4 Relationship Rules The Longest-Lasting Couples Follow

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I've been coaching people through relationship pain for several years now. I'm good at what I do. I've helped hundreds of people — maybe more — overcome obstacles that get in the way of easy, satisfying, mutual relationships.

Does that mean I've always had an easy time in relationships? Just the opposite, actually. What helps me help others is having been there myself. Finding my way out of Relationship Hell with help from my own coaches, mentors and spiritual teachers is the way I'm able to pay it forward today.

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Does it mean my current relationships are perfect? Not even close.

Although I admit to being insanely happy in my marriage, I come up against relationship snags just like everyone else. It's just that I'm committed to working through them using the tools and perspectives I teach. Or at least doing my best to try. 

There are 4 big ideas I've found to be most helpful in my own and my clients' relationships. These are the biggest insights I’ve discovered; the game-changing “a-ha's,” if you will:

1. Stop Repeating the Same Relationship Patterns

We all fall into patterns — those pesky habits we think were over until bam! — you find yourself right back in them.

You're attracted to the same emotionally closed-off guy over and over; your relationships all begin or end with the same dramatic scene; or you and your partner have the exact same "discussion" (i.e., argument) every single night. Whatever the flavor of your personal patterns, you don't have to keep being a victim of them.

End your pattern by becoming aware. Uber aware. Know what triggers your pattern (e.g., what tips off that nightly conversation) so you can stop the cycle before it starts running without your permission. Then decide how you want to act instead. What's your ideal state if your pattern didn't exist? Consciously replace your patterned response with an action that matches how you want things to look.

For example, if you find yourself always wanting to end relationships at the one-month mark because they're getting boring, make a commitment to take the next relationship to at least the 6-week mark. It will feel totally foreign because it is. Your ego will try to convince you to end it sooner — don't listen. You can handle a little discomfort in the name of growth. 

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2. Know What You Want so You Can Have It 

Clarity around what you want is essential to having what you want. Your end goal is like the destination you program into the GPS — the clearer your final destination, the faster the GPS can get you there.

What kind of relationship do you want? What does it look like? Most importantly, what does it feel like?

Feel it and see it now. It's okay to revise or change it later. You can always tweak the exact destination but in order to get things moving, you need to at least know what direction you're headed.

Cutting through fears and expectations so that you know what you really want is not always easy. Listen to the still, small voice, not the raving maniac that threatens you into settling for something less than what you truly want. How do you listen? Be quiet. Question your thoughts. Don't believe everything you think. Tap into the kind of relationship that feels good and when you find it, keep your focus there.

3. Your Happiness — and Only Your Happiness — is Your Responsibility.

We all have the tendency to act as if our happiness depends on others. If they would just do this, or say that, you could feel better.

Except it doesn't work that way. Your feelings are up to you. You feel the way you feel because of the way you interpret events and the stories you tell yourself, not because of anything they do or say. It's not even possible any other way.

It's also not possible for you to make them feel any particular way, either. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do your best to be kind. It means you decide to be kind because you feel good when you're kind, not to elicit some feelings in them. If you're kind with an agenda, you'll eventually be disappointed. And if you wait around for someone to make you feel good, you'll definitely be disappointed.

4. Forgive and Give More

What hurts us most is not that others don't show us enough love, but that we don't show them enough love. When we perceive someone holding back on us, it's natural to hold back on them in self-defense, but it's our own holding back that really hurts us.

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If you want to feel better, love more, not less. Yes, even when they just told you they are not interested, love them more. Even when you just broke up, love them more. Make no mistake, loving them doesn't have to actually involve them.

It can be as simple as forgiving them for any hurt you feel and wishing them well in your mind. Sending them love from the comfort of your own home where they are none the wiser. Forgiving and giving more is something you do for yourself, not for them. 

Living the A-ha’s

Instead of falling into these traps, show up in your relationships fully aware so that your choices are conscious, not just repetition of what comes naturally.

Get clear on exactly what you want your relationship to feel like. Make your own happiness so that you don't keep someone else on the hook for it. And give freely of yourself, no matter what, with no agenda.

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Consider these a-ha’s to be relationship pain-deterrent. The formula — as I've experienced myself and seen in many others — for becoming a recovered relationship sufferer. They are well worth your effort, trust me.

Dr. Amy Johnson wrote a relationship advice column for years. To get on the list for a freecopy of her upcoming ebook containing her best relationship advice, head over to her website and sign up for her newsletter.