Quite often I will meet a couple at their first session who feel hopeless about their relationship. What also happens quite often, between the first and second session, is a little bit of magic. Somehow the couple returns feeling more hopeful.
Let me describe the magic that happens between sessions and how couples can get back on track with a bit of effort.
- Decide that your relationship matters: Try to remember why you are together, what you do well as a couple, and what your partner brings to your life. Perhaps you first loved your partner’s warmth and generosity or valued their sense of humour. Get in touch with what’s important to you about your relationship and set a goal of making it a priority for the immediate future.
- Be a partner that you are proud of: Sometimes couples in conflict express lots of anger or criticism. You somehow become who you don’t want to be. Reflect upon who you truly want to be in a relationship, the traits you want to show integrity, compassion, honesty, calm.
- Accept your part in the problem: The couples that tend to do well are made of two individuals who realise that they are each contributing to the problem, that both have a part in the conflict or distance that is occurring. Acknowledging your contribution expresses a spirit of teamwork, that ‘we’re in this together’.
- Express more appreciation: One of the most common complaints I hear from partners is that they no longer feel appreciated. We tend to end up focusing on what’s not working. Decide to express more gratitude and appreciation and see what happens. Your partner may soften, and so will you from focusing on the positive contributions they make to your life.
- Access some compassion for your partner: This one can be really hard but try and remember your partner is hurting too. Try and imagine what may be happening inside for them, or even ask how they are feeling about the relationship. This vulnerability may bring about a deeper understanding of their pain too.
- Talk a little bit more and check in with each other: We can easily stop becoming curious about our partner’s world when we’re hurting. Improved closeness can unfold when you make an effort to check in a little bit more and ask about their day. There are also some wonderful resources out there to build more connection, such as couples intimacy cards which contain conversation prompts.
- Let go of defensiveness and just listen: An attitude of defensiveness can be particularly destructive to relationships. Rather than trying to defend your position, try and stay with what your partner is saying. Practice actively listening to their feelings and concerns and allow your turn to come another time.
- Create time to connect: Life can be busy, especially if you are juggling parenthood or other demands. Schedule some time for just the two of you, even if it’s a small window. Quality time is critical to maintain a sense of closeness to your partner. Healthy couples make this a priority.
These tips are designed to be practical and if applied with consistency, can make a significant difference to a couple’s connection. Start with one and go from there. You could apply these strategies on your own or share them with your partner. Who knows what magic you’ll rediscover in your own relationship.