Somewhere along the way the honeymoon was over. You didn’t know why or when it happened. You stopped having regular sex. And when you did have sex the earth didn’t seem to shake. You feel criticised most of the time and never appear to be able to do anything right. Your partner is unhappy and often uncommunicative, sad or sullen. You seem to be slowly drifting apart. You sometimes feel you have more in common with your work colleagues than the person you live with. You know you still love each other but it’s not working for either of you.
Relationships are hard work. The loss of intimacy and communication, and constant circular arguments are all indicators that your relationship is failing. But you don’t know how to solve the problems. Here are 10 tips from successful couples who have managed to work out solutions to their problems.
- Develop a realistic view of your relationship: Take off the rose coloured glasses and look at your own behaviour as well as your partners. Who is doing most of the household chores? Are you jealous when your partner spends time with friends or family? Whose account is the rent or mortgage being paid from? Solve problems that are solvable and avoid arguments that lead to grid lock. Understand that relationships have their ups and downs. If you invest in the good times they will help carry you through the bumpy times.
- Be willing to compromise and embrace change: You will never agree all the time on everything. John Gottman suggests that we should allow our partners to influence us. This is especially true for men who often resist the influence of their spouse. Without compromise couples will increasingly end up in grid lock. Work out what is important to you and compromise on issues of less importance. When issues are of great importance explain their importance to your partner and look for a compromise. Remember it takes two to compromise. One person cannot compromise all the time as this leads to resentment.
- Be intentional about forming “us”: Couples who are in successful relationships work at being a couple. They balance their own personal needs against the needs of being a couple. They treat each other with respect and as equals. They recognise and acknowledge the different strengths and weakness they both bring into the relationship. They understand that if they constantly put their own personal desires and needs ahead of their partner and the relationship that it will eventually lead to conflict.
- Openly communicate your needs and feelings: Open and honest communication is the basis of a good relationship. Do not hold back your feelings or thoughts as they may build up and leak out into your relationship or daily life. Good communication leads to a greater intimacy and helps to build trust, empathy and a sense of nearness. Good communication opens the doors to understanding and allows for the sharing of private thoughts and feelings.
- Make time for fun and romance: It’s easy to allow your relationship to slip in to a routine of sameness and boredom. Relationships can easily fall into a rut after several years of living together. For example coming home tired from work, cooking dinner and just ending up on the couch watching TV. Boredom can be deadly to a relationship. So give your relationship a shake and wake it up right now! Try writing a letter to your partner; make it sexy or full of plans for a romantic weekend away together. Plan a holiday away without the kids. And recharge the spark in your relationship.
- Be supportive: During your relationship there will be times when one of you will feel vulnerable and needing of some extra support. Don’t turn away from your partner during these times. There will also be times when your partner may want to change jobs or start a new interest or begin a new career. Don’t put a clamp on their dreams and aspirations. Try to support them and offer them the emotional and possible financial safety net to pursue their dreams.
- Give each other space: Try not to rely on your partner for all your needs. Give each other space to grow and mature as individuals within a relationship. It’s not possible to have all your needs met from one person. Try to avoid being jealous of your partner’s friends and the time they spend with them. Trust your partner unless you have concerns that may need to be addressed.
- Be best friends: Enjoy being in each other’s company. Trust each other with your most private thoughts and your heart. Gottman suggests that we develop a fondness for our partners. Gottman suggests that you lay down a positive view of your partner, respect and appreciate their differences.
- Cultivate common interests: Just as it’s important to have separate friends and interests it’s also import to develop common interests. Find activities that you both enjoy together and pursue them with equal passion.
- Make time to be alone: Take holidays or long weekends alone, just the two of you. Leave your family, friends and work at home and enjoy your time together.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand