Relationships are complicated and can cause emotional stress—to be successful they take work.

Here are three simple strategies I teach all of the couples I work with that you can use to improve your relationship today.

Put the other person first.

Deep down you know that you should put your partner first—but it’s hard to do because it makes you feel vulnerable.

You worry that if you don’t put yourself first you won’t get your needs met. But take a look at any successful relationship you admire and I bet you’ll see that they put each other’s needs first.

This is the issue I most often tackle first with the couples I work with. One partner says, “I’ll start giving him what he needs as soon as he gives me what I need.” and the other says the same. It’s a game of chicken.

My challenge to the couple: Take the risk. If you love your partner and want the relationship to work, let go of keeping track of who is doing more and work hard to meet your partner’s needs. You’ll likely find what most of my couples find when they do this – everyone starts getting what they need!

Be kind no matter what. (Especially when you’re in a fight.)

We tend to treat complete strangers with more respect and kindness than our own partners. When you get comfortable (and lazy) in relationships you can sometimes fall into the bad habit of being abrupt, rude or even mean.

My couples challenge: Practice treating your partner like you would a brand new friend. When you’re heading to the kitchen to get yourself a drink, ask him if he needs anything. If you have something critical to say, make sure to say it gently and start by telling him something that he’s doing right.

If you feel like you can’t be kind, then you’re probably emotionally triggered and in emotion mind. Walk away for a minute, and calm your body down and relieve emotional stress by doing a quick breathing exercise (breathe in through your nose and slow your breath by extending your exhale through your mouth counting slowly to five).

And remember, the best antidote to anger is being kind and having empathy.

Make real apologies.

Be sincere when you say you’re sorry. An apology doesn’t include the reasons why you did something—that takes away from the apology.

And don’t defend yourself or try to explain your side of the story (you can do that another day). What most people want in an apology is to feel like you understand their experience and to feel validated. Let the apology be all about the other person.

My couples challenge: In addition to making a real apology the next time you upset your partner, try to undo the damage you did by making a repair. For example, if what you did made her feel bad about herself, make sure to go out of your way to do or say something to boost her confidence.

Bonus tip:

There’s probably something you know your partner really wishes you would do differently. Stop nagging, stop leaving the toothpaste cap off, stop rolling your eyes every time he mentions his mother. Do it!!!

The more effort you make in your relationship, the more likely your partner is to make an effort too. (And if you need more tips, read this post  on how to reconnect, repair or recommit to the most important relationships in your life.)

Please let me know how these tips worked for you and leave a message in the comment section below.