By: Angelie Karabatsos, LPC, NCC, MA, MBA
Relationships are complicated and challenging. Many couples find staying in a long-term relationship difficult because a relationship takes time and work to be successful. Some people like the idea of a relationship, being with that one special person, but find it hard to connect or communicate with their partner. Many people think healthy relationships are easy, have no conflict, agree on everything, and have all the same values. This is an unrealistic view of relationships and causes conflicts or worse a breakup. The reality is relationships take thought, energy, connection, and communication to survive. These are some topics dealt with in couples counseling or marriage counseling.
How does a person know they are in a healthy relationship that will last? This is the question many couples ask frequently. It is a great question and one that should be asked, checked, and revisited many times throughout the course of the relationship. We are constantly looking for ways to grow professionally. Too often, after the first few years of a relationship, we stop looking for ways to improve and nurture our romantic relationships. Just like a career, we need to put forth effort into our relationships. This begins by identifying what is working and what needs improvement. Needing improvement does not mean the relationship is over or troublesome. It means we need to invest in the relationship as much as or more as we are investing in our careers, family, or hobbies. Below are six ways to improve your relationship.
Having a specific time to connect with you partner is extremely important. Unfortunately, this is the time that is most often sacrificed. When work schedules go wild, children come along, or family members need help, the area we sacrifice is couple’s time. Plans are canceled with our partner to work an extra shift or bring work home to hit a deadline. Children enter the family and the shear exhaustion overtakes new parents to the point that any energy left is used for sleep. Aging parents can present challenges for working adult children who are beginning to build their lives. It is imperative to set aside at least 30-40 minutes per day to reconnect with your partner. This can be as simple as talking about your day, as long as it involves sharing thoughts and feelings. It could be doing a jigsaw puzzle, reading out loud to each other, or playing a game. People often think connection time must be a big gesture or a long date night away from family.
Communication is one of the biggest issues in relationships. Most conflict revolves around agreeing and disagreeing versus seeing partner’s perspective. Both partners want their viewpoint validated. The best way to reduce conflict is to understand that we don’t have to agree or disagree, we just have to understand our partner’s perspective. Once perspectives are understood, brainstorming can occur, and a shared solution chosen. Creating a shared solution equals compromise. This is how conflict is reduced not eliminated. Often times, couples think if they compromise, they are “losing”. Communication isn’t about winning or losing. It is about being heard, sharing thoughts, and finding the best idea for the situation or concern. Shouting, interrupting, threatening, or putting partner down creates conflict. Sharing thoughts, ideas, providing empathy, asking for feedback, and actively listening reduces conflict. Holding our concerns in as a means to avoid conflict usually backfires and creates more conflict. We can share anything with our partner if we are using good assertive communication.
Disconnection can occur when one partner feels unimportant. Too often we prioritize work, family, friends, sports, and other activities over our partner. This creates wounds that can cause deep ruptures. Finding ways to put partner ahead of other areas tells them they are the most important relationship in your life. This can be done by sending small love bites out each day. A love bite is a text or note sharing thoughts and feelings. It can be an acknowledgment of something they do or say that stirs up emotions. It can be a favorite song or a remembrance of something that is special to partner. Another way to show your partner they are a priority is planning something unique or turn down an invitation with a friend to spend time with partner. When we are with partner giving them our full attention. This means putting away electronics and not checking the phone when we hear the beeps signaling emails or text messages. Work on spending ninety minutes without any electronic devices and being fully present.
Acknowledge Good Deeds:
Couples share with their partners when they are unhappy with the things their partner is saying and doing that is upsetting. Most of the time couples can say ten things that bother them about their partner but when asked to give their partner a positive, it is a struggle. When was the last time you acknowledged something good you partner did, said, or made? I bet it has been a while. Noting our partner’s good deeds and then acknowledging them by showing appreciation for their deeds increases connection, harmony and reduces conflict. If we are only looking for the not so swift behaviors that is all we will see. Looking for good deeds means we will see the positives our partner brings to the table. In most cases our partner does more good deeds than not so swift deeds. We choose which to remember.
Give Support & Encouragement:
Our partner is the first person we turn to with our joys and sorrows. Providing support when partner wants to switch jobs, careers, go back to school, or possibly move to a different state strengthens the relationship. All big life events, such as those listed, are a “we” not an “I” endeavor and needs to be discussed fully before acted upon. Support and encouragement means asking questions, seeing the positives in partner’s ideas, and letting them know you believe that they can succeed at whatever partner chooses. After support and encouragement is provided, discussing the matter from a couple or a family worldview is needed to ensure the life event benefits the entire family and ensures both partners are completely on board with the changes. Be honest with concerns. It only creates strife later when partner realizes their significant other was never on board with the change.
An intricate part of a healthy relationship is both physical and emotional intimacy. (Psychology Today 2018 ) Most people fuel their bodies with good food and routinely workout. This keeps them strong. We need to provide physical touch for our partner daily. This keeps the relationship strong. Holding hands, giving hugs, or a good morning kiss tells partner you are thinking about them and find them desirable. Couples start out holding hands and sitting next to each other but when the first child comes along this ritual ends. The child suddenly is sitting between the couple. Years go by, the kid grows up, but the couple still don’t hold hands or sit together because the natural ways we show our partner affection dissolved because we were giving that to the child. Make a daily effort to hug and kiss hello and goodbye. Hold hands and snuggle a few times a day.
Emotional intimacy refers to feeling a deep connection to the significant other. This connection goes beyond task-orientated discussions. Most couples do well with task-orientated discussions. Talking about feelings or sharing their vulnerabilities is hard. Neither partner wants their partner to think they are weak. Not sharing emotions is weakness. The easiest way to build emotional intimacy is by sharing and using emotional words. Many people have learned to communicate without using emotional words instead they use a lot of descriptive words. Happy, sad, or angry are examples of emotional words. Going even deeper reinforces the emotional ties to the point where a partner feels cherished. Indicating you feel joyous instead of happy is an example of going deeper.