Simplifying our lives — decluttering our personal spaces, editing down our calendar invites, and limiting how much we multitask — can lead us to feel happier, less stressed and more fulfilled, study after study shows.
But what about simplifying our relationships? Would the same principle hold true? We’ve been discussing that concept here at Thrive, so we posed a question to our contributor community. We asked which extraneous practices, mindsets, and expectations people have let go of that in turn strengthened their connections with loved ones.
The responses we received were insightful, personal, and eye-opening. And they proved without a doubt that there are some things worth giving up in order to bolster our bonds. Which of these will you try to let go of?
“I gave up comparisons between the person with me now and anyone else who came before, or any ‘type’ into which they might fit. I even gave up comparing who this person is today with who they were yesterday or a year ago. This motivates me to be curious, to ask questions, to understand, to follow their personal evolution, to know how they most need to be loved in this moment, and most of all, to accept them as they are.”
—Raymond Bechard, author and human rights advocate, Connecticut
“They say that you could either be right or be in a relationship. Since getting married, I’ve given up needing to be right in the service of creating a deeper and more fulfilling union with my husband.”
—Anna Yusim, MD, psychiatrist and author, New York, NY
“I realized that if I expected someone to always repay a favor, or buy me coffee when I covered them last time, that I would always be somewhat unsatisfied. Not expecting people to do anything in return has allowed me to feel good about simply doing kind favors for people that I care for.”
—Julia Gustafson, public health, Bay Area, CA
“I found it helpful to break my bad habit of being on my mobile device while with my significant other. The fact that I accomplished this task is one thing, but the process of doing it was more interesting. I downloaded an app that purposely locked all my apps on my phone, except calling for emergencies, during specific times of the day. My communication with my girlfriend has dramatically improved!”
—Jacob Kountz, mental health worker, Bakersfield, CA
“After years of infertility, four miscarriages, and two stillbirths, my easy relationship with my husband turned into hard work. I fell into depression and blamed myself for the fact that he didn’t have children. Once I gave up self-blame and the fear of never expanding our family of two, we rediscovered what truly bonded us: our unwavering love for each other. A family of two is still a family. Realizing and accepting that I was enough wife, enough woman, just plain enough rekindled our relationship—and we haven’t looked back.”
—Heather R. Huhman, infertility coach, Waldorf, MD
“One of the most powerful things to give up in any relationship is the need for control. When I first got married, my stuck point was my image of “The Perfect Thanksgiving.” I quickly found out that my husband had a completely different perspective around how to celebrate. We ended up creating our own rituals that are so much more meaningful and fun. Giving up control made space for something way better.”
—Maggie Reyes, life coach, Miami, FL
“The biggest game-changer was coming to the realization that, during conflict, it’s not about me vs you. We’re on the same team, and it’s me plus you versus x. Sometimes we don’t know what x is, and so we need to figure that out, first. If someone utters ‘you win’ in defeat, or ‘let’s just do it your way,’ or feels like they’ve lost, then we haven’t found the solution yet and we come back to this mantra and keep resolving the conflict until we both feel like we’ve reached the best way forward to overcome x.”
—SP, marketing, Toronto, ON
“We’ve taken back our home on Christmas Day! Instead of rushing over to our in-laws, we stay in our PJ’s, sip coffee, watch the magic of our 4-year-old opening gifts, eat pancakes with way too much maple syrup and butter, and enjoy the gift of how peaceful and special this holiday can be, together in our home, filled with gratitude and presence instead of presents.”
—Lisa Pezik, content expert and business strategist, Hamilton, Ontario
“I gave up judgement and criticism. I noticed I had a habit of looking at what wasn’t working in my marriage rather than what was. This shift in focus changed everything. My husband was no longer obscured by my filter of criticism, and I was finally able to see the amazing man I married again.”
—Rohini Ross, author, Los Angeles, CA
“Want to instantaneously make your relationship healthier? Jettison the unreasonable expectation that your partner should be able to read your mind. ‘If we’re soulmates, shouldn’t he or she know what I want without me having to ask?’ Frankly, no. If you ask your partner for what you need, you’re probably going to get it. And you’ll get a stronger relationship to boot.”
—Yonason Goldson, ethics speaker, St. Louis, MO
“I’ve given up assuming that I know what my wife is saying whenever we have disagreements. Instead, I’ve learnt to take a breath, listen with curiosity, and ask clarifying questions with the intent of seeking understanding and empathy. We might not reach agreement on a topic, and it’s not always an easy thing to do when emotions are running high, but I believe it’s helping me to become a better husband and human.”
—Anfernee Chansamooth, co-founder and marketing director, Sydney, Australia.
“Never have one. Plain and simple!”
—Beth C., doctor, Myrtle Beach, SC
“The best thing you can give up in a relationship is what my husband and I call ‘the nuclear option.’ Going nuclear is drawing a line in the sand, blowing sh*t up without a second thought. We had a conversation early on, and committed to each other that we’d be willing to have the difficult discussions, and a comfortable consideration period — at least being willing to sleep on differing opinions — without talking about walking away from the relationship. The second walking away — aka the nuclear option — is off the table, it takes away the fear in bringing up the tough subjects.”
—Rosie Yakob, speaker and consultant, nomadic since 2013