How to make a relationship work: 10 no bullsh*t tips

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.
Image credit: Shutterstock - By InnerVisionPRO

In this guide you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to make a relationship work.

What to do.

What not to do.

(And most important of all) how to make sure you both thrive, grow and be happy in the relationship.

Let’s go…

1) Share your feelings

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Roman Kosolapov

Until now, maybe you’ve been a little reticent to share your feelings with your guy. Perhaps you’ve been wary of opening yourself up too much, too early.

That’s understandable and, within reason, is a pretty healthy way to be. Opening up too much early on can be damaging to a budding relationship.

But once you’re in an established partnership, sharing and talking about feelings becomes essential.

If you can’t do this, you can’t grow. Sharing your feelings, even if they’re negative, is a way of making plans, of sorting out problems and of connecting.

All this may sound obvious, but it doesn’t come easily to everyone, or even to most people. If you’ve been hurt before, it’s natural to feel that you want to keep a little of yourself back from the relationship, rather than jumping in and sharing everything straight away.

Try not to let previous problems affect this relationship. That’s not fair on either of you. Many great relationships end up struggling because partners simply don’t communicate properly.

This is often because you fail to move on to the next stage, emotionally. You feel that you must still be on your best behavior, trying to impress, rather than asking for your needs to be met.

Eventually, every little annoyance or niggle or concern will come to the surface, often in a much uglier and more emotional way than it would have if you had just been able to talk from the beginning.

When communication is completely open and honest, you’ll be able to survive anything, even a long-distance relationship.

Top tip:

Sharing negative feelings doesn’t mean that you should be constantly expressing anger or making accusations.

If you’re annoyed with something he’s done, try and avoid saying things like ‘you make me feel’. That’s a big accusation and will make him feel defensive.

Instead, say ‘I feel’, or ‘I’m concerned about’. This allows for an open discussion, with you being able to put your point across without him feeling that you’re flinging mud around.

2) In a long-term relationship, you must allow each other some privacy

Person with a deep personality meditating
Image Credit: Shutterstock –
Yuganov Konstantin

When you’re in love and enjoying spending time together, it’s tempting to feel that all you want to do is spend more time together. Why wouldn’t you want to?

But being a couple in love doesn’t mean that you stop needing time alone, or that you stop being an individual with needs of your own.

And while many of your needs may be met in the relationship, you’re bound to have some that are not.

It’s especially important to remember to give each other privacy and space if you’ve just moved in together, as many couples do at this stage of a relationship.

When you’re not living together, you get used to spending all your time together when you’re in the same house.

When you move in together, you need to find ways to carve out space even when you’re both at home.

How you do this will depend partly on what you like doing and how much you’re generally out of the house.

If you have busy careers, separate hobbies and social lives that take you out of the house frequently, it might well make sense for you to spend most or all of your time at home together.

But if you’re both at home together often, you might find it’s easy to fall into a rut of watching TV together and feeling like you can’t simply go off and do your own thing. Make a point of giving each other some space. This especially the case if you’re dating someone with anxiety

Top tip:

If you’re feeling a little crowded, don’t let it get to the point where you snap at him. Raise the subject gently but firmly.

It can sometimes feel that someone is pulling away if they ask for more space. Reassure him that’s not happening, and make it a positive thing for both of you.

3) Split chores evenly

A couple bonding. Signs he respects you.

Even if you don’t live together yet, chances are you’re spending more and more time at each other’s places.

By this stage, you’re not simply a guest when you go to visit him, you are part of his home, as he is when he’s at your place.

This is the perfect time to lay down a few rules to make your time together fair and avoid arguments.

Housework is a common cause of disputes between couples. Let’s face it, a lot of the time women tend end up picking up more of the housework than men, usually without realizing it.

And many men, even if they used to keep their bachelor pad immaculate, end up taking a backseat once they move in with a woman.

This isn’t usually deliberate or malicious, but simply a result of strong unconscious forces at work.

Most of us grew up seeing our mothers do more housework than our fathers, and it’s hard not to do the same, even if we don’t intend for this to happen.

The problem is, that an uneven split of chores leads to resentment down the line. It also doesn’t do your sex life much good: when you’re always the one mopping the kitchen floor, it’s hard to feel all that sexy.

Stop this happening before it even starts. Make a list of chores that need doing and split them between you.

If one of you works longer hours than the other, you might decide a totally even split isn’t fair.

The aim is to have an even amount of leisure time throughout the week. That way, you can focus on your budding relationship, rather than on rowing about the vacuuming.

Top tip:

Talk to him in a respectful, loving way about housework. Don’t start from an assumption that he’ll try to get out of doing it or that it’s your job to micro-manage.

If you want a partnership of equals, demonstrate that you see him as your equal in this (and every other) area.

[Not only does Buddhism provide a spiritual outlet for many people, it can also improve the quality of our personal relationships. Check out my new no-nonsense guide to using Buddhism for a better life here].

4) Be open about money

Money’s a tough thing to talk about. When you first get together, you generally spend a bit of time sizing each other up financially.

You probably paid for a few dates each, split a few bills and spent a fair bit of time hoping you hadn’t offended anyone.

At some point, you’ll have had a conversation about how much you both earn, and if you found a disparity, maybe you’ll have agreed that you don’t have to split everything 50:50.

And for many couples, that’s where it stops. Bringing up the subject again further down the line can be difficult.

The problem with this is that the deeper into a relationship you get, the more your finances impact on each other. Maybe you’ll want to buy a house and have children. After all, this is about building a long-term relationship

Maybe you’ll want to save hard to go travelling for a year. Whatever you want to do, when big expenses need to be met, honesty about money is vital.

This doesn’t mean that you have to reveal every penny of savings you have early on. But it does mean that it’s a good idea to find out if you’re roughly on the same page in terms of your attitude to money and your future goals.

This is much more important than whether you earn similar amounts, because earnings can and do change over time.

But if one of you is a spender and one a saver, you’re likely to come into conflict pretty quickly if you don’t’ figure out how to deal with it.

It’s also important to know if you want to keep your finances completely separate, or begin to share them.

Neither option is right or wrong, but again, it’s vital that either you both feel the same way, or you work out an agreement that will work for both of you.

Top tip:

Differences over money can be a strength if you learn how to talk. If you’re a saver and he’s a spender, together, you can find the perfect balance if you just make sure you keep talking.

5) Make time to do fun things together

When you’re getting deeper into a relationship, it’s easy to forget to have fun.

But fun is a crucial element of a successful relationship – and I’m not just talking about the physical, either.

The more you mesh your lives together, the more time you seem to spend on chores and just generally mooching about, rather than on exciting dates and adventures.

This is, in part, an inevitable consequence of a developing relationship. Being able to do boring stuff together as well as partying all night and swinging from the chandeliers is just part of creating a strong, long-term bond.

But that doesn’t mean that the fun’s over. It’s vital that you don’t allow your relationship to end up being just about sensible nights in and saving for the future. This isn’t an either/or kind of choice at all.

You know that famous breakup phrase “I love you but I’m not in love with you”? What that often really means is “we don’t do fun stuff together anymore”.

Having fun together is part of the fabric of a relationship. It is a big part of what binds you together.

In the beginning, fun was what it was all about. Now, it can’t be everything. But you can make sure it’s still a pretty big feature.

The way you do this? It’s boring, but schedule in some fun time.

If it’s not happening naturally, then you need to take action to make sure it starts happening. Maybe a regular Saturday night date, or a Sunday movie, or just a hot night in once in a while. Whatever works for you.

Top tip:

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that fun with your guy must always be fun for two. Relationships thrive when both halves enjoy active social lives, both together and separately.

Have friends over for dinner sometimes and keep on having those cocktail nights with the girls.

6) Surprise him

Relationships can start to get predictable. Some level of predictability is good. But at some point, you need to be surprised.

Surprising him doesn’t have to be about grand gestures such as booking an expensive weekend in Paris (though if you have the budget for that, why not?).

It can be about tiny, simple surprises designed to brighten up the day. These surprises are important because they help move your relationship away from the mundane.

They take you back to those early days of dating when everything was surprising and new.

Simple, everyday ways to surprise include buying a little gift that you think he’ll love, filling the fridge with his favorite foods and tipples one weekend, or getting dressed up and cooking a fabulous dinner when he thought you were having a takeout night.

If you can stretch to a night away (even if it’s not Paris), that will generally go down pretty well with most people.

If you can’t find the cash or time, what about a surprise day out somewhere? Tell him to get in the car, and you drive somewhere for a walk and a picnic.

Top tip:

Don’t forget that surprise can happen in the bedroom too. This one’s up to your imagination…

7) Touch

Remember back in the beginning when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other?

Hopefully, that hasn’t waned too much, but it’s inevitable that the ripping clothes off stage won’t last forever.

That’s part of the natural progression of a relationship: you still find each other hot, but you’ve learned to make that work with your everyday life.

The danger is that less sex turns into less cuddling and less cuddling turns into even less sex. Touching is a habit, and like any habit, you can lose it.

If you’re still in the ripping clothes off stage, that might seem ridiculous to you now, but it can and does happen to many relationships.

Sometimes, it might happen because the couple just weren’t right together: sexual attraction can wane if there are other problems.

But sometimes, otherwise healthy partnerships that could have stood the test of time lose their way because the people in them stop making time for a physical connection.

There will always be times when sex itself isn’t a priority. If you’re under extreme stress, for example.

Don’t let sex become a battleground and don’t let lack of sex mean you stop touching completely.

Keep on cuddling each other on the sofa, kissing each other goodnight, and having a long hug at the end of a long day. All these things will help keep your physical connection alive, even when you’re not having much sex.

Top tip:

If lack of sex does become a problem, talk without accusing each other. It’s hard to do this, but just be honest.

If you love each other and want to be together, there’s always a way to get the sex life you used to have back.

8) Respect your differences

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Dmytro Zinkevych

People say that opposites attract. And it’s true that, most of the time, there are a few fundamental differences between partners.

That’s good and healthy – few of us would want to date someone who was simply another version of ourselves. If we did, where would the excitement be?

So, having differences is a good thing, at least up to a point. Sometimes, those differences that seemed so attractive early on can become annoyances when we get to know each other better.

It’s also easy for negative thoughts to build up without us really noticing it happening. That habit he has of being moody if he’s had a bad day at work, for example.

That might have seemed like a cute character quirk early on, and you’d bust a gut to make him feel better.

Now, it’s starting to grate, and you can’t be bothered to shower him with attention every time. You stop bothering and then he gets worried as he’s noticed the drop in affection.

How do you get past your differences? The most thing is to recognize them for what they are.

The fact you have differences doesn’t mean you’re not compatible, it means you’re human. Try and spend time appreciating the positive sides of any personality traits that you consider negative.

For example, if you get irritated by him taking forever to do simple household tasks, remember that the flipside is probably that he’s methodical and detail-oriented.

Look at yourself. Are there things he gets annoyed at that you do? Think about what the positive and negative sides of your own personality traits are.

Remind yourself that differences can be positive and negative things are rarely entirely negative.

When you’ve learned to acknowledge your differences and understand them, you’ll have learned to respect them.

Top tip:

If there’s something he does that really irritates you, bring it up, but do it gently. Separate the thing he does that annoys you from him.

Tell him that you’ve noticed him doing the thing he doesn’t like, and see what he says. Keep your language neutral and free of accusations.

For example, say ‘I’ve noticed you keep leaving the bathroom window open’. Don’t say ‘why do you insist on leaving the bathroom window open?’.

9) Make future plans

Without plans, relationships stagnate. If you have no plans, you have no destination. And without a destination, your journey quickly becomes stale.

Rather than having lots of things to talk about and look forward to, your world shrinks and doesn’t extend much further than the next weekend.

At the beginning of a relationship, this is all good. You want to live in the moment and spend your time getting excited about the next Saturday night date.

But as time goes on, it’s important to have some longer-term goals.

Your goal might just be to plan a holiday or it might mean marriage and kids. The goals will shift as your relationship develops.

The important thing is to make sure that they shift at a similar rate and in a similar direction for both of you.

Making plans together is a way of making sure that your long-term relationship is moving in the right direction for you both.

If you’re talking about holidays and he’s talking about babies, you’re not doing that. If your plans are pulling in different directions, it’s time to talk. Don’t wait until you’re worried and stressed. If you’re not on the same page, you need to deal with it sooner rather than later.

Top tip:

Plans don’t just have to be big ones. Having a plan to head out to your local Italian restaurant on Friday is a plan – and those little plans can be just as important as the big ones.

10) Talk

The need to talk has come up again and again throughout this book. That’s because if you can’t talk, you don’t really have a relationship.

All the way from those first excited dates, to a place where maybe you’re planning a future together, you’ve needed to talk.

It was easy at first, as you had lots of things to find out about each other. But as time’s gone on, maybe it’s not always so easy.

You’ll have some decisions to make and perhaps some tough times to navigate.

Whatever you face, just keep talking. However hard it is, keep talking. There will be times when you want a bit of privacy, and that’s no bad thing.

But if you don’t talk at all, you will fail, because you’ll lose your connection.

When talking is hard, remember to be kind. Always initiate serious conversations when you’re relaxed, comfortable and calm. Be firm when you need to, but don’t argue unless you have to.

Above all, be kind, respectful and open.

Top tip:

Think of talking as a fertilizer that will nurture your long-term relationship, seeing it through each day, each month and each year, as you grow and love together.

Conclusion: Where’s your dating head at?

Over the course of this book, you’ve hopefully learned a few things about dating and been prompted to give your own dating past and future a bit of thought.

Dating and relationships are often hard to deal with and they take up a lot of headspace. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t go to plan early on.

But by knowing yourself and understanding how to work together with a guy to create something, you can give yourself the best possible chance of your relationship working out. And if it doesn’t quite get there, don’t agonize. He just wasn’t the right one, because however much you think someone is the right one, if they don’t think so too, they’re not.

Date with a sense of fun and fearlessness and you’ll get there in the end.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

5 powerful ways to practice mindfulness in everyday life

Buddhist monk meditating, Buddhist beliefs

The art of non-attachment: How to let go and experience less pain