When your relationship is suffering, you have a choice; put it out of its’ misery or nurse it back to health. If the love that you share is worth saving, act quickly to reverse and repair the damage that’s already been done.
Seek first to understand, then be understood. Couples therapist Dr. Robert Solley says that ‘The listener has to hold back their own emotional reactions and interpretations, and really try to get the essence of what the speaker is putting out.’
Active listening is more than hearing. Your body language should show that you are open to understanding your partner and you shouldn’t be waiting for your turn to speak. Here are some ways to show that you are actively listening:
* Face your partner and turn your body toward them
* Make and keep eye contact
* Uncross your arms and nod when appropriate
* Mute the TV and your cell phone
* Summarize your partner’s words to check that you understood them
* Ask questions to clarify their meaning
It takes two to tango and when you’re in a relationship, it’s a partnership. You can’t have it your way all of the time and neither can your partner. You have to find a common ground that works for both of you.
Finding a win-win for both of you is ideal, but if that’s not possible, be willing to give ground. Rather than digging in your heels and fighting, first identify the level of importance of this particular issue.
Are we arguing about toast vs. English muffins for breakfast or is it something larger like renting vs. buying a house? Is it something minor that you can live with? Then let your spouse have their way this time. When it’s an important part of your life like your values, safety, or sanity, don’t compromise.
3. Express yourself.
Are you able to communicate your feelings in a way that makes your partner respond the way that you want them to? If you aren’t getting the response that you’d like, try a different tactic. Try saying ‘I have something to tell you that’s important to me. Is it a good time to talk?’ The reply from your partner will let you know how receptive your partner is likely to be.
Rather than starting with what’s wrong, which can out your partner on the defensive, describe your feelings. Try ‘When you (state the specific behavior that you want to change), I feel (state the corresponding emotion).’ This language is less likely to be seen as accusatory.
Psychologist Dr. Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, suggests another tactic to express your feelings without pointing fingers. When you say, ‘You do X in situation Y, I feel Z,’ with specific behaviors for X, Y and Z, you avoid judging either your response or your spouse’s behavior.
4. Soften your heart.
Turning away from your partner when things go bad is easy to do; what’s harder is to turn toward them. Responding with kindness is always better than responding with cruelty.
Think about stories of kindness that have melted your heart in the past. That is the warm-hearted feeling that you’re trying to achieve when you think about your partner. You want to relate to their struggles, feel that there’s hope and take action to be a better partner to them.
Empathy is key to being able to relate to the other person’s perspective. If your partner is angry, think about a time that you were really angry. How would you want someone to treat you if you felt that way? Start by telling your partner that you can understand how they feel and then that you want to help them to feel less angry.
5. Assume the best.
Unless your relationship is beyond fixing due to physical abuse or addiction, assume that your partner has good intentions, even if they say something hurtful. Instead of assuming that they intended to hurt you, assume that they need to express painful feelings.
By assuming positive intent, you can ask questions to uncover the reason for the hurtful comment. Your partner may be in pain themselves, and lashing out in kind is the way they expressed their pain to your. Probe your partner to understand their feelings.
6. Embrace change.
Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. It’s a cliche, but when things are broken in your relationship, keeping everything the same won’t fix it.
Change can be scary, so prepare yourself emotionally for this transition by recalling a time that you had to learn something new in the past. Remember that you came out of that experience a wiser and better person.
7. Be persistent.
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up! If you’ve resolved to make it work, keep trying. Seek the help of a professional if it doesn’t seem that you can fix the broken relationship on your own.
As only half of your relationship, you are not the only person responsible for its’ health. In spite of your best efforts, your partner may need to change their bad relationship habits to help strengthen your bond. If you’ve done your part by working to fix what was broken but they aren’t willing to, you may be resigned to call it quits.