It often amazes me that it is some little idea that helps couples start to turn around. Some strategy or tip that seems to make sense and is manageable to accomplish will sometimes start the process of connecting in a more healthy respectful way. This then sets the stage for them to build back a more productive relationship either on their own or with the help of a therapist. This observation prompts me to write down some of these simple but meaningful tips that hopefully you will find useful. However, be mindful that nothing works overnight. Be patient and keep at it.
Tip # 1: Step away from criticism
A relationship will wither with a constant diet of criticism. Very few people welcome any form of criticism. As much as it difficult to be judged and found to be deficient some way or the other much of the time, it is also very frustrating to be “the nag” whose “reasonable” requests get ignored. However, more nagging and more nagging doesn’t usually work. It causes resentment and distancing and grinds down the relationship. Reduce your criticisms if you can down to even one a day. Just let the other things go. Hopefully you will find a way over time to talk about things that bother you and your partner will find a way to hear you better. Changing this one thing can begin to lay a more harmonious foundation between the two of you.
Tip # 2: Express appreciation
This goes hand in hand with working to reduce the level of criticisms. Try inserting more expressions of appreciation. “I appreciate you helping me clean the kitchen, thanks so much for picking up that package for me, I really like that you noticed my new outfit” -all examples of noticing what your partner does do that you appreciate. It may not happen overnight but it stands to reason that, over time if your partner feels more valued and worthy in your eyes, that he will want to help you more and be around you more. For some reason, I have noticed that it is the men who more often say they feel taken for granted. So wives, something to note and be better at!
Tip # 3: Make an effort to please your partner
No doubt in your honeymoon stage this was an effortless task. How come this gets harder to do the longer one is in a relationship? I’m suggesting that you jump over the piled up resentments, laziness or tiredness you might feel in your everyday life and make some effort to make your partner happy. It might be doing something special she likes to do, being particularly kind and thoughtful, helping out with something or initiating some intimacy. It really is saying, “Hey, you’re still my girl and I like you and love you and I want to treat you in a way that shows this”. We should make efforts and sacrifices for people we love. Simple. However, don’t expect her to be bowled over with amazement the few first times you put some effort in. Gradually make it a way of being.
Tip # 4: Recognize your differences
Too many couples see their differences as a weakness in the relationship. Couples will often say to me “I think we are just too different”. I like to remind them that if they were clones they would be probably be having bigger problems! The reality is that likely your differences were part of what drew you together in the first place. Differences usually provide an opportunity to benefit from each others gifts and strengths. However, in the honeymoon stage they were more intriguing and endearing. The fact is, at times your partner will think differently, have different opinions and preferences and ways of doing things. Advances in gender science have been very interesting. We know for certain that men and women have different brains. Most women like to talk so if you are a guy you will have to accept this and do your best to engage in conversation. Also, men and women can have different ideas of how to feel connected and loved. Get used to the fact that “different” is here to stay in your relationship. It is not about what is right or wrong, it’s just different. Find out how your partner sees things, why she does things a certain way etc. Be curious rather than feel threatened. It will mean negotiating at times, accepting things you might not want to, working at things that are perhaps hard to do and trying to see value in the differences.
Tip # 5: Build trust everyday
When most couples talk about trust they think about sexual fidelity. It is much more than that. Trust refers to knowing that your partner is there for you in a number of ways. We depend upon our partners for emotional security, for help, for validation, for friendship and closeness etc. Being dependable and reliable over time builds a strong foundation of trust. Know that your partner needs these things and be that dependable and reliable person. When trust is broken it can take quite a long time for it to be rebuilt. Words alone cannot rebuild trust. It takes actions. It is important to allow for the rebuilding of trust and be patient and optimistic about working towards that goal. (Sexual infidelity is another whole topic that I will address in a future newsletter).
Tip # 6: Put on the rose coloured glasses
Suppose your partner wakes up in a grumpy mood. You can think “what a grump, why is he like this and why can’t he be different?” or you could put on the rose coloured glasses and say to yourself “maybe he had a bad sleep, maybe he just needs to be up and about for awhile and have his coffee”. You can imagine how you will feel and act if you think the first way vs. the second way. Assume the best of your partner, not the worse.
Tip # 7: Know when to let it go
Conflict resolution is one of the most common areas I work in with couples. Couples often feel quite hopeless as they encounter big blow ups time and time again and never seem to get any resolution. I can say with confidence that I can help most couples learn to manage conflict better. There are many things to say about conflict resolution but one of the simple things that people can get right away is to know when to let it go. First, not all areas of disagreement even have a good solution. Many happy couples know to leave certain topics alone and focus on what they do agree upon and have in common. Remember, as in # 4 above, that you are different and you need to respect that. It can’t always be about your partner seeing it your way even if you are sure that you are right. Secondly, evidence suggests that after a fight gets to a certain pitch and intensity the chance of it having a happy resolution is almost nil. Usually one partner wants to pursue the topic to the final death knell. This is unproductive. Agree that you can’t solve the fight at this level of emotional intensity and agree to take a break and talk about it later. This doesn’t mean sweeping it under the carpet. Take a few hours or a day to calm down and talk about it more calmly without getting to an intense emotional level.