What Do People Mean When They Say Relationships Are Hard Work? Experts Weigh In
If there is one thing we've all heard about being committed to someone, it’s that relationships are "hard work." It’s a phrase you will inevitably hear any time the topic of relationships comes up, but honestly, every relationship is so different, that who really knows what people mean when they say relationships are hard? While we may all think it's true, we don’t often stop to think about what “hard work” really means. Have you ever consciously stopped to really break it down for yourself? Probably not, and for the most part that’s fine. Just having a general understanding that all relationships take some amount of effort is a good attitude to have, especially when you and your SO inevitably hit a rough patch. You can't be caught off guard by what you're already expecting, right?
However, having only a vague notion about what "hard work" means can become a problem when, by not knowing what normal "hard work" is, your ideas of what qualifies as healthy effort, what is toxic, or what is just plain not working, can become clouded.
So, let's talk about what kind of "work" all relationships should take, so you can make sure to know when to stay in the fight, or when to GTFO, with the help of some relationship experts.
1. Learning To Communicate Effectively
Communication is the true foundation of any relationship, but doing it effectively can be the hardest part. Not only do you have to choose to really listen to one another, but you may actually have to learn to interpret what they are saying, as well as figure out how to express yourself in a way that they can hear. It’s a skill that takes time, and it ain’t always easy. “In every relationship, especially in the beginning, you are strangers coming from different places and will always have different opinions," matchmaker and dating coach Lori Salkin told Elite Daily, adding, "No two people are perfectly alike and every relationship takes compromise and a willingness to be open-minded."
2. Making (Reasonable) Compromises And Sacrifices
Part of what makes a relationship work is a willingness to compromise and make sacrifices. While that all sounds reasonable in theory, in practice it can be really hard and can create friction. The key is to learn where your hard lines are and where you can bend to accommodate your partner — just so long as those compromises are reasonable.
“Compromise is great in small doses, often necessary to smooth over a few rough edges of an otherwise smoothly functioning relationship,” Mark D. White Ph.D. tells Psychology Today. “Turning down the TV while the other person talks on the phone is no big deal, nor is turning off the TV to give some extra help with errands or chores once in a while.”
He explains that the difference is that small compromises like turning off the TV don't really threaten our "core needs, wants, and deepest desires." Once we start to compromise on the things that really, truly matter to us, we may start to see cracks in our relationships.
3. Fighting Fair (Even When You Really Don’t Want To)
Learning how to fight fair takes time and practice, but it’s essential to the health and wellbeing of your relationship. It’s also really, really hard to do sometimes when you’re angry or upset. When you feel wronged, you’re a lot less likely to want to hear the other person out, especially when they push back, but for the health and longevity of your relationship, it’s work you have to do. However, it's important to note that fighting fair means you're fighting for the right reasons.
“The goal is not to 'win' as if you were in the finals of a JV debate team in high school," Alessandra Conti, celebrity matchmaker at Matchmakers In The City told Elite Daily. "The goal is for the other person to understand your point of view and adjust their behavior if the situation ever happens in the future."
4. Actively Working To Get Out Of Ruts And Boredom
Over time, couples get comfortable. The problem comes in when you get too comfortable. You stop putting in that extra effort to break out of patterns and ruts, and the result of that is that you can get bored. “The most common reason relationships fail is because you both stop making an effort," dating guru and relationship expert James Preece warned Elite Daily. His advice? Break out of your comfort zone.
“You have to switch up what you are doing," he said. "Have regular date nights and think up new places and activities you can try together." He’s right, but it does take some work and effort — sometimes the call of yoga pants and Netflix is just so dang powerful.
5. Reminding Yourself Not To Take Your Partner For Granted
Along the lines of breaking out of your routine is making an effort to remind yourself how much you care about your partner and that you are happy and lucky to have them in your life — and show it, too. Those thoughts and actions come easily early in the relationship, but can fade over time as we get complacent in our relationship, and they can take a serious toll if left unchecked.
"Happiness comes with the small gestures as much as the big ones," said Preece. "If you keep them on their toes and remind them how much they mean to you, then they'll want to be with you."
6. Keeping Passion And Spark Alive
Another thing that comes naturally and easily early on, but takes some actual effort and work as the relationship progresses, is the passion and spark. That new relationship energy does all the heavy lifting when you first get together, but if you want the relationship to last, you’ve got to take the wheel. If you feel like you can’t get the job done, certified love coach and host of Ready for Love Radio Nikki Leigh told Elite Daily it may be time to call in some professional help.
“Relationships need intimacy: mental, emotional, and physical," said Leigh. "If any of these are missing in your relationship, you need to work together and with a professional coach or therapist to figure out why and restore that to your relationship,” she says. "They can fade over time and you may not even realize its happening. But, once you start working on bringing the intimacy back to your relationship, you will notice the difference.”
7. Prioritizing Each Other Even When Life Gets Complicated
Does all of this work sound relatively easy? Well, it can be, especially when things in your life are going well. But no life is that charmed, and eventually you and your partner will face struggles together both within the relationship and from outside pressures, because, as Fran Greene, licensed clinical social worker (LCSWR) and author of Dating Again with Courage and Confidence, told Elite Daily, “Life is complicated.”
"Often, external forces that are equally important to your relationship with your significant other, but are more necessary, such as your work, family, education, [and] housing, can add such stress and pressure to your life that the natural reaction is to pull away from something to balance everything else better," she said. It’s essential in those moments to remember to prioritize your relationship, and that can take a lot of effort when your plate is so full.
So yeah, relationships are hard work, and hard work looks different to different people. But when you find the right person, it’s totally worth every bit.
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