… and reconnect with your partner
Falling in love is a wonderful thing and when we finally find ‘the one’ and make the decision to commit we believe it will last forever. However, inevitably, every couple will experience relationship difficulties, most of which we will be able to deal with and move on.
Sometimes though these challenges are just too much and no matter how hard we try nothing seems to work – leaving each partner feeling alone, upset and frustrated. Allowed to continue, these problems can result in both partners feeling stuck and separation may become an option for one or both partners.
There are a number of common patterns and situations that can develop within a relationship which will contribute to problems occurring.
Understanding these common traps and making a conscious effort towards maintaining your relationship will increase not only your chances of realising your dream of living together for the rest of your lives, it will also increase your general happiness. Below are a few tips to help you achieve this goal:
Do you neglect your relationship? OR Are you a team?
Research shows that the foundation of a happy relationship is friendship. However, like any friendship, this friendship needs to be nurtured, because if neglected it will inevitably deteriorate. This seems obvious, but work pressures, the demands of parenting, and the general business of life mean that we too easily put off spending the necessary time together to stay connected. As a result couples drift apart.
It often becomes the case that one or both partners start tending to ‘others’ needs before ‘each other’. For example, time with the girlfriends becomes more important than time together with your partner. Time on the golf course can become more important than time together as a couple. There will be times for one or both when work just has to be the priority – let’s face it we have to pay the bills.
Having said that, if you and your partner are time poor, it is even more important that what little time is left for each other becomes the priority. This is the time for both of you to work as a team. Look after and appreciate each person’s role in the partnership.
We all need our own time and interests however when they become more important and time consuming than our partners then it is time to reassess our nurturing of each other – are we neglecting the most important relationship in our lives? Sometimes we simply expect it will always be there and that we will get around to looking after it at a later date… Sometimes we leave it too long.
It is important to plan regular time together doing something you both enjoy. Don’t prioritise ‘others’ before each other.
Conflict needs to be resolved early
Staying friends becomes more difficult when there is ongoing conflict which leaves you feeling angry and hurt. Pretty soon, each partner starts to believe that if the other person would just change then everything would be fine. And then the blame game commences.
Although change can happen, we are less likely to consider changing if we feel we are being misunderstood, misjudged or attacked for who we are, how we behave, or what we want or need.
Research shows that when one partner’s request for change in the other becomes criticism, the other partner is likely to become defensive. When the conflict grows over time, criticism can become contempt, and is likely to be met by the other partner blocking it out. These behaviours can rapidly cause deterioration in the relationship.
Arguments lead to behaviours that often brings out the worst in us. Some of us tend to say or do things in the heat of the moment that we later regret, but that regret can be too late as the relationship may have already taken on some damage.
It is important for both partners to calm down before tackling difficult situations. Give each other the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming the worst. Try to understand why your partner is acting the way they are.
Do you work towards understanding each other’s differences?
We are all different. We have different values, priorities and ways of dealing with issues large and small. I’m sure you can very quickly list a host of issues where you and your partner aren’t on the same page. It might be how to raise children, or manage money, or where to take holidays, or who should clean the toilets, and so on.
Most of us, of course, think that our way is the right way, and believe our partner is wrong and should change. But changing the other person is not the answer.
I believe it makes more sense to find a way to manage these differences – and reach a compromise – rather than try to change your partner’s view.
Are you punishing each other by withdrawing care?
When a relationship starts to go off the rails and communication starts to breakdown, an easy trap to fall into is to punish our partner by removing things from the relationship that we know our partner values – such as sex or emotional availability. But talking and sex are two vital ingredients which help us to feel close and connected to our partners, and therefore withdrawing them from the relationship – even for just a short while – can be very damaging.
When there is conflict make sure you calm yourselves by taking time out when emotions are high, and coming back to the discussion later. When mistakes are made, make sure you both work to repair the damage rather than working on how to punish the other person.
Keep alive your understanding and compassion
Understanding is a two way street. If you want your partner to try to understand how you think and feel on a certain issue, then you first should make sure you try to understand how they think and feel. Keep in mind that understanding does not necessarily mean agreeing. It’s a goodwill gesture, an act of love, which hopefully will result in your partner treating your thoughts and feelings with empathy and compassion. And then you, in turn, will have more patience with your partner. And so compassion builds on and on.
Conversely, when acts of care and love vanish it becomes harder to work on love maintenance and the most important friendship will deteriorate.
Make sure the positive experiences in your relationship outweigh the negative experiences by five to one, and make sure you show your appreciation for your partner’s caring actions.
Be a friend in times of crisis
In times of crisis we need our partner to be our best friend. We need them to understand our pain, our frustration. We need them to comfort us. If you and your partner can support and care for each other in a time of crisis, and stand together as a team, you can strengthen your relationship. If one of you aren’t there for the other, your relationship could suffer serious long term damage.
It is really important to be there to support your partner in times of difficulty, and encourage them in work, friendships and leisure activities.
All relationships face difficulties, and most can be resolved over time. However when the problems become entrenched and seem unable to be solved, it is important to seek professional therapy.
It is usually far better to resolve the problems than to dissolve the relationship. However if your partner is reluctant or unwilling to seek professional help, then it can be very helpful for you to seek help first. You can’t make your partner change, but changes you make can start the domino effect of change for the relationship.
Lastly and most importantly…
Have a ‘team mentality’. Work together especially when times are difficult. Make sure you set high standards for your relationship. Revisit your goals as a couple and re-set them as and if necessary. Maintain your sense of humour. And, remember, maintenance of your relationship should be your number one priority and it should be fun working on it.
Elizabeth Paul is a Relationship Psychotherapist based at the Lotus Centre