All relationships go through phases, there will be good times and challenges. When you recognize that your relationship is in a rough spot, take heart.  Great relationships don’t happen by luck.  There are the specific skills and actions that strengthen our relationships.

Here’s your crash course on 21 Ways to Strengthen Struggling Relationships.

1. Make Your Relationship a Top Priority.

Relationships are like living things: they are either growing or dying.  Relationships grow and flourish when we invest and nurture them.  When relationships are struggling, it’s often a sign that they have been neglected. To strengthen a struggling relationship, you must make it a top priority of your time and energy.

2. Accept that Disappointment Will Happen in every Relationship.

Disappointment happens when our expectations don’t match reality. Two people will always have differences in their expectations. This means that disappointments will  happen in every relationship. We have a tendency to focus on the negative and we then use this “evidence” to reinforce the belief that our relationships are filled with disappointment.  Instead, accept that disappointment happens.  Choose to focus on the parts that have fulfilled your expectations and even brought unplanned blessings.

3. Don’t Make Derogatory Comments, Insults & Belittling Remarks.

The words you use are powerful. When you put down your partner or your relationship, you are causing damage. Choose to break habits that damage the relationship, especially when you feel frustrated and disappointed. Use words that show respect, love, and hope. Plant the seeds you want to grow.

4. Don’t Stonewall.

Stonewalling is a passive-aggressive tactic that may seem neutral, but is very damaging. Whenever you ignore, stall, and refuse to participate, you are stonewalling. It is a power-play intended to break down the opposition. It keeps the relationship in a “me versus you” dynamic. For a relationship to survive, it must be an “us against the world” commitment.

5. Don’t Play the Blame Game.

This is a game no one wins. Even if you are successful in blaming all your problems on your partner, you still are stuck with all those problems and the feelings that come with them.  The only way to begin transforming your problems into solutions is to take full responsibility for the parts you play.  Stop blaming and start creating the relationship you want.

6. Let Go of the Desire to Fix or Change Your Partner.

William Glasser teaches in Choice Theory that the key to changing any relationship is to fully accept that you cannot change anyone except yourself.  The sooner you fully accept this as truth, the sooner you will begin to heal and grow together.  All of us long to be loved and accepted for who we are.  When your partner feels that you are not ashamed or disappointed, then he/she may feel supported to choose to change. Meanwhile, focus on changing and improving yourself.

7. Focus on the Qualities You Love & Respect in Your Partner.

Remember the moments and reasons why this person became special and important to you.  Trust that all those things are still true.  Close your eyes and hold those moments in your heart.  Allow yourself to feel again the love, pride, and respect that you felt.  Return to these moments to revitalize your commitment to strengthen your realtionship.

8. Believe That Your Partner Has Good Intentions.

Psychological studies have proven that once we become convinced of an idea, our brain will ignore and discredit information that contradicts what we believe. When we are feeling hurt and disappointed, we have a tendency to turn our partner into the villain. But if your relationship is going to have a chance to turn around, you must make room for the possibility that your partner can be your greatest ally.  Believe that your partner has good intentions, but the information he/she is acting on is incorrect or the impact is hurtful.

9. Learn How to Forgive.

We have many misunderstandings about what forgiveness means.  Forgiveness does not mean you give permission for someone to mistreat you.  It means that you accept that we are all doing the best we can.  Surely if we knew better, we would do better.  When we disappoint and hurt each other, it’s not because we want to.  Forgive that your partner hasn’t learned better ways of loving you YET.  Forgiveness means you commit to letting go of the hurt of the past to allow for new possibilities in the future.

10. Learn How to Be Fully Present.

There is a difference between being in the room and being present.  There is a difference between hearing and listening.  Being fully present means that when your partner speaks, you don’t assume you already know what he/she thinks.  You begin to listen for what you haven’t understood yet.  You become a curious detective that sincerely wants to learn what is going on.  This is a completely different intent than listening to prove that you are right.

11. Make it Clear That You Want to Hear & Understand Your Partner.

Tell your partner, “I know in the past I may have not done a good job of listening to you.  I see that this has hurt you and me.  I must not fully understand what is going on.  I want to.  I want to understand who you are and what matters to you. I will keep listening as long as it takes.”

12. Ask Your Partner to Share.

Ask, “Are you willing to share with me? Whenever you’re ready to share, I’m ready to hear.  And I will wait until you feel safe,”  then practice being fully present.

13. Learn What Needs to Happen for Your Partner to Feel Loved & Respected.

We all have different rules for what needs to happen for us to feel loved and respected. Some people need to be told “I love you” many times every day. Others need to have one-on-one time for at least twenty minutes each day. A hand pat from time to time will suffice for others.  Ask your partner, “What makes you feel loved? What have I done that has made you feel close to me? What do I do that let’s you know I’m proud of you?” Then give your partner what he/she needs as frequently as they need it.

14. Learn About Your Damaging Cycles.

Partners can fall into damaging patterns.  A common pattern is the pursuer/withdrawer cycle.  One partner will attack, nag, or chatter in a way to provoke a reaction from the other.  Then the other will withdraw, stonewall, or leave to avoid the discomfort.  The first partner will then pursue more, driving the second partner deeper into withdrawal. Obviously, this will only lead to frustration by all.  The only way out is to recognize what’s going on and talk about it together.  Name it, claim it, and change.

15. Draw Boundaries That Won’t Set You Up.

When your partner asks something of you, be honest about your limitations.  Going along with things that you don’t truly want sets you up to feel disappointed and resentment later.  You are responsible when you do that to yourself.  Your partner cannot read your mind.  Be honest and set boundaries that will serve everyone in the long run.

16. Respect Yourself & Express Your Thoughts/Feelings Openly.

You have the right to say what you think and feel. A relationship built on false information intended to please your partner will eventually fall apart. Strong relationships are built on trust and respect, which can only happen when both partners are honest with each other.

17. Beware of Keeping Secrets to Protect Your Partner.

We are often tempted to protect our partners by keeping secrets from them. This positive intention often falls apart as time passes and unexpected consequences come to light. It can be very difficult to know when to share “secrets.” As much as you can, try to be as open as possible.

18. Take Responsibility for Your Own Limiting Beliefs.

We all have limiting beliefs.  They are the small voices that whisper in the dark, trying to protect us, but keeping us stuck in fear.  “I’ll always be disappointed.” “Men can’t be trusted.”  “Women will only use you for your money.” Your limiting beliefs are not your partner’s fault.  You had those beliefs long before your partner came along.  Learn to identify your limiting beliefs. Be careful that you are not projecting your beliefs onto your partner.

19. Be True to Your Word.

Trust will be weak in a struggling relationships.  When you say you will do something or share what’s true for you, your partner is going to trust that is true.  It’s ok for you to change your mind, but take the time to catch your partner up to speed. This allows your partner to grow and change with you.

20. Take the Time to Express Appreciation.

We often take it for granted that our partners will know we are grateful for them. When we don’t take the time to express these simple appreciations, we begin to feel taken for granted.  Thank your partner whenever he/she does things that make your life easier and better.

21. Daydream Together.

We enter relationships to build lives together.  We often get caught up in the grind of life’s logistics.  Take the time to daydream together and explore what possibilities you both hope for in the future.  Make goals and plans to support each other to live out your dreams.

How else can struggling relationships turn around? Which of these ways do you think is the most powerful? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Psychology studies show that, in the long term, the most important thing in your life is your personal relationships. 10 Steps to Improve Your Personal Relationships

Featured photo credit: Depressed young woman sitting in chair at homevia Shutterstock

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