If you’re married or in a long term relationship with someone, then you probably already know this incontrovertible truth: ups and downs come with the territory.
Maybe you got into a stupid argument and neither one of you wants to be the first to apologize. Or work has you run down and stressed out, and you just don’t feel like you have anything to give to your significant other right now. Some people don’t even know what their problems are, just that something feels wrong and they don’t like it.
When you’re with someone for years, you’re bound to have times where you feel closer to them and times where things just aren’t going as well. But what you can’t do is just sit idly by and hope that things will work themselves out on their own. Do that, and you’re liable to start experiencing the types of problems that people generally consider “truly serious,” like an infidelity, constant fighting about the same things, or sexual incompatibility or disinterest.
So what can you do when you’re in one of these downturns to keep it from becoming a downward spiral?
Admit that there really is a problem. If there’s one thing that all human beings are really good at, it’s denial. We convince ourselves that bad things are no big deal or that the problem doesn’t exist at all because it’s how we cope and manage to keep living our daily lives. Unfortunately, ignoring a relationship problem doesn’t make it go away – it just lets it fester until it eats away at all the good things you’ve built together. Step one – acknowledge that something is wrong both to yourself and your significant other.
Dig out the root cause. Oftentimes, when we go through rough patches in our relationship, it’s not our partner that is the problem – or even the relationship – but something else entirely. We lash out at the person closest to us when things are going badly, so figure out what’s making you treat your partner poorly. Are you scared of losing your job? Bored because you’re stuck at home alone all the time? Stressed out and exhausted from family troubles? And if the issue really is with your partner, make sure you’re focusing on the actual, specific problem and not just giving blanket blame.
Agree to work together to fix it. Once you’ve admitted to your partner that something is wrong and identified what the issue is, the only way to move forward positively is to work as a team to deal with it. Even if the issue is one person’s “fault” or stems from something that they are going through individually (such as starting fights at home because of work stress), it’s something that needs the attention and support of both people in the relationship.
Create a plan with mutual goals. It may seem like one person in the relationship is causing all the problems and that they are the one that needs to change to make things right, but it’s rarely ever that simple. Generally speaking, if one of you is acting out against the other, both people will need to give a little bit to make things right. Maybe a husband is being a jerk because his wife never comes home from the office. Simply getting him to stop or convincing her to come home more won’t magically solve things. Both people need to talk about what’s wrong and about what they would ideally like to happen so that everyone is happy. When you have mutual goals, you’re not giving up something or changing for someone, but working together towards a shared ideal.
Don’t say something unless you mean it. This is one of the hardest things to do, because for most of us, it’s in our nature to say whatever we think the other person wants to hear to get the fighting or tension to stop. But if partners promise something and don’t follow through, it breeds distrust and even contempt. Don’t just say something or offer something that you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver on. Instead, acknowledge those fears and insecurities to your partner and…
…ask for help. Remember, you’re in this together. You both have a vested interest in this solution working out. Make it okay for both people in the relationship to (kindly) call each other out when necessary and be ready with the right tools to offer the help and support that the other person needs. If you’re afraid that you don’t naturally possess those tools (don’t worry – most people don’t!), it may be wise to give a Houston relationship counselor a call to get advice and tips from a licensed professional.
Research has found that many couples facing relationship problems will benefit from relationship counseling more than they would from traditional therapy. While many professionals offer general therapy services, experienced marriage and relationship counselors are exceptionally equipped to handle the unique issues and nuances that come with relationships. Think about it—if you had back aches or vision problems, you wouldn’t want to visit a general family practitioner. You’d want to visit a professional who specializes in these areas. Just as a chiropractor specializes in back aches and optometrist specializes in vision problems, a relationship counselor has the training, skills, and experience to help you with issues surrounding your relationship.
Studies have shown that marriage therapy has the highest rate of participant satisfaction. But if you’re unsure whether marriage counseling is right for you, you may want to try out an Imago Couples Workshop. By participating in this one-weekend session, you can get the benefits of six months of couple’s therapy, which will also put you in a position to better decide whether this kind of therapy will suit your relationship. To find out more about the gentle and safe, yet powerful experience of a couple’s workshop, click here.