One of the most exciting times is the feeling of entering into a new romantic relationship with someone. You can’t get enough of the other person as the two of you are floating on cloud nine.
Unfortunately, this period commonly known as the honeymoon phase is just that. It’s a phase.
Small things start to surface where you notice the other person isn’t perfect. And as the relationship continues on, you run into disagreements, arguments and you even hurt each other both intentionally and unintentionally.
So how is it that long term happy couples continue to be happy with each other despite all these challenges that come with time? If you’ve been running into setbacks with your relationship, here are 15 techniques you can use with your partner that the happiest couples use to prevent relationship problems.
1. Cultivate connection by creating a safe space for each other
When a person who you care about points out a flaw or shares something s/he’s unhappy with you about, your fear of getting hurt makes you prone to getting defensive. You may feel the need to protect yourself, which can lead to behaviors such as shutting your partner out, keeping secrets and being inauthentic. This is why it’s important during times of conflict that the both of you feel safe to have the conversation.
When you cultivate a relationship where you and your partner feel safe, the two of you are able to share sensitive things with each other without any judgement or condemnation. As a result, genuine connection occurs.
What to do?
Don’t forget to remind your partner during times of conflict that you are on the same side. This helps frame the conversation that the goal is more about collaboratively figuring out how to solve the challenge together rather than trying to prove who’s right or wrong. Doing this helps couples to put their walls down.
When your partner shares something vulnerable with you, don’t ask questions that start with “Why”. Instead, try asking the questions “What happened?”. Questions that start with “Why” automatically triggers your brain to go on the defensive. For example, instead of asking “Why would you do that?” you can ask “What happened that caused you to do that?”
Pay attention to your non-verbal language that may be preventing your partner from feeling safe to share with you. Avoid crossing your arms, being distracted by looking elsewhere or scowling. Instead, relax your body, maintain eye contact and give your undivided attention.
2. Engage in both emotions and actions during conflicts
One common occurrence seen in many relationships is one partner will usually try to fix the conflict by offering solutions while the other wants to simply be comforted because of the emotion she is feeling.
One hilarious yet accurate illustration of this situation can be seen in this skit “It’s Not About the Nail.”
Many relationships struggle because each partner tends to focus on half the picture when it comes to conflict resolution.
There is a part of your brain that helps you reason and use logical thinking and there’s a part of your brain that feels emotions. What’s important to know is when one is caught up in the emotional brain, the thinking part of your brain temporary shuts down. This means conflict resolution skills like critical thinking, logical reasoning, and empathy are temporarily turned off.
This is why we often make irrational decisions and do things we regret when we are emotional. It’s also why it’s hard to listen to reason or solutions being thrown at you when you are experiencing intense emotions.
In order to effectively resolve tough issues with your partner, you must connect with the other’s emotional state first to calm it down in order to reactivate the thinking part of her brain. By doing so, both of you are now on the same wavelength and in a better place to come up with solutions together.
What to do?
Challenging conflicts almost always begin in the emotional side of the brain. When your partner shares an upsetting issue with you, it’s important to respond with your emotional brain first.
First listen to your partner and get into a habit of reflecting back to confirm how she is feeling while being careful not to be condescending or talking down.
For example, when your partner tells you about something that upset her, before letting your mental reflexes spurt out advice, you can simply say something like “Wow, that sucks, I don’t blame you for being angry about that. I’d be too if that happened to me.” It may feel weird to say things like this in the beginning but as you do it more, it’ll feel more natural to you and comforting for your partner.
Once your partner feels felt, then it’s time to see if she’s open to redirecting the conversation to brainstorm how to solve the problem while using the thinking side of the brain.
3. Name your emotions when speaking with each other
As simple as this sounds, it’s important to put into words how you are feeling. The challenge however, is that while your partner can hear about your feelings when you speak, it’s often hard to have him actually feel what you are feeling. In order to be able to help your partner feel the same emotions, you need to tell the story behind it.
People feel what you feel through your stories. When you honestly recount the events of what happened to you when you’ve had a bad day or something rude someone said to you, it helps your partner feel what you are feeling.
There’s actually a double benefit to openly sharing your stories behind your feelings. It also helps you activate the thinking part of your brain and make sense of what happened. As a result, you have a deeper understanding why you are feeling the way you do, which actually gives you more control to do something to resolve it.
What to do?
When you’re having trouble expressing to your partner how you are feeling, simply unpack the story of what happened to you. As you share, try to name the feelings you were experiencing during the key parts of the story to help you make more sense of what happened.
Instead of saying something like “My boss was such a jerk today,” expand upon it and say “My boss was such a jerk today and it made me so pissed off.” Then proceed to tell the story of what happened.
4. Engage your partner rather than enraging him
A lot of arguments occur because of things that the partner is a repeated offender of. This can be especially frustrating and it can often lead to angry comments that lead down the black hole of hurling hurtful insults at each other.
When you’re annoyed or upset with your partner, making a criticizing comment at him or intentionally pushing his buttons won’t fix the problem. Instead, you’ll just make things worse and end up in an emotional hurricane with each other.
When you have an issue with your partner, it’s important to utilize strategies that help you keep your cool and communicate with him thoughtfully rather than lashing out with anger.
What to do?
Try to refrain from pushing your partners buttons even though it feels like he is intentionally upsetting you. Instead, take a deep breath and bring the conversation back to a more productive one by asking thought provoking questions instead of fighting back.
For example, if your partner won’t clean up after himself no matter how many times you’ve told him to, rather than going down the usual “You’re such a slob!” and upsetting your partner, you can try to engage him to help you figure things out. You can thoughtfully share your frustration and invite him to help you solve the issue.
“I have to be honest. I’ve been really frustrated with you not helping around the house and it feels like I’m usually cleaning up after you. I find myself picking up your dirty laundry off the floor and scrubbing the counters because it gets so filthy. I’m feeling more like your maid than your spouse. What do you think we can do about this? I’d really appreciate your help.”
5. Don’t dominate the relationship
Once one partner tries to start controlling the other by being commanding and demanding things of her, it becomes an unhealthy relationship.
These kinds of toxic environments restrict partners from being able to be themselves around you. They will often feel like they have to walk on eggshells with you because they’re afraid of upsetting you.
Controlling behavior stems from insecurities and anxiety so if you find yourself or your partner acting this way, it may be important to talk about it and investigate the root cause of the issue.
What to do?
Rather than telling your partner to stop doing something or to do things a certain way, try to encourage conversations about it. If they don’t agree, open it up to alternatives and negotiation. You’ve probably experienced times where when someone just commands you do to things a certain way, it’s often more off-putting than helpful.
Or if it’s the other way around and you’re being the one who’s being commanded, express that you don’t appreciate your partner telling you what to do and that you’d appreciate if they would ask things of you instead of demanding them.
Even though you’re a couple, it’s important to have boundaries and respect each other’s boundaries.
6. Don’t shame each other
Shame is one of the worst emotional pains to experience and it often occurs when someone makes you feel like something is wrong with who your are.
Whether it was getting bullied at school, not meeting up to someone’s expectations or being disregarded when you were opening up, shame makes you go into defense mode and build a wall around yourself and not let anyone in.
Shame and vulnerability expert Dr. Brene Brown shares:
“Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
During times of intense conflict, some may resort to shaming their partner; doing so creates an unhealthy relationship. Instead, be sure to differentiate that you are unhappy with your partner’s actions as opposed to his character and express that through your words.
What to do?
Don’t use words that shame your partner. Instead, when upset with him, be sure to use words that focus on his actions instead.
For example, take a look at the following two statements:
- “I can’t believe you forgot to make it to our son’s game! You’re the worst father ever!”
- “I’m really disappointed and upset that you forgot about our son’s game.”
The first statement is attacking his character whereas the second statement expresses your feelings about his actions. The first statement shames your partner, which probably will make him shut down and enter into defense mode whereas the latter opens up conversation to discuss things further and hopefully reconcile.
This subtle difference makes a huge impact and opens up a path towards resolving the conflict instead of further argument.
7. Get moving during times of intense conflict
Psychology expert Dr. Daniel Siegel teaches that when we change our physical state through movement or relaxation, it can actually change our emotional state.
This is why smiling more makes you happier or if you take short shallow breaths, it can make you feel more anxious.
When it comes to helping you with a conflict you are having with your partner, exercise is a great way to calm your emotional brain and helps you regain control of your thinking brain. So the next time you feel like you’re stuck in a stalemate in your argument, take a break and go out for a quick workout session.
What to do?
When you and your partner are going through an intensely emotional and heated argument, consider taking a short break to go for a walk or hop on a bike. Engaging in physical movement will prove beneficial and productive to your conversations.
8. Uncover implicit memories that drive unhealthy behaviors
There are two categories of memory known as explicit and implicit memories:
- Explicit memories – Events and information that you can consciously remember
- Implicit memories – Memories that you can feel and experience.
Think of the first time you learned to ride a bike. You can remember placing your hands on the handlebars and your feet on the pedals. Remembering this information is possible because of your explicit memories.
Now let’s say it’s been ten years since you’ve rode a bike but if you hop on one today, you’re able to ride the bike just like you did back then. This is because your implicit memories have kicked in and you remember the feeling of what it was like to ride. You can compare it to something like muscle memory.
When it comes to our relationships, we may engage in unhealthy behaviors because of our implicit memories. They can cause us to react to certain things in an unhealthy way.
If you’ve been cheated on by a previous partner, your implicit memory of the pain can cause you to develop an overwhelming need to always know where your current partner is. You may find yourself stalking him the moment you aren’t sure of his whereabouts.
I remember being told during a marriage counseling session that “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” This rings so true when it comes to the behaviors we have that can hurt a relationship. They are always caused from implicit memories of past experiences.
It’s important to identify these unhealthy behaviors and talk about it with your partner and try to identify the implicit memory behind it. By doing so, you make sense of why such behavior occurs and it helps you regain control over yourself and change the negative behavior into a positive one.
What to do?
If your partner has abnormal behaviors that concern you, introduce the concept of implicit memories to him/her. See if s/he’d be open to exploring what kinds of implicit memories drive certain behaviors that concern you. If the implicit memory is from a serious traumatic event that’s difficult to make sense of, consider going through this process with a professional therapist.
9. Be intentional about having fun
The longer you’ve been in a relationship, the more routines and habits you fall into with each other. In order to keep things fun and enjoyable, it’s important to continually incorporate play into your life.
Play increases your joy and it’s essential to improving your creativity, problem solving skills and relationships.
A physician and speaker who founded the National Institute for Play, Dr. Bowen White, found through extensive research that playing together has helped couples rekindle their relationships as well as explore other ways to emotionally connect.
“Play helps us connect with other people because we are open in a way that allows them to feel, maybe, this is a safe person to be with and maybe even fun to be around.”
When you play, you let your guard down and loosen up a little, which in turn allows you connect better with others and be more open to being vulnerable.
What to do?
Even though you have a busy schedule, make sure to fit in times that you can play with your partner. Explore and discover new fun things that you can do together or bring back old activities you used to enjoy doing together.
There are many options ranging from something as big as a fancy romantic getaway or as small as sipping some wine and playing a board game together. Whatever helps you smile and laugh together, be sure to incorporate more of it in your relationship because it’s what will help you thrive.
10. Learn how to practice vulnerability
Just like it can be scary being physically naked for the first time in front of someone, it’s even scarier to be emotionally naked. When it comes to relationships, most of us find it frightening to be vulnerable because we have nothing to defend ourselves with if someone were trying to hurt us.
The unfortunate reality is when you get into a relationship, you will get hurt sometimes. The more we get hurt, the harder it is to be vulnerable because we don’t want to experience such pain ever again. This is why it’s a natural reaction to try and defend ourselves during these kinds of moments.
While being vulnerable can leave you open to getting hurt, it’s also the only place that intimacy and genuine connection can ever occur. If you become defensive by projecting yourself as someone other than who you really are, you will never feel truly connected to others because you don’t let them see the real you. You can find more benefits of practicing vulnerability here: 5 Reasons to Embrace Vulnerability
Dr. Brene Brown has conducted thousands of interviews in her research on vulnerability and results have shown that the key attribute of deep connection indeed was vulnerability:
“There can be no intimacy—emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy—without vulnerability. One of the reasons there is such an intimacy deficit today is because we don’t know how to be vulnerable. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need. Vulnerability is glue that holds intimate relationships together. “
What to do?
Being vulnerable is easier said than done. Here are a few practices you can exercise to help you create the space with you partner to help you create intimate moments:
- When you’re hurting, ask for what you need.
- Share your feelings when you communicate.
- Openly express what you want from your partner rather than talking about things you don’t want.
- Don’t beat around the bush and be honest with your thoughts.
- Slow down and take the time to be present.
11. Set up ground rules for arguments
Arguments that get escalated can often lead to hurtful statements that break apart the relationship rather than build it up. Happy couples know how to argue well and they incorporate important skills to resolve their conflicts such as empathy, active listening and speaking to each other respectfully.
Their goal during these times is to figure out a valid solution together rather than trying to prove themselves right. Effort must be made on both sides to find common ground to find solutions to challenging problems together.
There’s no magic formula that helps certain couples be better at handling conflicts. Instead, it’s more of a continual development on setting ground rules on how to interact with each other during difficult conversations.
What to do?
The next time you have a bad fight, wait until you cool down then set up some rules you can lay down for the next time things get heated. Here are some important ones to get you started:
- When your argument starts escalating and emotions start to take over, slow things down, start your conversations respectfully and softly. Be sure to take turns speaking.
- When your partner is speaking, don’t interrupt and instead stay engaged and give your full attention
- Avoid words such as “always” and “never” when describing your partner’s behavior that you disapprove of.
- Express how you feel about your partner’s actions rather than criticizing the actions.
12. Dig deeper to hear what your partner is really trying to tell you
If you’ve been in a long-term relationship, then you’ve probably had one of those arguments where it goes on and on to the point where you don’t even remember what you were fighting about anymore. It can get to a point where your partner is telling you s/he’s upset about one thing, but what s/he is really upset about is something totally different. As a result, both of you just end up worn out and frustrated.
Healthy couples dig deeper during an emotional argument to really hear what the other is actually trying to say.
For example, let’s say your partner all of a sudden yells at you for 10 minutes about how you left your dirty socks lying around the floor. It’s likely s/he’s not as upset about the socks as much as s/he is about the fact that you don’t appreciate all the hard work s/he puts into keeping the house clean. It makes her/him feel like you don’t care about her/him enough to notice the things s/he does for you.
It’s important to address the underlying issue because let’s say you did start cleaning up your dirty socks, it still might now help with the feeling that your partner feels like s/he’s not appreciated.
What to do?
The next time your partner starts an argument with you about something that seems trivial, ask yourself “What is the real issue here that my partner is experiencing and what is she really trying to express to me?” Ask clarifying questions that help the partner identify and confirm what he is really trying to communicate with you.
You can frame your questions in a way that invites the partner to share more and go deeper.
“I’m sorry about not picking up my dirty socks and putting it in the hamper and I’ll be sure to try my best to do so from now on, but I feel like there is something more going on here. What’s going on?”
13. Make it a habit to touch each other
Physical touch releases oxytocin, which is known as the “love hormone” and it plays an important role in promoting feelings of trust, devotion and bonding. Some more studies about why you need to touch each other more here: 6 Surprising Reasons You Need to Be Touched
It’s no surprise that studies have shown elderly nursing home residents usually feel unloved because of a lack of physical contact with others.
Love and marriage experts Dr. Charles & Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz shared that touching is a key factor to lasting relationships and that most successfully married couples do it often. Their research has even shown that touch outranks sex when it comes to factors of a successful marriage.
Simple activities such as exchanging hugs, snuggling and holding hands all are great types of physical engagement that will help promote the well being of your relationship.
What to do?
Get into a daily habit that involves physical touch with your spouse. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Hug and kiss your partner each morning when you wake up and at night before you go to bed.
- Hold hands when you go out for a walk.
- Snuggle together while on the couch when watching TV.
- Give your partner surprise massages.
14. Prevent yourself from taking your partner for granted
Gratitude has been shown to be an important factor in developing close relationships. It can intensify the feeling of being connected, which is why it’s so important to incorporate it into your own relationship. While we all love feeling appreciated, it’s important to appreciate our partners as well.
You can be thankful for something your partner does for you but gratitude can be so much more life changing when you are thankful for your partner’s character. For example, you might be thankful that s/he washes the dishes after you and your children, but you’re even more thankful because s/he does it because s/he knows you hate doing dishes. This in turn might motivate you to clean the bathroom because you know how much s/he hates cleaning the toilets.
Gratitude starts a generosity cycle. It’s what can make you more willing to do more for your partner to express how thankful you are for him/her. It helps you see the value in your partner and it’s what motivates you to put in the effort it takes to hold onto that relationship.
One study found that people reported being more thoughtful and responsive to their partner’s needs on days when they felt more grateful for their partners.
What to do?
It will benefit you a ton to stay on the lookout for things you are grateful for about your partner and get into a habit of keeping track of it. One great method is to keep a gratitude journal. It doesn’t all have to be big things that you appreciate. It could be small things like the way s/he does something makes you laugh. You can also spontaneously share what you wrote down with your partner and watch it make you appreciate them even more.
15. Speak your partner’s love language
Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages” talks about how every individual receives and gives love differently. He categorizes the love languages into five types:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
Being aware of what your partner’s love languages are will help you learn how to express your love for her in a way she most feels loved. For example, while you might express your love through giving gifts, your partner might appreciate it the most when you encourage her through words of affirmation.
Speaking each other’s love languages fluently will be what helps maintain your relational satisfaction.
What to do?
Use the Love Language evaluation for yourself and your partner so you can learn ways to express yourself best by learning to speak your partners love language.
The greatest relationships are built
You’ve probably realized by now that amazing relationships don’t happen on its own. Instead, the best kinds of relationships are built. It requires hard work, authenticity, and courage.
Rather than relying on feelings to motivate you to improve your relationship, maybe it’s time to take action and cultivate an environment for the two of you that can promote better connection with each other even through the tough times.
Feel free to utilize any of these techniques to build the relationship you and your partner have always wanted.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
|Daniel J. Siegel: The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
|NBC News: Smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health
|Dr. Bowen White, the National Institute for Play
|National Public Radio: Human Connections Start With A Friendly Touch
|NCBI: Elderly residents: perceptions of nurses’ comforting touch.
|NCBI: Beyond Reciprocity: Gratitude and Relationships in Everyday Life
|Psychology Today: Is Gratitude the Antidote to Relationship Failure?