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How you can make love work

The past year has not been kind to celebrity couples. Wave after wave of high-profile relationships sank Stateside as the months rolled by. There were casualties closer to home.

Wave after wave of high-profile relationships sank Stateside as the months rolled by. There were casualties closer to home.

TV presenter Grainne Seoige and husband Stephen Cullinane decided to call time on their eight-year marriage in 2010, and Boyzone's Ronan Keating and his wife Yvonne endured a rocky couple of months after details of Ronan's alleged affair with a dancer hit the headlines.

While we don't have to deal with the extreme public scrutiny and perpetual speculation that hang over celeb couples, maintaining a healthy relationship is still no mean feat.

The need to look after a relationship is something that's been preying on my mind lately: my brilliant boyfriend of nine years has just started a new job that’s a bit further from home than his old one in Blanchardstown — it’s in London.

Here are a number of things we should all do — and a few that we definitely shouldn't! — to ensure that all relationships stay afloat throughout 2011 and beyond.

DO: Be kind

“You have to be nice to your loved one,” maintains Katie-Jane Goldin of The Paul Goldin Clinic (www.paulgoldin.com). Treating your partner with consideration, empathy and respect should be a no-brainer, but many of us get to a point where we feel so secure that the need to be kind simply no longer occurs to us. “Treat them the way you would like to be treated,” advises Katie-Jane.

DO: Be realistic

Regardless of how amazing your partner is, don't put them on a pedestal. Understand that they're human, that they are going to make mistakes and it’s not up to them to fulfil your every need.

It's essential to acknowledge that differences will arise in even the strongest relationships. What's important is how you handle them.

DO: Maintain intimacy

There comes a point in most relationships when the spark starts to sputter. Some people scoff at the idea of date nights, but they give you an opportunity to focus on each other.

Try a romantic weekend away; even a romantic evening at home can do the trick. Talk about your fantasies and don't be shy about telling your partner if they're doing something that works for you — it's a far more positive approach than criticising what they're doing wrong.

DON'T: Keep things bottled up

It's pretty unlikely that your partner is a mindreader, so let them know if they're doing anything that you don't like or understand. Simply explain what's currently on your mind and afford them an opportunity to explain. Dealing with, and resolving problems calmly as they arise, means that hurt feelings never have a chance to fester.

DON’T: Lose your own identity

There may be no “I” in “team”, but there is in both “relationship” and “marriage” and it's essential that you both know yourselves and function well as individuals to form a strong partnership. Owen Connolly, of Connolly Counselling Centre (www.counsellor.ie) agrees: “A successful relationship depends very much on how selfcaring the individuals are; it's a bit like being told to attend to your own oxygen mask on a plane before helping anyone else. It's important to recognise your own self-worth.” Keeping up your own interests and spending time with your own friends are extremely healthy in a relationship and will prevent you becoming over-dependant on your partner.

DON’T: Cheat!

This shouldn't need to be said, but the number of relationships that flounder because one — or indeed both — of the parties involved has engaged in extra-curricular activity is staggering. There's simply no excuse that justifies cheating on your partner. “Honesty is the most important thing in any relationship,” says Katie-Jane Goldin. “If you feel your eyes beginning to wander, then break up your current relationship before you do something you will regret and hurt your current partner. They deserve respect, so do the right thing.”

DO: Stay in touch

To ensure that you don't drift apart, set aside time to discuss what's important to you at least once a year. An honest review of how you're feeling, what you'd like to achieve in the year ahead and what you'd like to change might sound OTT, but a relationship audit means that you can start every year knowing exactly what your partner's hopes and expectations are. Yvonne Jacobson of MRCS (Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services; www.mrcs.ie) cautions that you need to be prepared to compromise before undertaking such an exercise.

DO: Really listen to each other

“It is easy to make assumptions and think you know what is being said or felt by your partner,” says Yvonne, “but always have a genuine curiosity in your partner.” Actively listening is an easy means of enhancing your relationship.

DO: Seek help

Yvonne urges couples to engage the services of an impartial intermediary if they can't resolve problems themselves. That can be a mutual friend or a trained counselling professional. Sometimes couples need the chance to explore difficulties in a non-judgemental environment where both parties can feel that their issues have been heard.