Your relationship isn’t doomed.
A couple going through a rough patch can learn how to fix a relationship through their actions.
No matter how hard we try, there are sure to be relationship problems — breakdowns of all kinds, misunderstandings, broken agreements, not having our needs met, unhealed wounds that get activated, and other provocations that send us straight into conflict with our partner.
Take this important piece of relationship advice: It’s not the negative interactions themselves that are the problem — it’s how we respond to them that makes the biggest difference.
Couples with high-performance relationships are champs because they know what to do to repair the disconnection quickly after it occurs.
Here are 28 ways that happy, strong couples work to fix their relationship problems.
First of all, they don’t fear conflict to the point where they deny the issue.
They are willing to tell the truth when alignment is interrupted.
They accept that conflict in a relationship isn’t dangerous and that it even has some advantages when utilized properly.
The dark side of relationships offers up opportunities to compare contrasting experiences and perspectives that can be a creative process leading to greater understanding.
3. Deep breaths
Breathing deeply helps us to slow down and quiet down the agitated mind so we can think more effectively.
With a strong commitment to the relationship, there is a sense of trust on both sides to continue the dialogue, even when feelings run high until some completion is achieved.
We will have many opportunities to resist the temptation to indulge ourselves in blurting out criticism.
Self-discipline allows us to put thought between feeling and speaking or behaving. Practicing self-restraint allows us to pause to reflect so that skillful choices are made that will enhance the dialogue.
6. Non-reactive listening
By really taking in what the other person is saying, our partner is assured that we care and want to know what they are feeling and what they need.
Repeating, in our own words, “What I hear you saying is…” allows for an opportunity to clear up any distortion.
And it helps our partner to calm down and relax, trusting that their message has been received.
In healthy relationships, it’s important to keep sharp accusatory tone out of the conversation.
Manipulations off all kinds (withdrawal, threats, ultimatums, distraction) puts people on the defensive. We are wise to become aware of the ways we manipulate and delete them all.
10. Ask questions
When we ask questions we are showing that we want to understand the other person’s point of view.
When demands and commands are issued, it is a turn off to our partner.
Turning complaints into requests rather than criticism is a skillful way of avoiding negativity.
Feedback is not criticism; it’s sharing our personal responses to what the other person is saying and doing.
We can bring grievances and disappointments to our partner in a tactful way rather than affixing blame.
Having some agreements in place (like speaking with I statements, no shouting, no name-calling, no threats, either party can call a time out) is an effective method of repair.
By referring mentally or verbally to these previously agreed-upon guidelines, we are able to compose ourselves before launching the repair conversation.
15. Common ground
Finding those areas where we are aligned encourages a feeling of being on the same team rather than adversaries.
16. Enlightened self-interest
Appealing to our partner, by showing them how a shift in attitude or behavior will benefit us both, is a sensible approach.
Avoiding lapsing into positioned thinking characterized by good/bad, either/or, and right/wrong allows us to think creatively and lifts us out of deadlocks.
Leading with a sincere affirmation of a positive attribute, then bring forward the complaint, and ending with another positive statement affirms that which is working well in the partnership, and pares the difficulty down to a workable size.
Loosening our white-knuckle grip on being right is powerful repair.
While we are positioned in being right, our partner may feel very wrong and then we both lose.
Being genuinely curious about our own and our partner’s sore spots (leftover from traumas from childhood or adult relationships) will shed light on why we get so emotionally triggered.
An investigation of these wounds can be healing, resulting in less reactivity.
21. Lifelong learning
Learning from each other is enriching. Since opposites attract, we are with someone quite different from us in attitudes, style, beliefs, behaviors, and even some of their values.
Also, learning from each other’s strengths helps us to grow into a bigger person.
When our partner is gesturing towards us with some form of repair attempt, when we show that we are willing to join them in the process, it moves the recovery along.
A light touch of playfulness can go a long way to ease tension and create a conducive climate for collaboration.
Saying that we are sincerely sorry when we cause harm is a good start. Adding what we understand from the breakdown is a fine addition.
It shows that we understand what will prevent a similar breakdown in the future.
The willingness to let go is profound repair. It may not happen in one sitting.
Below the irritation, anger, and resentment, there is always hurt, fear, or both.
Being courageous enough to speak from our deeper experience (our needs and these more tender feelings) allows us to meet heart-to-heart which allows for fewer feelings of threat and more feelings of connection.
Well-timed physical touching in the form of taking our partner’s hands, giving a hug, or putting our arm around them can reduce tension and open up a channel for deeper communication.
Remembering to thank our partner for their efforts to make the most thorough and rapid repair possible is always useful.
Now that you know what it takes to be in a healthy relationship, remember that you’re confined to this list.
These are some popular and effective methods but you can do so much more. So, challenge yourself to devise these guidelines and make them efficient to repair your relationship’s individual needs.
I am wishing you a speedy repair.
Linda Bloom, LCSW, and Charlie Bloom, MSW, are psychotherapists and relationship counselors who have worked with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations since 1975. To learn more, visit their website, Bloom Work.
This article was originally published at PsychCentral. Reprinted with permission from the author.