Knowing how to be a better partner for your significant other is key for the relationship to thrive and survive

[Originally on Medium.]

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In a time where we’re in Tier 4, lockdown and a global pandemic, having Things To Do seems scarce. For those of us who live with our partners, with limited space, it can be very difficult to navigate the slippery slopes of what constitutes a healthy, happy relationship, or knowing the ways in which you can strengthen the bond without it falling apart.

This is why I want to outline a few things we can do to keep our relationships from going down the drain, inspired by the 3am conversation with my boyfriend last night about the importance of honest, open conversations on all the little things. We all know the basics of healthy relationships, but if you don’t, here’s a little refresher:

  • Understand that you both need your own space.
  • Don’t try to mind read what your partner thinks, if you are ever unsure then ask.
  • Understand your partner’s love language and what makes them feel loved (you can do the love language test for free here).
  • Set clear boundaries so you can do your own things within the relationship.
  • Agree to disagree. Sometimes we don’t always agree on things, and that is okay. You may not agree on everything and that’s fine.
  • Communicate properly. If you think something, say it and don’t let your thoughts muster in your mind: be open and honest about how you feel and what you need

But of course, given that we’re in a restricted tier and lockdown, with not many activities available outside, and being unable to see loved ones, it just makes the ‘space’ issue that much harder. To help combat the issue related to physical space, it’s so important to have something akin to a routine and hobbies separate from one another. Just go into another room and chill there, or if you can’t — you should be able to do your own thing even if you’re in the same room as one another. Not every moment needs to be filled with conversation. “This is particularly important for relationships; the overwhelming temptation to just be carried away with lust can create co-dependency, which can be toxic if not kept in check. One of the best ways to maintain a relationship is to maintain yourself,” says Gillian Myhill, a relationships and dating expert, and Founder of BARE Dating.

She goes on to say that being in lockdown and around one another may very well lead to frustrations and stress, but “communication is key, even if it sounds like a cliché. But clichés are such for a reason. Lack of proper
communication, I believe, is one of the main causes of relationship issues. Understanding one’s self and each other, being able to communicate through those times. We all get frustrated, stressed and angry and so frequently take these frustrations out on those closest to us.” She goes on to say that honesty fits in with communication, and it can be a lot harder than what we think. “Being able to be truly honest with yourself firstly is key here. This is something that takes practice, learn to understand your emotions, be strong and admit when you are wrong, and be brave when you feel you need to approach a difficult issue.”

In connection to this is knowing when to choose your battles when it comes to disagreements and compromising. In every relationship, there will always come a time where we need to put aside our needs or wants for our partner. “This is a difficult thing to balance and a really good barometer of a healthy relationship is where both partners are able to do this. The end goal of the compromise should be mutually beneficial,” Gillian explains.

Other factors that help during this time is nourishing yourself and staying in touch with your own personal goals, maintaining friendships and knowing ‘what makes you, you’, and continuously growing yourself, in order to bring the best you can to the relationship. It’s easy to lose track of yourself and forgoing hobbies, especially when everything is overwhelming and we’re constantly surrounded by bad news. It is essential to indulge in self-care and taking care of yourself, even if it’s via little pamper sessions and activities like cooking, drawing or reading.

“Taking the time out to do activities together is also important,” Gillian says. “Work on things that bond you. Begin a new sport or activity, set out a specific time where you step outside your independent boxes and spend time together. The classic interpretation of date night can also be a dance class, or archery, or tap dancing lessons — worst case scenario, think of the giggles you’ll have, best case scenario, you may find your new calling.”

Activities that my boyfriend and I enjoy doing together range from cooking with each other, drawing competitions and games or puzzles (that one attempt where I helped for ten minutes and got bored). Granted, after spending all day together, you may not want to do something extra with them — but it is important to design a ‘date night’ where you can put all those fears, stress and negative energy away and focus on your relationship.

Sex is another key factor in Things To Do Together, as “maintaining a sex life that works for both partners is incredibly important. Sex makes us feel sexy — we’ve all read about or lived the tales of ‘losing that spark’; it’s a part of every relationship and it’s a key factor in why you choose your partner and often a part of the union that’s taken for granted,” Gillian points out. “I’m a big believer in communication and experimentation behind closed doors. Switching things up can bring a much needed hot flush to a relationship that’s struggling.” Experimenting in sex, when we feel it dying a slow, pitiful death in the relationship, is so important, as it — for many people — is often the catalyst for the end.

Obviously not everyone may not be feeling sexy during these times, and sex drives may change — that is all natural and common, especially when we’re stressed or anxious. It’s important to “take this time to listen to your body. It’s okay not to feel sexual when your body is trying to recover (from a serious illness). Honouring your body’s core needs is the ultimate way of practicing self-love. Your libido will return in time,” says psychosexual therapist Silva Neves in an article for Cosmopolitan.

When this happens, it is important to communicate and talk honestly about how we feel and what is going on. The thing is, the more you open up to your partner, the more you are able to communicate with them, the better and healthier the relationship will be (obviously, if they’re mature and emotionally intelligent enough to understand where your anxieties, fears, feelings etc. are all coming from!)

Relationships aren’t always 50/50, and in the midst of a deadly virus, it’s harder than ever. For those of us scared of what will happen, remember the key points: communicate, be honest, establish boundaries and space, have date nights, do self-care related activities, and do activities with your partner that’ll help you bond.

There may be some toxic moments in the relationship but if that happens, it’s crucial to talk about it. From the beginning, you have to be able to talk to one another and discuss the little things that may bother you about your partner. After all, nobody’s perfect and no relationship is perfect. But we can all do our bit to be a better person for ourselves and our relationships.

Things I’ve written recently:

Having Books As Friends Doesn’t Make You Weird
Sex Education Series: how having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome affects more than just the menstrual cycle
‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ Explores Relationships and Healing
We need more information and support on PCOS
When Should Sex Really End?
Sex Education Series: Different Types of Discharge
Why I cried when my boyfriend bought me Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
Unpacking Bridgerton on Sexism and Consent: How Far Have We Come? 

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