How can you improve your relationship?
We read that good relationships can improve life expectancy; they certainly improve the quality of our lives. Many people talk in therapy of the positive effect of knowing that their partner is there supporting them and the intangible benefit that they get from that.
So it seems that a strong relationship has real benefits for your life. Yet many relationships are not strong, perhaps there are real problems like conflict and lack of communication. How do you strengthen your relationship so that it becomes a support rather than a drain on your emotional health?
The first thing you can do perhaps seems obvious but it is to spend time together. This is not merely being in the same room, but rather sharing experiences, talking about your lives. This time sharing and connecting, even if it is only for a short time each day, really helps to bond you both together. It is all too easy in the face of work commitments or the children to neglect each other and lose that connection. Part of this spending time together is intimacy, and many studies have shown the benefits of touch and its restorative powers. When the word intimacy is used many people immediately think of sex but it is just as important to hug, to kiss, to hold hands or just a reassuring touch on the arm.
The second thing that makes a big difference is good communication. Many couples will feel that they communicate, but when they arrive in the counselling room they discover that their partner has a different opinion to the one they assumed they would. Often couples sulk or ignore each other when they feel let down or hard done to.
In good communication the listening part is as important as the taking part. Really empathising with your partner’s point of view so that you can understand what is important for them and so that you can be sure they know what is important for you. This counteracts our natural tendency to assume we know what our partner thinks and makes us better able to question those assumptions when they are not available to ask. It makes you more aware of the things and feelings that are important to your partner and helps you to communicate in a way that means a lot to them. This is particularly important in conflict between partners so that you can work towards a solution that works for both of you.
Conflict is a normal and very real part of every relationship and knowing how to resolve them well is important as you strengthen your relationship. A key point is not to make accusations, this only leads to defensiveness, which can quickly become mudslinging and the problem gets worse. Respect is the key in conflicts talk about how a behaviour makes you feel, don’t accuse your partner. Remember that issues are rarely black and white and that you may have to change as well as your partner. The key though is not to ignore conflicts, deal with the issue while it is small and manageable.
It is possible working together to strengthen and build your relationship so that you get the support you hope for from your relationship. It is something that you can work on each day so that it is always there when you need it.