You’ve had good times, hard times, and everything in between. You’ve been through a lot together. And you don’t want to call it quits. Working on a relationship can be rewarding and even bring you closer together.
The first step is being willing to honestly look at issues and fix them while cultivating positive habits.
It’s easy to fall into ruts of miscommunication, hurt feelings, and bad relationship habits.
Those habits can ruin a relationship. John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and the director of the “love lab” found indicators that a relationship wouldn’t work out.
It’s well worth it to learn what NOT to do, and what to do instead to keep your love alive.
1. Don’t turn away; turn toward your partner.
Let’s say your partner is sitting next to you and says, “There’s a new movie playing at the theater.”
A. Make a noise and continue staring at your phone.
B. Say, “Oh.”
C. Say, “Oh, cool, what it is?”
D. Look at your partner and ask, “What is it? Do you want to go?”
Choice A is turning away. You’re ignoring your partner and showing that you don’t care.
Choice B is turn away too. It’s just not quite as rude.
Choice C is okay. You’re showing interest.
Choice D is turning toward your partner. You realized they were reaching out, acknowledged them, and reached back.
You can guess which response will make your partner feel closer.
Everyone makes small gestures like this, reaching out to connect. We start a conversation, try to engage the other, and show that we care.
If you pick up on these, you can show your partner that you notice them and appreciate them.
Turning toward your partner builds romance, trust, and communication, and avoids hurt feelings or anger.
If you reach out and your partner doesn’t notice or engage, don’t get angry. They might not see what you’re doing.
You can kindly explain that you’d like to connect more, and that was your way of reaching out to them.
Honestly goes a long ways, and so does sharing that you want to make things better.
2. Avoid the harsh start up for conversations.
Coming at someone with criticism or statements that start with “always” or “never” kill communication.
An example would be: “You never help with chores around here.”
A better way of starting the conversation would be: “It was so helpful when you took the trash out last week.”
If you’re hurt or annoyed, start with something soft such as,
“Something’s been bothering me, and I don’t think I can let it go without talking to you.”
You want a positive outcome for the conversation. You’re more likely to get there if you start with a team mindset instead of attacking.
3. Avoid the Toxic 4 Habits.
Four things kill relationships faster than anything:
No one likes to be criticized.
It’s better to say something about the action than put the person down. You could also try praise for a positive behavior because people usually respond to that better.
Defensiveness is defending yourself, or even just explaining, when your partner tries to talk to you. It feels like you’re telling them they’re wrong.
Stonewalling usually follows the first two.
This is one partner giving the other the cold shoulder, not talking, or avoiding. Sometimes the partner will be physically present but tunes the other out.
These first three lead to contempt, which is like the final nail in the coffin of a relationship.
Contempt is when someone really can’t stand the other. The person might mock them, roll their eyes, use sarcasm, sneer, gossip, and show outright hatred.
It’s like someone took all of their negative emotions and reactions and simmered them for a long time. You do not want your relationship to get to this point.
Hopefully you can catch things at an earlier stage.
If you see these behaviors in your relationship from you and/or your partner, ask to have a talk.
Look for better ways to communicate, such as the methods listed here.
4. Don’t focus on the negative; tip the scales to the positive side.
In any situation, if you have a negative atmosphere, you’re not going to be happy.
If everyone at work talks about what they don’t like about the boss, the office, the schedules, and the pay, then everyone is going to feel like it’s not a good place to work.
The same is true in your relationship. You can choose to focus on negative things and hang onto them.
Or you can choose to look for positive things.
People tend to assume the worst. What if you made it a habit to assume the best about your partner?
Tell yourself they have the best intentions, and if they said something that hurt your feelings, it was an accident.
If something happens that feels hurtful, give them the benefit of the doubt.
In any situation, step back and ask yourself how you can see things in a more positive light.
This takes practice, but after a while you’ll be amazed at how your life and relationship are changing for the better.
5. Avoid “growing apart” with curiosity.
Some couples get to the point that they don’t check in with each other. There are many milestones along the way to that point.
You might only ask them, “How was your day?” but not really know what’s going on in their life.
Think about if you really connect and know what’s stressing them, what they’re excited about, and what they’re trying to accomplish.
Think of a few unexpected questions to ask.
Sit down and explore different things like:
- What’s changed in the last year?
- Do you know any new people?
- Is the atmosphere at work a good one, and why?
- What are you hoping to see happen this year? In the next five years?
- Do you have any concerns about life right now?
The point is to reconnect and really understand each other.
You might find they’ve been dealing with something that’s been affecting the relationship, and you didn’t know.
6. Replace “I understand” with “I see what you’re saying”.
Terminology can make such a huge difference when you think about your words.
If you tell someone, “I understand,” it often annoys them. They don’t think that you do truly understand.
But if you say, “I see what you’re saying,” it implies that you can see their point of view.
“I see what you’re saying” doesn’t mean the other person is right, but it opens the door to talk about it more.
Other things that you can say and change the tone of the conversation include:
- I see your point
- Can we take a breather?
- Is there a way to compromise on this?
- Maybe we should start the conversation over.
- Okay, so are you saying _______________. (Paraphrase to make sure you understand them.)
- Does it seem like I’m understanding you?
- I want to understand this.
- I’m confused, but I want to work together.
Implementing these 6 practices into your relationship will help communication, connection, and turn things around.
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Opening image by Gustavo Fring.