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21 Ways To Strengthen Struggling Relationships

21 Ways To Strengthen Struggling Relationships

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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