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And if you’re already married, it is never too late!
Relationships take work and some of the most important work happens before marriage. Here are six important skills to learn before marriage. And if you’re already married, it is never too late!
1. Work on moodiness
Moodiness is a relationships killer. I’m not speaking about any mood disorder, just plain being temperamental. Living with someone whose emotions are unpredictable is difficult. You never know if the door will open and you will find a smile or dark cloud. Yes, we all have difficulties but that doesn’t mean that we need to be difficult. Some of us are ultra-sensitive. Say the wrong word and we withdraw into a shell. Others allow small incidents to grow into large mountains. We shut down and behave as if everything is terrible.
Next time you are grumpy, catch yourself. Work on overcoming the dark face, the lack of humor. Separate that which is getting you down from the overall picture. Try to see life through an optimistic lens. Moodiness is catchy. Don’t be the one to spread the germs.
2. Be responsible
Relationships require responsibility. Saying that you’ll do something means that your word stands. Not coming through erodes trust, the very foundation of the relationship. To be respected you want to be counted on and taken seriously.
What can you do now?
Work on being on time. Be accountable. A simple act like putting your dirty dishes away or hanging up your coat instead of leaving it over the chair may seem small but it is a good start to taking care of your things. Pay attention to the times you promise to do something and somehow don’t come through. If you say that you will be there for someone or run an errand as a favor, don’t cop out. Respect others – their time, their possessions and their emotions as you would wish to be treated yourself.
3. Be self-reliant
Don’t come into a relationship as weak or needy. You should not be dependent on others to fill your void. Before entering a relationship it is crucial to experience self-reliance. Knowing that you have the ability to get through tough situations, to help yourself and to navigate life allows you to stand strong. Otherwise, you allow another to define your self-worth. With a word or gesture they can strip you of your confidence and transform you into a pitiful person.
Self-reliance means that you can depend on your own abilities. You are confident and self-assured. You know who you are. You don’t rely on others constantly. You are able to spend time alone without being down. Work on learning new skills, taking a class, being open to meeting new friends so that your world is always growing. Don’t get stuck thinking you can’t evolve.
Judaism teaches us to “Love others as you love yourself.” Before loving others we must first know how to love ourselves.
4. Become a better communicator
Communication is the key to connection. Instead of receding into a stony silence, explain what is bothering you. Leave the blaming, griping, complaining and sarcasm behind. Don’t accuse. Don’t give speeches. Just ask for a few moments to speak your feelings with dignity. Say “I feel hurt/badly/sad/ when…” instead of saying “How could you have….or ‘What’s the matter with you?”
Get used to giving compliments. Recognize that everyone appreciates thankfulness. Watch how happy you can make someone with words of gratitude. Express affection to the people in your life that matter.
Stop looking at your screen while you are talking to people. Start connecting again eye to eye.
Sadly, some adults grow up never having heard the words “I love you” when they were children. The cycle continues to the next generation. Don’t be afraid to communicate tenderness.
Being a good communicator also means that you are a good listener. Hear what others are trying to tell you. Don’t judge. Open your heart to the thoughts of those around you. If you disagree be careful not to make the other person feel small. You won’t always think alike but tensions arise when you think you must always win and see others as your opponent. Everyone loses.
5. Be kind
The Hebrew word for love is ‘ahavah’, coming from the Hebrew root ‘hav’ which means to give. The more we give and invest in another, the more we come to love. The greater the giving, the greater the love.
Kindness is our route to love. Relationships require sensitivity, empathy, thoughtfulness and compromise. Being kind encompasses all these traits.
Seek out opportunities to be kind throughout your day. Ask how you could be more sensitive to co-workers, friends and family members. Little acts of kindness like not belittling when someone messes up, taking the time to listen to the troubles of another, giving someone a ride, getting a hot cappuccino not just for yourself are all ways for us to build our kindness muscle.
Each night before going to sleep ask yourself how you made this world a little bit better because you were here.
Relationships are not perfect. Living with others means that we learn to adjust, grow, hope, anticipate, and forgive. We are tested with unexpected challenges. Life is exhilarating and sometimes disappointing. There is both joy and sadness. We must work through the hard times. Handling only the good times is an impossible formula for lasting love.
Our world encourages instant results. Instant gratification means that we want it all and we want it now. We grow restless too quickly. With a click we order next day delivery. From our ready sushi to our instant communication, we are not used to waiting.
There is no instant fix when it comes to relationships. Real results require patience.
Take time out of your day to work on patience. Watch how often you lose composure when things seem to take too long. Honk a little less, resist an instant response that may be hurtful. Patience is an incredible asset in marriage and parenting.
Working on these skills is not easy, but the results are certainly worth it.