Three relationship tips you won’t find in Cosmo
Whether you’re looking for a good fit with a friend, a romantic partner, or even a new workplace, you’ve probably heard tips like “communication is key” and “stick with someone/somewhere that encourages you to grow” and “go with your gut.” Sometimes even those clichés can be useful, but there are some other “tells” about how any given relationship is going that can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for them, especially since they aren’t as culturally emphasized as platitudes like “follow your heart.” Of course, these aren’t going to be the *only* things you should pay attention to, but they can all be easy to overlook, particularly if you are focusing some portion of your energy on appearing desirable to the other person/ workplace/ whatever.
(These all apply to work relationships and friendships, too, but the below will be framed in terms of romantic relationships for ease). Here are some useful questions to ask yourself about any given relationship:
- Who keeps track of The Things That Need To Be Done? This includes anything from remembering that you’ll need to buy some wine to bring to that party you’re going to together, to realizing that you should make time to resolve a brewing conflict with each other, to remembering to make plans to see each other in the first place. The question here isn’t who’s doing all of these things-- though that’s another potential factor of relationship health that might be useful to check in on-- the question here is: Who is KEEPING TRACK of all of these things? Keeping track of The Things That Need To Be Done takes up energy and brain-space, and doesn’t often get talked about or credited appropriately. So if you’re taking on more than you’re okay with, resentment can build quickly. Of course, there is no one right answer to who should be keeping track of what (though being the only one to keep track of everything is likely to get exhausting). What matters here is how you both feel about the split.
How do they make you feel when you’re vulnerable? If they’re a close friend or romantic partner, do you feel accepted when you tell them things that feel hard for you? Do you feel comfortable crying in front of them? If they’re someone at work, how do you feel when they respond to you being wrong? How do you feel when they give you feedback? It’s important here not to focus just on their response, but how it makes you feel. They could be saying all the right things on paper, but if their reaction doesn’t make you feel understood and accepted, their response isn’t working for you. Of course, being vulnerable can feel hard for anyone, so it may help to compare this person to how other people make you feel when you’re vulnerable. For instance, if your girlfriend makes you feel nervous whenever you share something but your friends makes you feel more supported, you might want to have a metaconversation with your girlfriend about what’s working for you and what isn’t.
How does it feel to set and receive boundaries in your relationship? This one may seem obvious, but the nuance here is that it can be useful to pay attention to what your subjective experience is like when you set boundaries with them and when they set boundaries with you; it can be easy to settle for “it feels possible to set boundaries with this person” instead of “it feels relatively natural to set boundaries with this person.” Do you get nervous enough to disrupt your everyday functioning when your partner says “no” to you? Do you find it especially hard to ask for what you need when you’re with them? Do you feel confident that your partner will respect a boundary without it feeling like a big deal? If you don’t like your answer to any of these questions, you might want to read our blogpost on how setting more boundaries can bring you closer, and you might want to consider what it would take for you to make sure you prioritize your boundaries (and your partner’s) above all else, whether that means having a metaconversation, doing some work on boundary-setting and boundary-respecting, or ending the relationship.
Again, this is absolutely not a comprehensive list of everything a relationship needs to be healthy and satisfying, but it can be useful to check this as you’re starting a new relationship (and of course can also be useful if you’re feeling “off” about an existing relationship), no matter what kind of relationship it is. If reading this list makes you want to give yourself a high five for choosing great people in your life, awesome! If reading the list makes your stomach churn, that's okay, too! You may want to take some time to think about the impact these things are having on you, and you may want to consider having a metaconversation about it with the relevant parties at some point.