You and your spouse want to take the first steps in mending or strengthening your relationship, but where do you begin?

While each person and each couple is unique, with individual needs and love styles, there are three essential components that must be present to maintain a happy, healthy relationship: tools, insights, and relationship education.

You need to learn how to use everyday relationship and communication tools, gain insights on how to keep your interactions full of love, and seek out high-quality relationship education.

Tools

How do you keep different parts of your relationship from getting stuck? How do you fix major issues? You want to feel good about the time that you spend with your significant other and share your joy and appreciation, but you don’t know how.

Just like you would use tools to repair an appliance or prevent your bike gears from getting stuck, you can use different tools to fix, mend, and build your relationship. The more tools you add to your belt, the more skills you have handy when a fight or an issue arises in your relationship.

Here are four examples of important relationship tools to add to your “relationship tool belt.”

Listening

Practice the art of active listening and asking progressing questions. When you participate in active listening, you are able to show your partner that you are interested in what they have to say.

To practice asking progressing questions, ask your partner a question based on what they had just said to you. When they give you an answer, ask another question based on the answer. And so on.

By taking what they have said to you, repeating it, and going deeper into their thoughts, you show your partner you are truly listening and invested in what they have to say to you.

Patience

When emotions run high, you may feel the impulse to yell, slam doors, or say something hurtful to your partner. Often, these are the moments we regret in our confrontations.

When you and your partner are discussing a rather stressful topic, take a deep, slow breath, in and out, before you begin to speak. This breath will act as a moment of pause. It will allow you to collect your thoughts and get your emotions under control before speaking.

Empathy

You and your spouse may come from different backgrounds, have different jobs, and hold different roles in your relationship. Your day-to-day and life experiences may be completely different. Keep this in mind while you discuss issues with your partner.

When you find yourself saying in frustration, “Why would he/she say that?” take a step back and really think about the reasoning behind your partner’s point of view.

How do their responsibilities throughout the day, in your home or at their job, affect the way they approach your relationship? How does their upbringing affect your relationship?

Considering their point of view will help you come to a more agreeable solution and dissipate any anger that exists when a certain conflict arises.

Support

Even if you do not openly communicate this to your spouse, you want their support. They want your support as well.

Whether they have a new idea for your relationship, are looking for a promotion at work, or want to explore a new hobby, your support and approval will encourage them and help them to feel safe and loved. Support brings with it a positive energy that can’t help but benefit the relationship.

Insights

You know you want to improve your relationship, and have techniques and tools to do so, but what are you working toward? How can you set appropriate goals for your relationship, and how can you measure your success?

By discovering key insights to a positive relationship, you and your partner can choose what you want to achieve with relationship counseling or education. Merely discussing different insights will give you an idea of you and your spouse’s priorities.

Here are four insights to begin your journey.

Seek and Offer Forgiveness

You cannot let go of negative emotions in your relationship until you can forgive your partner – and until you can get yourself to seek forgiveness from them.

Remember this the next time you find yourself holding on to a grudge and allow yourself to forgive them. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting a wrong or “losing.” It just means you realize this incident or problem pales in comparison to your relationship.

Learn and Grow Together

If your relationship does not move, you may become anxious or bored. These feelings often lead couples to seek confrontations with their partners or even to look to extramarital relationships for excitement.

To keep your relationship from regressing, or coming to a standstill, find ways to learn and grow with your partner.

Keep Dating

Remember the initial rush of meeting your partner: the small romantic gestures, waiting by the phone to plan your next date, impressing each other with exciting activities?

Dating does not have to stop when you say, “I do.” When you “keep dating” throughout your relationship, you keep the romance and intimacy that initially drew you to your spouse alive. How will you make your relationship exciting? How do you keep your relationship feeling young?

Actively Work to Solve Problems

Conflicts and disagreements are unavoidable. We cannot control our partner’s opinions or priorities. However, we can control our methods and techniques for solving problems when they arise in our relationship.

This is really where our relationship tool belt comes in handy. What are the best ways to come to an agreement with your partner? How will you solve conflicts in a way that will continue to have a positive effect on your relationship?

Relationship Education

If we are using tools to discover helpful relationship insights, relationship education is the instruction manual. Education can tie everything you as a couple are learning together. It can also expand your mind, teaching you about you, your spouse, and other couples.

How do you harness these tools to discover insights on what makes your relationship work? Make relationship education a priority. In-person workshops or coaching can help you and your spouse dive deeper into what makes you, as a couple, unique and strong.

As a Houston marriage counselor, I offer relationship education both for couples in the Houston area and for couples who cannot reach our office in person. Skype calls and other long distance methods of communication make it possible to find the type of relationship education that works for you no matter wher

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