The Simple Secret To Having A Better Relationship (It's Not Rocket Science!)

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gang of friends embracing each other

If your relationships could use some work, it’s time to take an honest look at your issues and learn the best ways to have happier, healthier, more loving bonds with everyone in your life. Because when you know how to love someone and how to show love, you strengthen your bond even more.

Love can be a battlefield, not only with your romantic partner, but in tricky relationships with your family, friends, and — perhaps the most overlooked of all — yourself. It can be easy to let one or even all of these unions slide, but “relationships, like every other aspect of our lives, take work,” says Cynthia Santiago-Borbón, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in Latina wellness. “It’s about what you put into them — consistent, steady effort.”

Ready to roll up your sleeves and dive in? Start by getting to the root of the problem. Here's how to love someone better in every area of your life.

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How to love better with your partner

The issue: You’re in a romance rut.

The fix: You don’t need to book a tropical vacation to rekindle the fire. Try small acts of kindness that show big love. For example, “give each other a heartfelt hello and good-bye when you come and go,” says Gretchen Rubin, modern self-help guru and author of The Happiness Project.

Think: real hugs and legit kisses (on the lips!). These actions take only a second but can create lots of warm fuzzies first thing in the morning or after a rough day at work.

The issue: You’re snuggling with your phones instead of each other.

The fix: Be the change you want to see in your bedroom (or at your dinner table). Set a good example by charging your phone in another room, and focus on chatting up your partner instead. You can’t force him or her to follow suit:

The only person you can change is yourself,” Rubin says. But, funny enough, the people close to you tend to catch on quickly. “If one person in the relationship’s habits change, it will affect other people’s habits,” Rubin says, “for better or worse.”

The issue: He expects you to be his lover and his therapist.

The fix: Taking care of all of his emotional needs and yours, too, is a lot, even for a superwoman like you (and it doesn’t help him mature, either). “Bringing him comfort is a beautiful thing, but you’re not responsible for alleviating his anxiety,” says Borbón. “That’s his job.”

So set boundaries. If he’s really struggling with a problem, suggest he get professional help — and support him all the way.

The issue: All you do is bicker. (“You never wash the dishes...” or “you always leave your thong on the floor...”)

The fix: Practice saying “thank you” to each other — every single night — and sharing one thing you appreciated about the other that day, suggests Borbón. “Taking time to share words of gratitude says ‘I’m looking for everything that’s right about you, as opposed to focusing my energy on what’s wrong.’"

How to love better with your family

The issue: You’re holding a grudge from childhood against your mother/father/sibling.

The fix: Consider having a frank conversation with that person and letting go of past baggage. Assuming the relationship is not abusive or dangerous, “forgiving is not about letting people off the hook. Forgiving is about letting yourself off the hook,” says Borbón. “When you don’t forgive, you’re carrying around all this resentment and anger, and it’s actually holding you back.”

On the bright side, now that you’re an adult, you get to break the cycle, learn from your mistakes, and do things your way with your own family. How great is that?

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The issue: Mom doesn’t get your modern career goals and feels abandoned if you work on weekends or move out of state for a big new job.

The fix: “Remind yourself that mami and papi’s values may be different from yours, but that same set of values is what made you a strong, ambitious woman,” says Angelica Perez-Litwin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and self-coined “latina-ologist.” “Try to share your world with them. Bring mami to work with you one day. Invite your sister to a work-related event. Stay connected—call, text, or send photos. Let them know you’re thinking about them whenever possible.”

The issue: You’re drowning in family bridal showers, birthday parties, and Sunday dinner invites, and it’s making you resentful. 

The fix: Learn the power of “no” and own it. It’s not what your abuelita wants to hear, but you can’t go to every family function, or else you’d have no life of your own. Instead, RSVP to the few you can handle and don’t look back. “We can’t make those two events because we already have plans,” you might say. “But we are going to these two events, and we can’t wait to see you there.”

When you do show up, do it with a big smile, and set aside special time for abuela.

How to love better with your friends

The issue: You, or she, always bails on your plans.

The fix: Start a girl group that meets once a month, whether it’s a book club, a Real Housewives viewing crew, or a wine-and-dessert posse. Friends are easier to manage when you have a standing date, says Rubin. (Miss one month? you’ll see everybody next time!)

Bonus: “Often, when groups form, you invited some of your friends, others invited a few of their friends, so it becomes a network instead of just two people meeting for coffee,” adds Rubin. More girl power, more love.

The issue: You’re the doormat friend — the one who always picks up the check or listens all through brunch but never gets to share her own stuff. 

The fix: It’s not selfish to ask for what you need, says Perez-Litwin. “Often, as women, we are used to taking care of others, which in its own way is strong and powerful, but it can also lead us to feel ashamed to ask for help and get our needs met,” she notes. If you need to vent about your breakup or blow off steam over a run-in with a colleague, just ask.

The issue: You and one of your girls are in totally different places in life. (You’re a new mom, she’s still single; she just got promoted, and you’re stuck in a sucky job.)

The fix: Instead of avoiding each other, “Leave your heart open to the possibility that you can work through this,” says Borbón. After all, we’re usually willing to muddle through tough times with boyfriends and familia but can be pretty quick to ghost on a friend when we’re not on the same page.

Consider that you need each other right now. Focus on what you have in common — mango margaritas? pilates? — and make a date to hang out one-on-one for some quality time. It will remind you why you bonded in the first place.

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How to love better with yourself

The issue: You can’t seem to fit “me time” into your schedule.

The fix: If you’re dying for a solo spa day but always wind up taking care of yourself last, “create a system of outer accountability,” advises Rubin.

Translation: Trick yourself into doing you. If you’re desperate to take a hot yoga class but can never seem to get there, sign up for one that automatically charges your credit card if you don’t show up. Or arrange to meet a friend there, so you can’t decide to skip it at the last minute.

The issue: You can’t stop hating on yourself, whether it’s your body, your skin, or your less-than-stellar salary. 

The fix: Interrupt that negative conversation in your head and try to “talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend,” says Borbón.

Start small. Each day, force yourself to look in the mirror and zero in on the things you actually like about yourself, whether it’s as simple as your hair, your height, or how thoughtful you are with friends. Don’t be afraid to say these positive affirmations out loud!

The issue: You’re burnt out and craving some fun! 

The fix: No time or funds for an Eat, Pray, Love–style world tour? Let loose by “finding ways to express your creativity, like painting or writing,” suggests Perez-Litwin.

Think of things you’ve always wanted to try but never had the guts to do. Then get on it, says Borbón, who finally took up salsa dancing after years of daydreaming. “It made me feel good about myself, it made me feel productive, and on top of that, I met my husband that way!” she says.

Hey, you never know.

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Nichole Fratangelo is a freelance writer focusing on food, wellness, and entertainment, and is a former editor at Latina magazine, where she covered sex, women's health, and relationships.

This article was originally published at Latina. Reprinted with permission from the author.