This one’s for all of you long-term relationship folks!
While I usually tend to write about how to turn a good relationship into a great relationship (through things like connection exercises, date nights, sexual communication, romantic gestures, overall prioritization, and increasing depth in your communication) today I’m going to talk about something equally as important.
What do you do if your relationship is struggling? What actions can you take when your partner seems more and more emotionally grating to you? Essentially, how do you save a struggling relationship?
Here are six of the highest leverage things that I walk my clients through when they come to me with a question regarding their struggling relationship.
Whether you’ve been dating your partner for three months or three decades, there’s something in this list for everyone.
1. Ask yourself these three questions
Self-reflection is sexy.
On some level, you know that relationships take two people (at the very least) to work well. Whatever problems you’re ruminating on your mind… or whatever things you’re telling yourself are all about them… it’s quite likely that those thoughts are simply inventions in your mind. Your mind’s purpose is to look for drama. If you live exclusively in your mind you will be reduced to fear, anxiety, and worry 24/7. So the following three questions will ground you in reality a bit more firmly.
If you’ve noticed your relationship running off the rails lately, ask yourself these questions with total honesty.
– What do I love about them?
– What have I always loved about them?
– How do they make me a better person?
These three questions lead to a beautiful, overarching reminder of “Oh right! I actually love them like crazy and there’s a LOT of good stuff here that I’m taking for granted. And not only do I love things about them, but I love what they bring to my life.”
If you really can’t think of a single answer for any of them then you might need to read this article.
2. Cultivate depth in your communication and let them in further
If you’re suffering from relationship resentment then it’s quite likely that the depth of your collective communication has been tragically truncated. Three rounds of alliteration in one sentence anyone? I know. I’m amazing.
It happens so, so, so frequently that a client comes to me and says “About a year ago this thing started to bother me in my life, but I didn’t want to bother my partner with it so I kept it to myself… and for the last ten months we’ve been struggling FOR SOME STRANGE REASON!?”
Well, you don’t need a masters degree in relationship psychology to assume that it’s more than a coincidence that your relationship started to suffer when you started keeping your big, scary secrets from your partner.
No matter how naturally intuitive someone is, we can all detect when our partners are withholding information from us.
If you’re afraid to tell your partner something (that you don’t like your job any more, that you don’t feel sexually desirable, that you miss how much you used to touch each other in a non-sexual way, etc.) and it’s weighing heavily on your mind, then your best bet is to TELL THEM. I wrote about this phenomenon recently in my article The One Practice That Saves More Relationships Than Anything Else.
So set aside some time. Tell them you have something to tell them. Tell them you’re afraid to say it. Tell them that you want to tell them about it because you love them so much and you want to get it off of your mind so that you can feel closer to them again.
And if you don’t have any big scary secrets that you’re holding on to, but you would still like to go deeper in your communication with your partner… check out my article 10 Questions To Ask To Go Deep In Your Relationship. There’s some real gems in that piece.
3. Practice the habit of ‘Gratitude Immersion’
So much of your intimate relationship is lost or won in the battle field between your ears. Aka your mind.
Every seed that you plant in your life produces a result. A good seed produces a beneficial result, and a poisonous seed poisons the field.
In your relationship, you can either plant seeds of gratitude or seeds of resentment.
You plant seeds of resentment by score keeping. Keeping track of every time that you did something nice, noble, or awesome for them… while actively ignoring or minimizing the things that your partner did for you.
You plant seeds of gratitude by cultivating the pause between noticing something that your partner did and sitting with it. Don’t just notice “Oh look, they did the dishes.” Really sit with the noticing, acknowledging, and gratitude of the moment. You could stretch that dishes example into, “Wow. My partner loves me so much that they took the time to do their dishes and mine. They know I hate fruit flies and so they did this as an act of love to keep me feeling safe, clean, and loved. They probably even did this because they knew I had a busy night coming up and they didn’t want me to be late for my plans. They love me so much. I am so lucky to be with such a loving, thoughtful partner.”
Gratitude immersion is the ultimate antidote to taking your partner for granted. Do this and you will eradicate a score keeping mindset within a matter of days.
4. Accept them entirely and acknowledge that you can only change yourself
I tend to attract a certain kind of reader/client to my work. A sometimes-anxious, high-achieving, semi-perfectionistic, hyper-intentional kind of person (just like me! Law of attraction whaaaaaat!?).
And one of the most common questions that clients come to me with is “Is my partner the right one for me? Because I’ve noticed some things about them that I don’t love but I’m not sure if I’m being too picky.”
And, when they frame it in that way, the answer, nine times out of ten, is “Yes, you’re being too picky. They sound like a fantastic person, and those tiny details don’t necessarily warrant the severing of the relationship.”
The antidote to this anxious mindset that might be sabotaging your relationships from the inside out? Accept them entirely and acknowledge that you can only change yourself.
Yes we can influence other people’s behaviours… but really, the only sustainable way to do this without being a jerk is to lead by example. Aka do the thing that you want to have more of in your life (go to the gym, read, eat cleaner, etc.) and then see if your partner joins you in that way of behaving of their own free will.
Believe me, it’s much easier to just start going to the gym yourself and asking your partner if they want to join you every 5-10 times then to give them a gym pass as a birthday present (seriously… don’t do that… unless they’ve explicitly asked for it).
So whatever the thing is that you wish they did more of, just do it yourself. If they join you in that activity/behaviour/way of being… great! If not, well, at least you already have more of that thing in your life because you’re doing it on your own.
5. Plan a sex date
Sex is integral to a thriving relationship. By sex I don’t necessarily just mean penetrative intercourse. Sex can mean a billion different things to a billion different people.
Sex is often the first thing to go when a relationship starts struggling… which is unfortunate. I like to think of sex as your body’s way of communicating. If you stopped verbally talking to your partner for three weeks, you would expect that it would be highly likely that your sense of connection would diminish. It’s the same way with sex. Sex is another form of communication, and can be just as important to your relationship as going deep in your conversations.
Good, connected sex can offer breakthroughs in your relationship… in your collective ability to communicate with each other… in your collective desire to want to work through a major emotional roadblock that you both might be experiencing.
Phones off. No TV. Hire a babysitter for your kids or pets. Get all of your distractions out of the way.
Make love, in whatever way makes the most sense to the both of you. And you don’t have to wait for all of your communication to be at 100% before you can have deeply fulfilling sex. Often you need to sexually connect first, and then communicate afterwards.
6. Clear out old resentments
In the course of most relationships, little things tend to build up over time.
Maybe they did or said something that hurt you months ago. Maybe they forgot a special date or anniversary. Maybe they unknowingly embarrassed you when you were out with your friends.
Whatever resentments you might be holding on to, it’s time to move past them in order for your relationship to be able to go to it’s next layer of depth.
First, do your forgiveness work to remove the majority of the emotional charge surrounding the event on your side. For a lot of people, this is easier said than done. Ask yourself “How could what they did have been coming from a place of love? How could I have misunderstood what happened? How could I look at that event in a different way that would assume the best of them?”
By putting that initial wedge of doubt in there that makes you question whether or not you know the full story (hint: you don’t… you only know your interpretation of that event) makes you a lot more receptive to whatever your partner has to say about it.
Once you’ve done all of the work that you’re able to do on your side, bring it to your partner and invite a dialogue around that thing that still hurts for you. Tell them “Hey, I know that it was a little while ago, but I’ve been thinking about something that still feels a little bit unresolved for me. I’m doing my best not to hold it against you, and I’d love to hear your side of things regarding _____. The story I’m telling myself about it is that (this happened) and (that happened). Can you tell me what was happening in that situation on your side?”
It could be difficult to air your metaphorical old dirty laundry, but it might just be one of the most freeing things that you’ve ever done for yourself and your relationship.
Make Your Relationship A Priority
Your relationship slid down the priority list. I get it. You get it. Your significant other gets it.
You started the relationship, guns a blazin’, and you promised that you’d put each other above anything else in your lives. And then you allowed time to erode that promise. More accurately, you allowed your decisions to erode that promise.
First it was your career. And then your health. And then friends, family, kids, pets, Netflix, or any other number of things. Whatever got in the way, you allowed it to get in the way.
Now it’s time to take your relationship back into your own hands and declare “I care about my relationship. I want it to work as well as it used to in the beginning. In fact, I want it to be significantly better than it was in the beginning.”
And that’s amazing. Good for you. You deserve to have a thriving love relationship in your life. It all starts with your intention (and is carried out in your actions).
Dedicated to your success,