You love your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, but you feel that person slipping away, or you are fighting constantly. How can you save your relationship?
Relationships go awry because of unhealthy relationship patterns. If you are fighting a lot or are avoiding each other, chances are you and your partner have some ways of behaving and interacting towards each other that are unhealthy relationship patterns learned in childhood.
To administer relationship CPR, there are some steps you can do right away to get things on the right track.
Identify Unhealthy Behaviors
Unproductive behaviors such as blaming, criticism, and attacks disguised as questions, need to be addressed as soon as possible. Dr. John Gottman identifies four behaviors that are sure to derail romantic relationships:
- Criticism - Being critical of your partner indicates you want to change your partner, that you are finding flaws, that you don't accept your partner for the way he is. Criticizing the way your mate thinks, feels, acts, or speaks, is not acceptable behavior, and it certainly will not help your relationship flourish.
- Contempt - The feeling of contempt shows a problem with mutual respect and understanding. Resentment builds up, and it's difficult to be productive in a relationship when resentment and contempt replace more productive tendencies, such as trust and communication. If you are critical of your mate and you think badly about him, chances are, contempt is rolled up in this dynamic.
- Defensiveness - Defensiveness can contribute to excessive fighting in a relationship. Defensiveness can occur if the other partner is overly critical.
- Stonewalling - Relationships heal when people learn to communicate in productive ways. Giving your partner the cold shoulder to teach him a lesson is an act of vengeance, and will only make matters worse. It shows you are holding onto your anger instead of working through it.
To try to heal your relationship, you need to focus on your part only, and not on all the wrongs you feel your partner has done.
If your relationship is not experiencing any explosive fights, you might have drifted apart instead. Sometimes inaction speaks just as loudly as actions and words. You can still look at the things you did as well as the things you didn't do, and it will help, whether you've drifted apart or are constantly fighting.
Work on Your Communication Skills
A lack of communication could be one reason why you feel a rift in the relationship. To improve communication, learn how to listen well. For example:
- Ask specific questions. Instead of asking how your mate's day was, ask "So how did your proposal go?"
- Demonstrate you are listening by maintaining eye contact, asking follow up questions, and making observations.
Focus on Your Actions
It's very easy to blame your mate for your issues in a relationship. Realize that if things are not right in your life, you need to focus on your actions to fix them. To help you get focused on your actions, ask yourself the following:
- If you are fighting with your mate a lot, what are you saying when you fight?
- Do you get so wrapped up in the argument that you lash out and say mean things?
- Are you having trouble taking a step back so you can discuss your differences calmly?
Whether it's not sharing, distancing yourself, or a displaying a lack of trust, there are reasons why you are interacting with your mate in a destructive manner. Issues from childhood can enhance your relationships or interfere with them. In order to understand how to fix your relationship, you need to acknowledge the way you behave.
Once you have focused on yourself and the contributions you are making to the demise of your relationship, start to focus on other aspects that need healing. Closeness, brainstorming with your partner and even acknowledging the rift in your relationship can go a long way towards solving the problems you face.
Focus on Closeness by Communicating
Life and its obligations, such as work and kids, can eat up some or all of your free time, so maintaining closeness can be more challenging. If you are fighting more or just feel emotionally distant from your partner, making an effort to feel close again will help reestablished a derailed relationship.
Acknowledge the Rift
Talking about the fact that you have drifted, whether or not it's from constant fighting, or because of a lack of availability, will help clear the air. You want to approach this in a nonjudgmental, nonaccusatory manner.
For example, you could say, "I just loved falling in love with you. I felt we were so close back then. I would love to feel close to you again." This is much more productive than an accusation such as, "I never get to see you because you care about playing golf more than you care about me."
You can also communicate what you can do to feel close again. Have a brainstorming session to come up with ideas on how you can reestablish the bond you had.
- Discuss how to find some time together, such as hiring a babysitter so you can have a date once a month.
- Come up with ideas on how to spend your time together. For instance, do you both love backgammon, photography, or painting? Finding common interests will help you feel close.
- Think of new ways to spend time together. Is there a hobby you both want to pursue but never had the time?
- Think of ways you can make time for sex. A healthy sex life means a healthy relationship.
The Final Step
If you feel that your relationship is not making progress, marriage counselors can be very useful for people to mend the rift, but you don't have to be married to see a marriage counselor. You can still see one if you are in a long-term, committed relationship.
You can visit a therapist with your mate any time within this process, and the earlier you visit one, the better it is. Marriage counselors can help you define the aspects of your relationship that are going well and the aspects that are causing problems in the relationship. Counseling can also help couples clarify whether or not they want to work on their relationship.
Dealing With Infidelity
Cheating on your spouse or partner creates an entire set of circumstances. It can bring an immediate end to the relationship and any trust you have established with your partner.
If there was ever a right time to seek counseling, after one or both partners cheat, is it. Infidelity often indicates that the relationship already had some problems. In order to heal from infidelity, those issues need to be addressed.
Express Your Feelings
The person who has been cheated on will be hurt, feel betrayed, and distrust her partner. It's important to allow these feelings to be expressed, whether it occurs in a therapist's office or together as a couple.
Learn to Forgive and Trust Again
If a couple is going to survive infidelity, the person who was cheated on will need to learn how to forgive, and the person who cheated will have to earn back the trust of his partner.
One thing that can help this process is for the partner who cheated to ask what it would take for her to trust you again, and then follow up on what is said.
Is the Relationship Salvageable?
It takes effort on the part of both people to save a relationship. As long as both people are committed to working on the relationship together, it's a good sign both partners are committed to the process of healing their relationship together. Unfortunately, if your partner is not willing to work on the relationship with you, the relationship is likely going to end.
Focus On Yourself
If your relationship does end and the other partner doesn't want to work on it, the best action for you to do is to focus on yourself. Make sure you take time to take care of your physical health. Acknowledge and experience your feelings, even if it is difficult. These feelings will abate over time, and you will learn and grow from this experience.
Don't Make It Worse
There are other actions you can take. You may not be able to fix the relationship, but at least you will not be doing something that will make the situation worse, such as trying to force your partner to stay or pleading with him. These behaviors don't fix the problems that exist between you and your partner.
Make Efforts Early
The best way to save a relationship is to become proactive. Is the relationship going well? Do you feel close to one another? Are you fighting a lot? Do you communicate well? Even if your relationship is stormy, you can do things to show you are dedicated to learning and growing with the person. Your partner can be a valuable resource for you if you listen well, and you can communicate what you are willing to do to make your relationship work.
For instance, you can say things like, "I'm really sorry I blew up at you like that. I am realizing I don't handle stress very well, and because of the way I was raised, I didn't learn a healthy way of dealing with it. I am learning skills to cope with stress better. Can you forgive me? Know that I am aware of the problem now and I am working to fix it."
If you are having trouble keeping calm, focused, and centered, working on the relationship in a healthy manner, seeking counseling sooner than later will help your relationship go in a healthier direction. The sooner you get into counseling, the better your chances are of your relationship surviving.