The decline of a relationship is an awful thing to experience. More often than not, the process starts slowly, and we hardly notice little ways we may be pulling back or growing apart. Eventually, negative dynamics start to evolve, then persist for so long that we have trouble knowing where to start when it comes to repairing the relationship.
When thinking about where things went wrong, it’s important to recognize that a lot of what we do to ruin our relationships has to do with us. Much of how we act is based on programming from our past and defences we’ve built that cause us to overreact, distort or even provoke the people we feel closest to. Because the only person we can control or change in a relationship is ourselves, it’s almost always worth it to do what we can to develop ourselves before we throw in the towel with our partner.
Here are five things that can help any couple turn this important corner.
- Re-evaluate the reasons you’re together.
Go back to the beginning. Ask yourself: What drew me to this person to begin with? What qualities did they possess that I found valuable? What made them so amazing? And are they still? Reevaluating the reasons you came together reminds you of the reasons to stay together, and this strengthens your already-existing foundation. Ask your partner what they love and don’t love about you; be open to constructive criticism and self-improvement.
There is a right way and a wrong way to communicate. The right way is asking your partner a relevant question, listening to their response, then offering your opinion. The wrong way is overwhelming your partner with your irritations and worries as soon as they walk in from a particularly long workday. Practice effective speech by engaging your loved one in a conversation of their interest. Ask questions that matter to them; people open up when you inquire about their day, an important project, their feelings, etc. Once you’ve listened to what they have to say, offer your side of the story.
- Do something special together. Perhaps you two have a favourite restaurant you haven’t visited in ages, or you can return to the place where you first fell in love? Being in a physical space where you have powerful memories of strong attachment can reignite passion. Or, you can try something you’ve never tried before. The excitement of something new produces serotonin and dopamine in our brains. It doesn’t have to be something extraordinary; even sitting on a park bench watching the children play as you hold hands can be magical if love exists. The important thing is that you stop talking about taking that vacation, or trying that new spot, and follow through on your intention to reconnect together.
- Cut out external influences. Often it is outside voices that seep into our private relationships and brew toxicity. Understand who’s playing a less-than-positive role in your relationship and commit to keeping that person’s energy out! Keep your relationship as private as possible and divulge as little details as you can. Don’t automatically admit your love woes to others. Chances are they don’t hold the answers to your problems. Open up the gateways of communication instead and confess your concerns to your partner.
- Forgive each other. To forgive is to detach — from the bitterness, anger, and animosity holding you back from progress with your partner. Forgo the negative emotions keeping you from true forgiveness. Remind yourself that whatever happened, happened and that there is no reason to drag the past into your future. Lingering on hurtful memories only perpetuates them. Be mindful that forgiveness is a process, not a result, to perform small, daily acts that are reflective of your intent to pardon.
- Come clean about one thing. We all hold a few secrets that would deeply hurt others if they found out. This is normal. Certain things should simply be kept to ourselves. But honestly can trigger wonders in your partner’s opinion of you. Admitting one secret or mistake with your partner may make them want to open up, too.
- Set boundaries with each other. And keep your word! If you set a rule for your partner, set a similar one for yourself as well. This means that if your partner promises not to stay out late on a Saturday, you should abide by the same principle. A relationship is a two-way street. Tell your partner honestly what you would like them to do (or not do), then be prepared to accept the boundaries they set for you, too. Maintaining a relationship within comfortable bounds avoids arguments, explosions, and setbacks. It aids mutual growth if both partners are respectful toward the other’s wishes. It also promotes a sense of security and trust that each is acting in good faith.