10 Tips for Improving Your Relationship
By Lisa DeJarnette MSW, LISW
Working on our relationships is not always easy, especially now in the context of a national pandemic! Often the people that matter the most get the worst part of us. There are many great relationship resources out there, and this list is certainly not exhaustive, but here are some tips to help you get some perspective and focus on some skills to help you in your relationships.
1. Foundation First
John Gottman, the leading marriage researcher, says that the differences between relation masters and disasters are that they have a strong foundation of friendship, admiration for each other, and build a culture of appreciation. Take the time to express interest in your partner and their lives. Be a student of your partner and really get to know them – their likes and dislikes.
Ask open-ended questions to get to know them at a deeper level. This is a lifetime process, as we all change over time, and so will the relationship. Catch your partner doing something small and say thank you, and be kind to each other like friends do! It is so important to have this strong foundation of friendship for when times get tough – and they will!
2. Expect Storms
Many people enter into a relationship with unrealistic expectations. You cannot expect someone else to make you happy; your happiness and sense of worth need to come from within. Conflict will come, so make sure you have a fight plan to follow when you get there.
Post fair fighting rules where you can see them. Define what is ok and not ok to do when you disagree and refer to them often. Take turns talking and listening, and focus on solutions. Know that some issues cannot be solved but can be managed. Agree to disagree and seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Have the mindset that there is no issue that is bigger than your relationship.
3. Your Response is Your Responsibility
Be gentle in conflict and try to remain open and positive. No matter what happens to trigger difficult emotions you always have a choice on how to handle your own emotions and response. Ask for what you need instead of blaming, and view conflict as an opportunity to learn how to love each other better. Love is a choice and a decision you make daily. It requires work, effort, and intentionality. It is easier to get through the tough times when you remember they are only for a season and with some effort and patience you will get through it and be stronger as a result.
4. Don’t Try to Fix It
Be accepting of your differences, and don’t argue the facts. Two different people can experience the same situation in two different ways. Why waste precious time arguing over who did what or when it was? Shift your perspective to understanding not arguing. Everyone at their core wants to be heard and understood.
Feelings don’t always make sense, so try listening more than you speak. Don’t try to talk someone out of their feelings but instead seek to understand and ask questions to work on building empathy in your relationship.
5. Set the Stage
Healthy communication is critical in a relationship. Prepare your partner for a conversation by asking if it is a good time to talk, and then put the phones and distractions away and prepare to focus. Watch your tone and the way you present your feelings and concerns.
A good framework to use is to say, “When this happened, I felt this way,” and describe the emotions that come up for you without blaming your partner. Use “I messages” and avoid saying always and never. Then ask for what you need and be willing to negotiate and be flexible.
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6. Just for Today
Stay in the present and avoid bringing up the past. Remember that they cannot read your mind, so instead of blaming or accusing your partner, try sharing your feelings and asking for what you need instead. The story you are telling yourself about your partner’s motives and intentions may be very different than you think.
This is when it is important to clarify the facts and just ask them. Then share what it is that that you needed or wanted in that situation and set them up for success the next time. In this, we have to teach our partners how to love us.
7. Fresh Start
Start each day with a clean slate. Ask yourself how you can show up and be the best version of yourself each day. Then build into the relationship by putting your best foot forward, choosing your response, and focusing on yourself. Resolve issues when they arise, and then let them go!
Give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume positive intent, they are doing the very best they can with the resources and tools that they have at the time. Forgive them when they fall short, knowing that you will fall short too and need forgiveness in return.
8. Don’t Compare
Comparing kills contentment and leads to complaining. How can you possibly know what others are experiencing and have struggled with? And you may be comparing your worst day to their best day. Everyone has their own struggles and unique journey. Embrace the imperfections of your relationship, as a part of your unique story. Also, the saying is true that If the grass looks greener on the other side- water your own yard.
9. Gratitude, Please
No matter what is happening in your relationship right now, you can have a grateful heart and be thankful for this person you have to do life with. Keep a positive relationship journal and remind yourself of all the positive qualities that first attracted you to this person. Then add to it regularly by catching your partner doing things that you value and appreciate.
Instead of saying I have to do something- say I get to do this for the person I love. Ask what is one way I can show up for you today? Say please and thank you. Focus on the giving, not getting, and see how the relationship can shift to a better place.
10. Tell Me Something Good
Be intentional in your relationship and focus on the good. Set regular routines and rhythms that will help you stay connected. Have a weekly state of the relationship check-in where you can express appreciation, discuss issues and point out the positives.
Put reminders in your phone to let them know you are thinking of them. End the day with some thankfulness for something that they did, even if it is a small thing. Have ways that you celebrate accomplishments, birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. Show appreciation for each other and move through life together.
Working on our relationships is a very brave and courageous thing to do, and as with anything hard, the payoff is always worth the effort. If you hit a rough patch reach out for help from the professionals at LifeStance to learn some additional skills and tools to help you navigate through this season!