When it comes to describing our relationship with our partner, we often shy away from using the word “work.” After all, saying that your relationship is a lot of hard work makes it sound like there’s something wrong with it. We think of work as a chore, something that’s necessary but that we don’t want to do. So why describe a relationship as work?

Think about it this way: if you own a fine fur coat or a sports car that you really, really value, you’ll put in extra effort (“work”) to care for it, such as changing the oil regularly with a premium brand or storing the coat with a reputable fur storage company. You want ensure it’s well-maintained for the long-term. Why not do the same thing for your marriage?

In reality, work doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You should bring the same kind of work ethic to your relationship that you would bring to your dream job. If you really care about your partner, you should want to go the extra mile. Just as there are good days and bad days with any job, there are also ups and downs in relationships, but it’s important that you work through them in order to make sure that your relationship thrives.

How Do You Work on Your Relationship?

Make time for you and your partner. Between your job, family, kids, and other commitments, you may feel like you never have enough one-on-one time with your partner. However, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that there’s just “not enough time” for you to be with the person you love. Make the effort to schedule specific time that’s just for you and your partner, whether that’s a weekly date night or time before bed when you can catch up on each other’s day. Intentionally setting aside this personal time can help you and your partner feel better connected and supported.

Be a source of strength. We all experience difficult periods in our lives—the loss of a job, financial strain, the death of a loved one. No matter what the specific situation, it’s important that we feel like we have people who support us and provide us with strength. If your partner is going through a difficult time, you need to provide them with that support. If you’re not sure what exactly you can do to help, ask. Supporting your partner through a hardship is a lot more work than supporting them through their victories, but it’s important that you show your partner you’re there for them no matter what.

Practice dialoguing. The Imago Dialogue is a technique that I teach to my marriage counseling clients in Houston, and I truly believe practicing this kind of dialogue can bring you and your partner closer. In an Imago dialogue, you listen while your partner talks, repeat what they say to make sure you understand it, validate what they are saying, and empathize. Although it may feel unnatural at first, practicing this type of dialogue on a regular basis can help you better understand how your partner really feels—instead of just what you think they feel.

In Imago therapy, we teach that’s it not possible to “be married” rather one “becomes married” over time. It’s a process that involves work – sometimes difficult, something easy, but work nonetheless. “Being married” is more about fantasy. “Becoming married” is reality. Put in the work to make that reality yours for the long-term.

To learn more about using this technique, schedule an appointment with Houston marriage counseling or sign up for an upcoming couples’ workshop.