My favorite aspect of my most recent romantic relationship was our level of communication. Both he and I are exemplary at interpersonal communication in romantic contexts, and one of best ways we kept our relationship fortified was with three simple words:
“Are we okay?”
That phrase started as a way for us to gauge the mutual satisfaction of our relationship during the first month, when he was more concerned about the longevity than I was, but throughout the remainder of our dating relationship and our post-dating sexual relationship, I encouraged him to ask anytime he felt our relationship needed a check-up, and I did the same.
Usually, the asker was met with a response to the effect of, “We’re fine, love, and you’re wonderful. I’ve been stressed about [XYZ] lately…,” or, “Yes. I have been busy with [yadda yadda] but will have my normal freetime back [on such-and-such day]…”, or sometimes, “Well, I’m not sure. I’m trying to figure out my feelings on [whammo]…”
Regardless of his or my response, the ensuing conversation was always emotionally rewarding and helped our relationship grow.
Having that prompt was also extremely beneficial for the times when one or both of us was having second-thoughts about continuing the relationship, or about something unpleasant or confusing that happened on a recent hangout that we hadn’t addressed to the extent that one of us needed.
Our check-ups worked so effectively that I’ve started doing the same for friendships, as well. I like to send short text messages after seeing friends to put in writing that our relationship is meaningful to me, and I appreciate when they do the same. It’s a comforting way to capitalize on the fun we’ve just had and reaffirm the awesomeness of our relationship by letting us both know that it’s mutually fruitful and worth continuing.
The way I see it, life is too short to be around more unpleasant people than absolutely necessary, so when you do have choice over with who you spend your time, choose people whose company you genuinely enjoy.
Lessen the social interaction you perform out of obligation, and seek time with people who make you happy, make you think, are emotionally comforting, and appreciate your company.
I view relationships within cost-benefit analyses: If a relationship is costing you more time and energy than any benefit you’re gaining, it’s time to remove that relationship from your life.
I extend this to not just friends and lovers, but also to family members. I see family as a relationship network whose creation you did not control, but in which your participation isn’t necessary unless you so desire. Personally, I have cut a few peripheral family members out of my life, and despite the inevitable awkwardness at larger family gatherings, I am happier to have the energy I would have otherwise mustered to tolerate speaking with them to put towards more fulfilling pursuits.
I encourage you to consider pursuing status updates in all of your relationships — friendships, familyships, datingships, and every other relationship about whose upkeep you care — to periodically confirm that you and each of those special people value and want to continue your relationship.