1) Get to know each other again
Remember the early days when you first met your partner and you had those long chats over the phone, or conversations that went through the night? Perhaps the attraction started when you first laid eyes on each other or maybe the attraction started as you got to know each other more. Getting to know someone at the beginning of a relationship is an exciting time. Everything is new and you may have been thinking, “I love that we have so much in common” or “I love how we are so different because we balance each other out.” Over time making an effort to learn about each other slowly fades, because we feel like we know each other inside and out. But people change, our interests change.
If our relationship isn’t going well, we forget to check in with our partners. We don’t take the time to know each other’s worlds. Relationship expert John Gottman called knowing each other’s worlds our love maps. Do you know what’s going on in your partners inner world? Do you know what their hopes are for the future? Or who their favourite friend is at the moment? What they like to read or watch? What their personal goals are? Whilst you may have learned these at the beginning of the relationship, how often are you updating your map of your partners world? Getting to know your partner again and making a regular effort to learn about your partner is the foundation to a thriving relationship.
2) Meet as many bids of connection as possible
When you go to hug your partner, do they hug you back? When your partner tries to tell you something, do you stop what you are doing and give them your full attention? When your partner is expressing their emotions with you, how do you respond? When we try to reach our partner, these are called bids of connection. If these bids of connection are met by our partner, Gottman calls this turning towards. If the bids of connection aren’t met, this is called turning away. If our bids of connection are turned away too many times, we give up. This creates further disconnection in the relationship. The best way to maintain that connection is to meet as many bids of connection. This doesn’t mean we have to meet them every single time, we are only human and life gets busy. But wherever possible, if your partner is trying to connect with you, ask yourself if what you are doing can wait and turn towards your partner instead.
3) Express gratitude
Whether you do your partners laundry, or they make you your cup of tea in the morning, it is important to express appreciation on a regular basis. Sometimes the things we do for our partners can be so ingrained as part of our routine, that it often gets forgotten that it is an act of love and care. If it goes unnoticed or isn’t acknowledged, we can feel unappreciated. Having a culture of appreciation is an important part of making a relationship work. As you go about your daily lives, expressing gratitude for the little things (and the big things) can go a long way in helping to enhance your relationship.
4) Understand and work through barriers to effective communication
When couples come to relationship counselling, one of the most common things I hear is, “I can’t even remember what the fight was about, but all I remember is how we spoke to each other”. Conflict isn’t so much about what you fight about, it’s how you handle the disagreement. Gottman describes the barriers to effective communication as the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse outlined below:
Criticism: Verbal attacks against your partner which can also include statements that begin with “You always” or “You never”.
Defensiveness: When feeling criticised, deflecting the blame on the other person or something else.
Stonewalling: Occurs when a person feels the need to withdraw from a situation.
Contempt: An attitude of superiority over your partner. Contempt is the greatest predictor of separation and is like poison to a relationship.
If you recognise that you do any or all these behaviours here are their antidotes:
5) Support each other’s dreams
One of the questions that children often get asked is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sometimes we may fulfil that childhood dream or it goes in a different direction. We may fulfil one dream and then want to do something else. It may be a dream about your career or a dream about adventures. Dreams aren’t just about what you want to do but also about who you want to be. Sometimes life becomes about getting to work, paying for what we need to live and forgetting about our dreams. But life is so much more than simply trying to get through it. If you have dreams, set things in place to help you achieve them. And when it comes to your partners dreams, support them wherever possible. Whilst some dreams may not be practical or the timing may be wrong, it’s important to have the kind of relationship where you can speak freely about dreams. If the dreams are within reach, have open conversations on how the relationship can support them.
6) Understand each other’s values
When couples have disagreements, one of the reasons can be having different values. If one person doesn’t mind having clutter in the home but the other person likes to have a tidy home, this would be a collision of values. However rather than realising it as a collision of values, people can interpret it differently with assumptions such as, “They’re dirty”, “They are uptight”, “They don’t care” or “They nag too much”. Learn to understand each other’s values by using I Statements and listening to your partners perspective. Once you have a better understanding of what’s going on for your partner and you also feel listened to, you can focus on solutions as a team.
7) Learn each other’s love language
“I tell him what a great job he does with the kids, but he doesn’t reciprocate. It would be nice to hear him say thank you every now and then”
“I try to do as much housework as I can and she hardly notices. I wish she would help me more.”
If you’ve ever wondered why the things you do or say go unnoticed, it may be because you and your partner have different love languages.
The 5 love languages:
Acts of service
Words of Affirmation
Understanding your own love language as well as your partners can do wonders for your relationship. For example, if your love language is quality time and your partners is gifts, it helps to know that getting quality time with your partner is going to be the way you like to receive love and getting thoughtful gifts for your partner will help them feel loved. If we don’t know what our partners love language is, it means that we are likely to give it the way we like to receive it. This leads to our partner not being spoken to in their own love language and they may dismiss the things we try do for them. Learning each other’s love language can bypass the confusion and go straight to learning how to show your partner love in the way they like to be shown. And in return, receiving love the way you like to be loved.
8) Do a regular relationship check up
We get health check-ups for ourselves, we use devices to monitor our health, we take our child to development health checks and we attend parent teacher interviews to track the progress of our child. It is the norm to check how things are going with ourselves and with our children, but how often are we checking in with our partner to see how the relationship is going? Just because we argue, we might assume the relationship isn’t going well. But if we aren’t regularly checking in with each other we continue to make assumptions about our partner and the relationship.
Having a regular relationship check up can include questions such as:
How is the relationship going?
What is something that I can do better?
What is something you can do better?
Having a regular time to check in with each other, as well as creating a calm and safe space to hear each other’s concerns, can help to address issues quicker rather than just letting the relationship deteriorate.
Brittle, Z. https://www.gottman.com/blog/build-love-maps/