Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich for lunch when an elderly couple pulled their car up under a nearby oak tree. They rolled down the windows and turned up some funky jazz music on the car stereo. Then the man got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, opened the door for the woman, took her hand and helped her out of her seat, guided her about ten feet away from the car, and they slow danced to a song under the oak tree.
It was such a beautiful moment to witness.
This morning when I opened my laptop to write, the elderly couple immediately came to mind, and I spent a few minutes daydreaming about them, wondering how long they had been together and what their best relationship advice would be. And just as I caught my mind wandering even farther off, a new email from a reader named Cory popped up. The subject of the email was a question: “Any good, old-fashioned advice for a struggling relationship?”
The synchronicity of my daydreaming and Cory’s question made me smile.
So in honor of that beautiful elderly couple, and in service of Cory’s present relationship situation, here are eleven old fashioned habits we need to bring back into our relationships:
1. Spend quality time together with no major agenda and no technology.
Put down the smart phone, close the laptop and enjoy each other’s company, face to face, the old fashioned way.
There are few joys in life that equal a good conversation, a genuine laugh, a long walk, a friendly dance, or a big hug shared by two people who care about each other. Sometimes the most ordinary things can be made extraordinary just by doing them with the right people. So choose to be around these people, and choose to make the most of your time together.
Don’t wait to make big plans. Make your time together the plan. Communicate openly on a regular basis. Get together in the flesh as often as possible. Not because it’s convenient to do so, but because you know each other are worth the extra effort.
2. Be fully present when you’re in the presence of others.
One of the best feelings in the world is knowing your presence and absence both mean something to someone. And the only way to let your loved ones know this, is to show them when you’re with them.
In your relationships and interactions with others, nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention – your full presence. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of the next event is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to another human being.
Your friends and family are too beautiful to ignore. So give them the gift of YOU – your time, undivided attention and kindness. That’s better than any other gift, it won’t break or get lost, and will always be remembered. (Read A Return to Love.)
3. Express your sincere appreciation for loved ones every chance you get.
No matter how sure you are of someone’s appreciation and admiration, it’s always nice to be reminded of it. So if you appreciate someone today, tell them. Just because they are reliable and there when you need them, doesn’t mean you should fail to give thanks and appreciation on a regular basis. To value someone too lightly is to risk missing the depth of their goodness before they’re gone.
Sadly, it is often only when we are tragically reminded of how short life is – that today could easily be our last with someone we love – that we start to appreciate every day we have together as if it were. Let this lesson sink in now. Don’t wait until it’s too late to tell the people you love how much you appreciate them.
4. Work together and help each other grow.
There is no soul mate or best friend out there who will solve all your problems. There is no love at first sight that lasts without work and commitment. But there are, however, people out there worth fighting for. Not because they’re perfect, but because they’re imperfect in all the ways that are right for you. You compliment each other’s flaws in a way that allows your souls to unite and operate more efficiently as one.
You will know when you meet one of these people, when through them you meet the very best in yourself.
5. Focus on inner beauty.
When you get to really know someone, most of their prominent physical characteristics vanish in your mind. You begin to dwell in their energy, recognize their scent, and appreciate their wit. You see only the essence of the person, not the shell.
That’s why you can’t fall in love with physical beauty. You can lust after it, be infatuated by it, or want to own it. You can love it with your eyes and your body for a little while, but not your heart in the long-term. Thus, when you really connect with a person’s inner self, most physical imperfections become irrelevant.
6. Tell the truth.
Too many prefer gentle lies to hard truths. But make no mistake, in the end it’s better to be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie. Relationships based on lies always die young.
Lying is a cumulative process too. So be careful. What starts as a small, seemingly innocent lie (possibly even with the intention of not hurting anyone) quickly spirals into an mounting false reality where the biggest factor preventing you from sharing the truth is the unwanted reputation of being known as a liar. We lie to one another, but even more so we lie to ourselves most often to protect our “oh so fragile” ego. We may even be inclined to lie to ourselves while reading this, not wanting to admit how often we have eluded the truth. (Read The Four Agreements.)
7. Apologize when you know you should.
Take personal responsibility for your wrong doings. If you know your actions or words have hurt someone you care about, immediately admit your faults and face the reality of your actions. An apology is the super glue of lasting relationships.
And make sure your apology is sincere too. Say it and mean it. Don’t bother apologizing if you’re just going to continue doing the things you said sorry for. Never ruin an apology with an excuse. Excuses are NOT apologies.
8. Work out your relationship issues with each other, not with others.
This may seem obvious, but these days it’s worth mentioning: NEVER post negatively about a loved one on social media. Fourteen-year-old school kids post negatively about their boyfriends, girlfriends and friends on social media. It’s a catty way to get attention and vent, when the emotionally healthy response is to talk your grievances over with them directly when the time is right.
Don’t fall into the trap of getting others on your side, because healthy relationships only have one side.
Furthermore, relationships don’t always make sense, especially from the outside. So don’t let outsiders run your relationships for you. If you’re having a relationship issue with someone, work it out with THEM and no one else. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
9. Be a force for positivity and encouragement.
Elevate your inner game. A negative attitude is way below your horizon.
Our way of thinking creates good or bad outcomes. It makes a big difference in your life and the lives around you when you stay positive. So be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something is not to your liking, change your liking and carry on with smile. Always turn a negative situation into a positive lesson and move forward.
Encourage the best possible results with your thoughts and words. And teach this philosophy to those around you too.
10. Over-deliver on your promises.
Be committed. Commitment means staying devoted and keeping your promises, long after the time and mood you made the promises in has left you. Doing so is vital to your relationships and long-term success in every imaginable walk of life.
So don’t just say it, show it. Don’t just promise it, prove it. Better yet, over-deliver on all your promises. Supply far more than what’s required. As Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Whenever you can, go out of your way and do something nice and unexpected for the people in your life, especially those who are in no position to repay you anytime soon.
11. Be loyal.
Stand by those you care about in their darkest moments, not because you want to stand in the dark, but because you don’t want them to either. Brave the shadows alongside them until they’re able to find the light. On the flipside, stand by these same people on their sunniest days, not because you want to scorch your skin, but because you’re not afraid to let them shine bright.
In other words, be loyal. Remaining faithful in your relationships is never an option, but a priority. Loyalty means the world to the people who love you. When someone believes in you enough to lift you up, try not to let them down. You can’t promise to be there for someone for the rest of their life, but you can sincerely be there for them for the rest of yours.