No relationship can be maintained without a little effort. Whether your relationship with your partner is going well or you feel that it could use a bit of reinforcing, the fact remains that both parties must be proactive and put forth a certain level of attention and care to keep the bond strong over time. All relationships are bound to evolve — and that’s a good thing! — but you’ll both need to be open to adapting to those inevitable changes to keep your love alive and well.
The ability of your relationship or marriage to weather tough times in the future actually has a lot (or maybe even everything) to do with the action you take in the present. After all, you don’t want to suddenly realize that you’ve hit a rough patch and then discover that you don’t have the tools to make the necessary repairs.
Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do as a couple to reinforce your romantic connection, and there’s quite a bit of science to back it all up. That’s why we reached out to a series of experts to uncover some proven methods of strengthening your relationship with your significant other. Here’s what they had to say.
Consider Each Other’s Perspectives
“When there’s trouble in relationships, it’s all too common for everyone involved to feel like innocent victims,” says Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Clinician and founder of WIRL.
If you and your partner are not seeing eye-to-eye, challenge yourself to see the world, not as yourself, but as your partner does. Consider their perspective and how it may differ from your own, and it should help make sense of why you’re both feeling differently. It will also bring more transparency to the relationship and lessen the tension when you don’t agree about a situation.
Dr. Holland-Kornegay shared that she actually puts this method into practice in her own relationship with her husband, and it has helped to keep their family bond strong.
“It’s clear that relationships bring together people with different values, life experiences, and expectations,” she said. “So, we need to meet that situation with empathy and thoughtfulness.”
Communicate Clearly and Consistently
There’s one thing every expert we spoke to agreed would improve a relationship, and that’s fostering a habit of communication.
“Open communication with high vulnerability is key to maintaining and strengthening relationships,” says licensed psychologist Dr. Kelly Rabenstein Donohoe. “Re-examining our approach to one another in an open and loving way is more important than people realize.”
She goes on to caution that folks can sometimes get stuck in rigid patterns or thoughts that ultimately prevent us from connecting with one another. So we need to actively get out of our own heads in order to communicate more freely.
“The best thing we can do to strengthen our relationship is to stop thinking they can read our minds,” added YouTube creator & licensed therapist Kati Morton. “Most issues in a relationship come from lack of communication and the belief that they ‘should have known’ what we were thinking.”
To combat this assumption and passive-aggressive behavior that may come with it, Morton suggests consciously focusing on what it is that you both want, expect, or are upset about, then sharing that with each other to open up a deeper understanding of where any issues might actually lie. In fact, she even recommends over-communicating so as not to leave any room for misunderstanding.
Mental health expert, educator, and author Dr. Margaret Cochran also notes that your and your partner’s needs are likely to change over time, so it’s important to communicate and not assume you know what each other wants.
“When a woman is in her twenties, playful things might be quite appealing and romantic. It could be flowers, chocolate, gifts and trips,” Dr. Cochran offered as examples. “However, in her thirties — especially after [having] children — romance might look more like stepping up with childcare and household duties.”
She also cautions that a lack of communication can cause an imbalance in the relationship that is sure to leave both parties unhappy. If one of you feels that you take on too much of the responsibility and you don’t communicate clearly about what you need, you’re likely to end up feeling overburdened and resentful, while your partner may be feeling underappreciated for the effort that they do put in. However, if you both are able to intentionally make the time to talk and listen to one another, she says, it should result in a happier, stronger relationship.
Listen More Than You Talk
Communication as a whole is clearly vital, but it does take a bit of finesse to strike the perfect balance between talking and listening. It’s a street that must go both ways in order to be completely effective.
“We usually focus on the talking part of communication in couples, but I like to focus on listening,” says Dr. Rabenstein Donohoe. “No communication happens if we can’t hear what our partner needs and respond from a place of vulnerability.”
The key to this, of course, is not just hearing, but truly listening and understanding. A 2003 study by researcher Faye Doell found that those who “listen to understand” find greater satisfaction in their relationships as opposed to those who spend conversations simply waiting to respond.
Learn Your Love Languages
If you are listening to your partner enough, you should find that there are certain ways that they prefer to express their love and have love expressed toward them. This is called their love language and it could be words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, spending quality time, or physical touch. If you’re in touch with the way you give and receive love, too, you’ll notice that you have preferences as well. But, the way each of you gives love and wants love in return may not always line up so neatly, so it’s key to pay attention and — you guessed it — communicate your preferred love language with one another. If not, Dr. Cochran points out that the relationship can fall quite easily into misinterpretation and discord.
While your partner may believe they are showing an adequate amount of love, it’s certain to get lost in translation if it’s not in the right love language. This can easily lead to feelings of either underappreciation or overwhelm, so you’ll want to avoid that by asking for what you need and what they need when it comes to giving love to one another. Past studies have shown that understanding these languages can promote positive behaviors to improve relationships.
Get a Little Touchy
Though physical touch may not be your primary love language, it’s still beneficial to share some contact with one another to strengthen your relationship. This can come in the form of a hug, kiss, or even a quick shoulder rub as you both go about your daily tasks.
“Making time for loving touch every day will help you both feel more connected and in sync,” says Morton.
She goes on to note that Dr. Steven Porges’ research on the polyvagal theory backs this up with proof that intimate connections are even more valuable than conversations as they actually have a soothing effect on our nervous system.
Embrace the Unsolvable
According to relationship scientist John Gottman, nearly 70 percent of relationship conflicts are persistent problems, meaning that they revolve around issues that tend to resurface no matter how long you’ve been together. These can include disparities in how you each spend your money, or even differences when it comes to introversion and extroversion. This doesn’t mean that these issues need to tank your relationship, however.
To stop “the unsolvable” from ruining your relationship, you’ll need to address the bigger issues underlying your difficulty. Take turns discussing with your partner what this loaded issue really means to you. However, if communicating doesn’t seem to alleviate it, and the perpetual problem is related to something a bit heavier, therapy is always a solid option.
“If trust is the issue, it’s important to figure out if it’s coming from something they have done in the past or if it’s coming from our own insecurity,” says Morton. “If it’s from something they have done, couples therapy could be beneficial. But if it’s coming from our own issues, then seeing our own therapist could help [you] work through it.”
Dr. Cochran also urges folks to seek a licensed counselor if they find themselves in an unhappy or toxic relationship of any kind, noting that “untended wounds seldom heal on their own.” Regardless of the magnitude of your relationship issues, some guidance along the way is always better than trying to trudge through solo.
Ashley Keegan – AskMan.com