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Soft Spots: How to Build a Better Relationship

There?s ground to break, seeds to plant and nurturing to do.

A tree doesn’t grow in a day, nor do human relationships produce fruit overnight. Like any great tree, a strong relationship takes time and effort to develop. There’s ground to break, seeds to plant and nurturing to do.

And you’re bound to get dirty. But because what you sow is surely what you reap, by investing in a loving relationship, you invest in yourself. So here are a few ways to help ‘fertilize’ that special seed:

1) Be true to your word. Be a person you can count on. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Show up on time and call when you say you’re going to call. Credibility counts, especially in the beginning of a relationship. Avoid making promises you can’t keep. When in doubt, play it safe and say, ‘Let me think about it.’ Then give the matter some thought and announce your decision.

2) Get intimate. Intimacy is the foundation of friendship, and it’s also one of the most alluring features of a romantic relationship. Do you encourage your lover to share his or her innermost thoughts and feelings? Do you reciprocate by revealing your true self? Or are you trying to stay in your comfort zone by keeping the conversation light and fluffy’and superficial? If so, aim to deepen your connections with your partner. Do it gradually; a few intimate leaks at a time are more easily handled than a flood of personal details. But the deeper and more frequently you connect, the stronger your bond will be.

3) Keep secrets. Do you promise not to tell; not ever, not even if the romance sours? By keeping private matters private at all times, you show your lover that his or her secrets are safe with you and he or she can continue to confide in you. Besides, you wouldn’t want your partner hanging your soiled linen all over town, would you?

4) Value your differences. No matter how similar you think you are at first, you’re going to have differences. Even if the differences initially seem small, they’ll eventually loom large. Is one of you an early riser and the other someone who likes to sleep in? One a vegetarian, the other a rabid carnivore? Sooner or later those differences will stop being cute, and you’ll begin to feel cheated. Why shouldn’t you have that big slab of prime rib when you want it? Or those two extra hours of sleep? You’ll begin to wonder why you should put up with such a relationship. Here’s why you should:

Because neither of you is perfect. You both have flaws and deficiencies, and there will be some things that your mate does better than you. For example, in most long-term relationships, manipulating the money is left to the one who has the most financial savvy; likewise, keeping the house clean. When it comes to social life, an extrovert will broaden the horizons of a shy partner.

Although your partner’s differences could be annoying, among them you’ll certainly find some strengths. Try to nurture rather than eliminate them. If you operate as a team, your differences will actually make you stronger.

5) Support the space program. One of the most difficult things for couples to balance is the occasional need for solitude. You can bet your biceps that one of you is going to need a little more time alone than the other, which can result in feelings of abandonment or rejection. ‘Why did I get into a relationship if I’m just going to be alone all the time?’ Or you might hear the opposite refrain: ‘I’m suffocating.’

Scheduling time together can help. It allows you to know when you’ll be with your partner and when you won’t.

What about those spur-of-the-moment get-togethers? They can be fun, but they can also be disruptive. So call ahead and ask if your partner wants company before you come over. Need someone to talk with on the phone for an hour or two? Ask the lucky listener if they’ve got time before you start in.

If you apply these suggestions, your relationship will improve, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t affect the one you’re in now. It takes two people to do this tango. If you keep trying, you’ll eventually find someone who wants a great relationship’with you.

Editor’s note: Teagan invites you to write to her at [email protected]. IM

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