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For a stronger relationship, pay attention to these five things

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Don’t believe that breezy rom-com: Relationships take some effort.

That means building some habits and avoiding others. Frank Provenzano, a Furman instructor in psychology and psychologist for more than 40 years, the majority of it in practice, explores the topic in a May Experience course. His course is based on the work of John Gottman, a renowned marriage expert and cofounder of the Gottman Institute.

Furman psychology instructor Frank Provenzano.

Here are five key relationships tips, which apply to all intimate partnerships, including same-sex couples, long term co-habitators and others:

  1. Share one new thing.
    Tell your partner one new thing every day – big or small.
    “Let that person know you,” says Provenzano. “And show a desire to know them.” That “new thing” can be a story, such as recalling an interaction at work that day, or a personal feeling, such as the way your partner’s eye-rolling hurts you.
  2. Keep it 5 to 1.
    For every negative thing you say to you partner, say five positive things.
    “And they should be genuine, not ‘You’re loyal, thrifty, kind, obedient.’ They need to be reflective of the individual,” says Provenzano. “If you can do 10 to 1, even better, because if there’s a month where you slip, you’ve got stuff in the bank. When that 5-to-1 ratio begins to disappear, you’re bordering on contempt and moving into rough seas.”
  3. Make rules. And then update them.
    On a practical level, who will do which household tasks? On matters of personal growth, will one partner accommodate the other during, say, one partner’s education or the other’s business travel? As the relationship changes, the rules should change to adapt to new circumstances.
  4. Set expectations.
    “The reason for the rules is to set appropriate expectations. So as the relationship unfolds, nobody is surprised,” says Provenzano. “People have to understand it’s never going to be smooth sailing. There are always going to be things you bump up against. And the thing to remember is when you bump up against them, they need to be brought out into the open. Don’t wait for it to fester and become a criticism. When a criticism is received poorly, it turns into contempt.”
  5. Catch the contempt.
    “By the time couples got to me, it was sort of a matter of trying to help them separate with no more damage, because contempt had become so severe,” says Provenzano. “It becomes part of the awareness of the couple to stay in touch with one another and keep talking with one another.”
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