apologies become hollow if you’re just going to keep doing what you know hurts/frustrates your partner. No one has time for that!
Have fun with each other
Your partner is going to want to stick around if you’re easy to be around and one of the easiest ways to do that is to make time for fun. Some relationship habits take work, this one is just the opposite… so why not.
- Don’t take everything too seriously or dial every conflict up to a “10.”
- Find your partner’s inner child and help him/her express it.
- Have at least a few sports and interests you share and do together.
- Have a weekly date night, no matter how modest.
- Know your partner’s ideal sexual frequency and fantasies and if it doesn’t line up with yours, negotiate and find alternatives to each other’s satisfaction.
In relationships, most of us have needs like affection, trust, validation, companionship, and want to feel loved. The habits above are how we get those bigger goals. Affection, for example, is possible when you and your partner have fun together, are kind to each other, and take care of each other’s emotional needs.
For almost all happy couples I’ve talked to or read about, the secret of their relationship is liking each other. Work on that and no one will want to leave.