Relationships are hard.  Take it from me.  After 37 years of marriage, there are times I could happily kill my husband and there are times he’s still the love of my life.  And yes, every partnership is different, but here are some golden rules that have worked –not only for us — but others too…

Start with yourself — That’s right.  If you want to relate to others, you have to begin with (drum roll) …you!  Be good to yourself, love yourself and know yourself. (Easy, right?)  When I was younger, one time I thought I was angry because my husband didn’t bring home the right Chinese food.

Looking back, I realized that fight was really about me hating my job.  I was unhappy and taking it out on him.  That’s when I realized self-awareness is key.

Pick your battles — When Randy and I were young, we both had to be right, all the time. Then a strange thing happened.  We became parents and all that operatic energy went into dirty diapers, late night feedings and washing sippy cups.  Suddenly, we needed each other.

What was once worth fighting to the death morphed into a quick debate, compromise, and calling it a day.  We were simply too tired, but a good lesson was learned.

Give each other space – There’s nothing like distance to soothe the savage ego.  It’s amazing how time heals.  What feels like the most blistering, scorched earth, vital subject now — many times you barely remember an hour later.

I swear, simply walking away and going to separate corners, has been one of the most important things in helping our marriage work.  I hate to think what would’ve happened if we had stayed in the same room (broken china come to mind).

Set boundaries – Resentment is no good.  If you don’t want to make dinner five nights in a row, say so.  If you’re sick of her sarcastic remarks about your friend Phil, tell her.  Over the years, when my husband and I have had heart-to-heart talks, I’ve been amazed.

Randy will say, “I don’t like the way you fluff the living room throw pillows.” I’ve been gob-smacked.  I didn’t know he even noticed the living room throw pillows!  All this time he was feeling snarky and I didn’t know. Don’t assume people pick up on what’s bugging you.  Tell them.

Don’t forget the “F” word – Yes, forgiveness.  One thing is certain.  You’ll both make mistakes.  You’ll both rankle each other — in small and big ways.  Some relationships will handle it.  Some won’t.  Know the secret to toughing it out?  Look the other way.  Remember how you messed up.  Ask if this situation is worth blowing up the barn.  And yes, some things are not worthy of forgiveness. (Abuse comes to mind). But many things are and if you want your relationship to flourish, you have to exercise those muscles.

Be generous with praise and kindness– It’s easy to find fault.  It’s not easy to say, “Good job” or even “You look great.”  Sometimes the person we’re closest to needs our kindness the most.  Yet many of us use that nice stuff only for the outside world.

A simple, “Thank you,” can defuse the biggest conflict.  Everyone wants to be acknowledged and appreciated.  Be generous with positive words.

Listen – Even after all these years, sometimes the hardest thing to do is… just listen.  And yes, that means not talking. First, the other person feels heard, which is vital if you’re going to move forward.

Second, you might actually learn something.  Listening is the greatest compliment you can give another person.  Why not give that to the person who matters most?

Keep your sense of humor – Many times Randy and I have found ourselves skating on the edge of a skirmish, when someone says something smart-ass.  Not obnoxious smart-ass, but enough to elicit a smile.

It’s funny (pun not intended) how that breaks the tension.  What was going to be all-out war turns into playful jousting.  Humor relaxes people. Without it, life (and love) become way too serious.

And most important, give yourself a break.  We never make the final touchdown with relationships.  They’re always evolving because we’re always evolving.  Be easy on yourself if you don’t always get it right.

Next time you feel the urge to let your partner have it, ask yourself some questions.  Is this really about me?  Do we just need distance?  Would a funny zinger defuse everything?

If the answer’s yes to any of these…congratulations!  You’re on your way to better relationships.