Love can exist in many shapes and forms but most people seek the expression of love within the confines of a healthy romantic relationship with a significant other. For many people this type of romantic love can be an extremely fulfilling and meaningful element of life.
Unfortunately, no-one is born an expert in relationships. Successfully navigating the difficulties that can arise inside of a romantic relationship does not come naturally. While most of us want to be closely connected with a romantic partner, relationships take work. Listening, communicating, and understanding are all key ingredients of a good relationship.
MAKING RELATIONSHIPS WORK
Marriage is tough. Relationships are hard. The ones that work are generally the ones that are worked on. John Gottman has been studying this very problem for many years and has a few tips for couples heading for a break up or just on shaky ground.
NURTURE FONDNESS AND ADMIRATION
If you don’t believe that your spouse or significant other is worthy of respect and honour then where is the basis for a rewarding relationship? It’s important to continually remind yourself, and your partner of their positive qualities. Let them know that you appreciate them (for their good and bad) and express your fondness and admiration out loud. By doing this repeatedly you can prevent a happy and positive partnership from deteriorating.
CREATE SHARED MEANING
A happy relationship involves building a life together that is rich and full of meaning. Good relationships are about more than just weekend getaways and intimate embraces. They should also feature a dimension that involves creating a shared meaning together. Talk to your partner about your and their dreams, and create traditions together (walks on the beach etc.).
TURN TOWARD EACH OTHER
In romantic partnerships parties will periodically “bid” for the affection/attention/affirmation/support of the other. A “bid” can be a simple wink or a smile, or a request by one partner such as “Do you want to do _ together?”, or a question like “How do I look?” There is often important subtext here, and people often turn toward or away from each other. Consistently turning toward your partner is the basis of connection, passion, and an overall happy relationship.
COMPROMISE AND ACCEPT INFLUENCE
It’s inevitable that couples will disagree over things. These can be really small things (e.g. who should take the rubbish out) or bigger things (e.g. whether or not to buy the house). Both partners should be willing to compromise and search for common ground rather than insisting on getting their own way. Men and women both have the right to be honoured, respected, and heard.
ACCEPT THAT CONFLICT IS NORMAL
People see relationships in movies and television that aren’t always realistic. Perfection only exists on the sets of Hollywood blockbusters. The point is that disagreements in a relationship are entirely normal. In fact, if you and your partner have never ever had a disagreement over anything, ever, then this may be more of a cause for concern. The important thing is understanding that conflict is perfectly normal, and knowing how to deal with it. There is absolutely no reason to throw away an otherwise good relationship just because you’ve hit a rough patch. Just be assured that trust and commitment will deepen as you negotiate stormy weather together.
SIGNS YOUR RELATIONSHIP MIGHT BE IN TROUBLE
All relationships have their up and downs. When your relationship first started you may have overlooked (or been blind to) your partner’s faults, and they may have overlooked yours. After months or years together maybe the arguments are becoming frequent. You might even find yourself getting annoyed by things about your partner that never used to bother you. You might even be wondering if your relationship is headed for a break up. There a few important signs to look out for.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman suggest that criticism is one of “the four horseman of the apocalypse” in a relationship. This communication style can be a strong signal that the relationship is in trouble. Criticism coming from a partner can be really harmful to the other partner because when you criticise your partner, although you may think that you’re just voicing a complaint, it often seems to the other party as though you’re attacking his or her character. Being critical over and over again is a very effective way of ending a relationship.
Even though conflict is unavoidable in a relationship, there are good and bad ways of dealing with it. According to Gottman, stonewalling is when one partner withdraws from an interaction and effectively shuts down. This communication style generally involves one partner giving the other the silent treatment, or refusing to communicate/co-operate with them. People often stonewall because they are trying not to make the argument worse by retorting, but it is a very powerful act and one that conveys disapproval and an icy disposition.
When you feel as though you are being attacked or threatened your natural instinct might be to get defensive. However, this can be really harmful to a relationship. Automatically getting defensive usually occurs at the expense of validating or even understanding your partner’s position. This can quite often be a trigger for the other person to also be defensive. Often people become defensive without even realizing it. Some examples here are when you try to justify or excuse your own behaviour, or worse still, when you change the topic entirely to focus on what your partner has done wrong.
This really is the overarching theme that binds all of these problems together. With that in mind, it isn’t that surprising that communication in general is often regarded as one of the most important elements of a successful relationship. Communication in any partnership, especially a romantic one really is the cornerstone of success. Partners in failing relationships communicate less and less and unsurprisingly, drift further and further apart. A relationship is in dire straits when lines of communication break down and cease to exist. No problem is ever resolved by two people who refuse to communicate.
HOW CAN A CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST HELP?
Most of us know to go and see a doctor or a health professional for an ache or cough that just won’t go away, but what about if it’s not your body but your relationship that’s sick? The problem can be identifying the problem to start with, and then knowing where to go to seek help. For some couples, professional counselling can be a solution worth considering.
One of the big problems is that we have trouble seeing our own relationships objectively. We are often so blinded by how our partner is contributing to the problem that we can’t see our own faults. Often it can be helpful to get a third party’s objective perspective.
A therapist can impartially listen to each party, objectively evaluate the situation, and give you the tools that you need to successfully navigate a difficult relationship. Each of our psychologists are experts in their area of practice and are equipped to help you make the long-term changes that you need.
If you notice that your relationship is in trouble, or you just want to strengthen existing lines of communication within your partnership, reignite the passion, or achieve greater intimacy, don’t hesitate to contact us today.