Are you or your partner resistant to relationship counseling?
Are you short on time? Money? Accessible therapists?
Or, maybe, your or your partner are just wary of the idea. And I get it. I hear from many clients that going to counseling is akin to admitting failure.
But as a relationship therapist, I’ve seen over and over that going counseling is the opposite of accepting failure. I also believe it’s better to go sooner than later. Far too often worn-out couples end their sessions telling me, “Wow…I wish I knew all of this sooner!”
Yet, for all kinds of reasons, counseling is not always an option. Still, the fact remains: there are no short cuts in a happy relationship.
It’s true that some couples intuitively know how to connect naturally. Most, however, stumble and fall and need some outside help. As we live in a world that increasingly makes maintaining intimacy harder and harder — I’ve come up with a on how you can help each other without having to walk into my office.
Note: It would be ideal to have you and your partner both try the following tips so share this list with them. But if they’re unwilling, you can do them yourself. Sometimes one person changing a pattern can have a positive domino effect on the other partner and relationship!
1. Turn toward each other. The Gottman Institute’s research shows just how important it is to acknowledge when your partner is trying to get your attention. But it can be easy to miss their signals, especially if you’re out of the habit. Try to pay more attention to when they’re wanting your attention and respond warmly. And if you give a bid for attention, and your partner misses it, you can gently point out, “Hey honey, that was a bid…I need your attention.”
2. Kiss passionately. I’ll ask my couples when was the last time that they kissed passionately or made out. Too often, they can’t remember. Get back into those times of dating. Make out. Kiss spontaneously. Kiss just because. It doesn’t always need to lead to sex. (But it can.…)
3. Meet your partner’s top Love Language. Take the quiz and share your results. Define your top love language in as many concrete ways as you can think of. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
4. Keep away your stressors. Non-relationship stressors can spill over into your relationship and cause problems. Have a gripe fest where you each spend 10 minutes griping about your day and any stressors you’re dealing with. (Note: your relationship is off the table for discussion!)
5. Manage your differences. Your differences won’t go away. And everyone is going to have differences. Couples can get stuck because they dig in their heels and try to make their partner change. It’s a lot easier on you both if you accept your differences and compromise. Identify what is most important to you for each topic, and where you can be flexible on the rest.
6. Have integrity. Trust is so important in a relationship, and one of the ways to build and maintain it is to focus on having integrity. Do what you say you’re going to do. One of the sexiest things you can do for your partner is to consistently follow through.
7. Become pros at de-escalation. Sometimes a communication problem is really an emotional management problem. Learn to sooth yourself and each other, especially during a conflict discussion. You can practice deep breathing exercises, counting to 10 before responding. One of my clients says, “Can I have a pause?” Take time a time out with a distraction — a 5-minute breather, a quick glass of water. Find out what works for you.
8. Check your assumptions. We are bombarded with so many thoughts a day that making assumptions are crucial just to survive. But when it comes to relationships, it’s important to challenge them for their accuracy. One of my favorite tools to do this is Brené Brown’s The Story I’m Making Up. Try and understand what is actually happening before listening to the narrative in your head that might not have its pulse on reality.
9. Learn the art of zipped lips. If you’re going to say something unkind, it’s better to say nothing at all. When an unkind comment pops in your head, consider using good ol’ Socrates’ triple filter: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
10. Keep the ‘Four Horsemen’ at bay. Dr. John Gottman’s research has found that 4 behaviors – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – are toxic and predict divorce. Work on stopping these behaviors immediately if they are present in your relationship.
11. Validate, validate, validate. It’s important that your partner feels validated in their feelings. It makes them feel like they’re not taking crazy pills. So if your partner is sharing something unpleasant going on, don’t jump to solve their problem, nor assume they’re criticizing you. You don’t even have to agree, but you do need to understand. This makes your partner feel heard.
12. Pan for gold. It’s easy to focus on the things about your partner that frustrate you. Maybe some of those quirks that you found charming and cute in the beginning you now find annoying. To avoid a negative narrative, do what I call “pan for gold.” Actively look for the best in your partner. Remind yourself of the traits and characteristics that you love, cherish, and adore about them. Bonus: voice these great qualities to them. They’ll likely do more of them.
13. Rekindle your friendship. Being best friends with your partner makes for a more satisfying relationship. If your friendship isn’t as strong as it used to be, work on becoming good friends again. Take an interest in their activities — and ask questions. Push yourself to examine how you catch up with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Then, do that.
14. Make time for fun and play. One of the first things that deteriorates in a relationship is the ability to have fun and play. All too often, routine and inertia set in, and couples stop courting each other. To combat this, create a list of activities that you and your partner consider fun and others that you are willing to try. Put it on the calendar. Talk about how you’re looking forward to it. Keep it a routine and keep it consistent. Bonus: have a double date with another couple.
15. Include novelty. Novelty kicks up dopamine, which is a key chemical in passion. Engage in new activities or put a new twist on old routines. Even comedy shows are a great way to increase dopamine (it’s that surprise of the punchline that is a novel experience).
16. Make your partner feel desired. Who doesn’t want to be wanted? Feeling desired is a potent emotion. In fact, not to scare you, but it’s a common allure of an affair. I’ve seen way too many clients get pulled into an affair because the affair partner made them feel desired, and their current partner did not. So let your partner know you find them sexy and irresistible — and they’ll likely return the favor.
17. Have sex once a week. Yep, you read that right. If you rarely take the tumble, just do it once a week. Make your focus on quality, not quantity. Set the mood, and make it count. Stay flirty. Give compliments. Make it passionate.
And remember that you chose each other.