Being in a healthy and happy intimate relationship is a source of joy and security for those involved. A stable, connected long-term relationship can improve our mental health, our physical health and even increase our life expectancy! Conversely being in a relationship that is not healthy, not well-attended to or filled with conflict can lead to feelings of resentment, loneliness and isolation. If left untreated it can even lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, such is the impact of close relationships on our lives. We all know that relationships require work and input from both parties, however in today’s increasingly busy world, people can become distanced from one another with work, family commitments and competing goals. Add children into the mix and it is easy to lose the regular connection with or time for one another. However, with commitment and motivation it is possible to maintain a healthy long-term relationship and/or improve one that has been struggling. Following are some tips to help couples keep or get things back on track.
Strengthen your Friendship
As long-term relationships progress it is so easy to start to take your partner for granted. Where initially there may have been respect, humour and a sensitivity towards each other’s feelings there may now be less of this. Good relationships are based on friendship. Try to recall how you were with your partner at the beginning of the relationship. Did you speak to one another with kindness? Did you give each other the benefit of the doubt? Did you excuse each other’s mistakes. These things are still important in long-term relationships. When speaking to your partner always ask yourself: “would I speak to my best friend like this”? If the answer is no then it might be time to make some changes. When you’re with your partner try to listen and reflect, be kind, have a laugh, enjoy one another, cuddle, make eye-contact. Surprise them with kind gestures or something you know they’d like.
This involves not simply talking to one another but paying attention to one another, really tuning in to what the other person is saying and taking the time to see things through their eyes. Try picking a time with few interruptions to talk and to listen. Practise reflective listening, where you repeat back the key points of what the other person has said to you and clarify what they’re saying where necessary. Offer validation where possible, even if you don’t agree with everything they’re saying you can validate feelings. Try and see the truth from the other’s perspective. Stay away from judging, labelling and blaming: use “I” statements where possible. Don’t attack or threaten. Allow the other person to speak without interruption and then take your turn to talk. Create time to talk about feelings. If this is hard for you as a couple try just starting with a few minutes per day just to “check-in” how the other’s day has been.
It is important to look at how you generally communicate with your partner and notice whether you might be regularly conveying criticism or negativity in your tone. Are you often critical or angry with your partner, even when they are trying to help? Perhaps you are tired or busy and have fallen into the habit of only offering your partner feedback when they do something wrong. If so this might be an opportunity to step back and look at what you can do to change this. Perhaps you could think about trying to recognise their attempts to help or acknowledge all the things they do around the house, instead of only commenting on what they fail to do. This does not mean that you cannot raise concerns or make requests of the other person, but that you balance this with positivity and gratitude for all the things they do.
Healthy relationships are often formed by those who can see and truly cherish the difference in their partner from themselves. This is often easy to do at the beginning of a relationship when things are new and novel but many people struggle with this as the relationship progresses and the “honeymoon” period ends. People can become increasingly resentful that their partner is not an identical version of them. It might become more obvious with time that you are an extrovert but your partner is an introvert, they enjoy lots of outdoor activities but you would rather stay at home, they don’t share your passion for certain hobbies etc. Your partner’s lack of interest in your hobbies does not mean they don’t care for you, they may simply show their care in other ways. It may be that you recruit a friend with similar interests to join you with that hobby instead. Celebrate the things you do share in common with your partner and connect over and accept there will be things that you don’t share. Keeping that in mind, it’s still important to tune in to when your partner shows excitement or interest in something, even if you don’t join them in it you can show you support their excitement.
Time to Connect:
This may be something that you make time for in different ways on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. You can make time to talk and connect each night when the children go to bed, even if this is just brief. You can make sure that at least a few times each week you have “checked-in” with stories from your partner’s week. You can organise a regular date night. This doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, it is simply about making time for the other person and if possible creating space to be playful and enjoy one another’s company. The occasional trip away together (even somewhere in the same city you live in) can be fun if you can afford it. The key to making this time valuable is to make it free of other distractions, try to connect physically and prioritise one another. If there are issues bothering you that haven’t been raised you could use this time to raise them, trying as best you can to use the healthy communication strategies discussed above. Then once they have been discussed try to allow the rest of the time to be for enjoyment.
Be a team
Help one another in any capacity that you can, whether this is at home, with work tasks or family. Divide up the household chores or take turns doing tasks such as cooking and washing so this is not left just to one person, particularly if you both do paid work also. Offer to do things you don’t always do such as taking the bins out or making the Sunday meal for the family. Have equal involvement with the children where possible, including those less exciting tasks such as changing nappies and doing the school runs. Help with aspects of your partner’s paid work if this is possible. Working together will enhance the feeling of team work in the relationship and lessen the resentment that can build up when one person feels they are doing the lion’s share of the work.
If you feel your relationship is in trouble or would like to discuss other ways to enhance your relationships wellbeing please contact Eliza.Leave a reply →