Living as a couple takes significant effort. And this can be made harder when children, and added pressures like financial difficulties, are thrown into the mix. Then introduce living through a pandemic and lockdown confinement for extra measure – and it’s really not surprising if you’re finding things tough.
So, if you’re worried about your relationship, now is a good time to start making some positive changes:
Feeling lonely? Talk to each other.
Even if we’re living with our partners 24/7, we can still feel lonely in a relationship. This can happen when we lose emotional connection. Barriers can form between you when you start to shut down and stop sharing the things on your mind. And little niggles can quickly snowball if they’re not resolved early.
Good communication is important in reconnecting. This includes ‘active listening’- pausing your own needs and feelings to enable you to connect with and really hear what your partner is saying. This pause also helps you to stop reacting too hastily and entering into a negative escalation.
Often the difficult thoughts and feelings we’re experiencing aren’t obvious to others until we say them out loud. Finding ways to express these clearly and calmly to your partner can make a big difference in bringing you closer together.
Learn to be vulnerable
“Vulnerability is the path back to each other, but we’re so afraid to get on it”
– Brene Brown, Research Professor and vulnerability expert¹.
Part of improving the communication in your relationship is learning the art of being vulnerable. But vulnerability can be scary, and it’s often easier to disguise our feelings by expressing them as anger and criticism.
For example, one partner saying, “Why do you always have the TV on so loud when I’m trying to sleep?” might be hiding feelings of, “I wish you’d come to bed – I miss you.”
Being vulnerable – saying what you want and how you’re really feeling – is a difficult thing to do. We can fear rejection and the consequences of being so open, but as Brene also says,
“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
With practise, being vulnerable is a skill you and your partner can develop and reap the rewards from in a very short amount of time.
Find a positive perspective
Following more than 40 years of research into marital stability, The Gottman Institute² in Seattle, Washington, suggests we view relationships as ‘Emotional Bank Accounts’. Its research shows that healthy relationships need more positive deposits than negative withdrawals.
When you consider your relationship, do you find it difficult to think of positive things your partner contributes? These can easily be forgotten or go unnoticed when you’re living with someone. But with so many interactions between you each day, there are plenty of opportunities to ‘bank’ positive deposits.
Start by making a list of every positive thing your partner does, no matter how small
– from bringing you a cup of tea, to actively listening to a story you’ve recounted. Increasing your appreciation of these things will encourage your partner to repeat them. In turn, you’re more likely to notice moments when you can increase and improve your positive input, and so a positive behaviour cycle is formed.
Change the way you approach fall-outs
Saying “sorry” is never easy. But remember that forgiveness is a powerful device in your relationship toolbox. Even if you didn’t start the argument, or feel you’re at fault, being conciliatory and apologising means you’re bringing the disagreement to a close. Remember, this is still a win.
Forgiveness can be an important way of building ‘capital’ in your relationship’s emotional bank account. Research by John Gottman³ also showed that marriages became stable over time if couples learned to reconcile successfully after a fight. In essence, the ability to apologise and forgive can provide great value in allowing you both to heal and move on positively.
Be intentional and make a plan
Relationships take effort. And with that effort comes a commitment to engage, to work on difficulties together, and to intentionally be involved. It’s good to remind ourselves of this every now and then.
In one of our earlier blog posts, we discuss how worry will not influence outcome. This also applies to your relationship. Instead, if you’re concerned about how you’re relating to each other, it’s best to make a plan to try and resolve the situation.
As well as trying the suggestions above, couples counselling can also help. This type of therapy will provide you with more positive ways of communicating and teach you new behaviour patterns that can help heal divides. Taking action can change the course of your relationship and lead to a future together that both you and your partner deserve.
Try Schema Therapy
If you’re thinking about couples therapy, you might consider this particular type of counselling. Schema Therapy helps you identify and break destructive patterns that have formed in your relationship. During our early lives, we can sometimes develop certain negative behaviour patterns and particular coping strategies. But carrying these through into adulthood can be unhelpful and have a negative impact on our relationships.
With Schema Therapy we look at why these destructive patterns have formed and work to replace them with healthier communication cycles. You’ll be provided with transformative solutions to resolve problems you have in relating to each other and we’ll help you establish a healthy and satisfying relationship.
If you would like to find out more about how couples counselling and schema therapy could help you and your partner, simply get in touch or give us a call on 0292 010 3173.
¹ Brene Brown, Research Professor at the University of Houston, lecturer, author, and podcast host
² The Gottman Institute, Seattle, Washington, a centre providing a research-based approach to relationships
³ John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington and Founder of The Gottman Institute.