Couples often come to see me for therapy after a big incident, like an act of betrayal, or a major miscommunication. Other times, couples come to see me to address a sustained feeling of loneliness and disconnect in the relationship.
Together, we learn ways to navigate the waters of deep hurt within the relationship. Our goal is to create a new beginning and a new relationship story.
According to Dr. John Gottman’s research, couples wait about four to six years of feeling disconnected or in some kind of challenge before seeking therapy. This is a long time for hurt, disconnect and distance to linger in a relationship. If couples wait too long to get therapy, pain can grow and sometimes repair isn’t possible.
Seeking Help is an Act of Strength
Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness. Seeking help is actually a sign of bravery. To be able to say, “Hey, we need someone to help us with this part of our relationship journey,” is a true act of courage. Seeking help is a sign you want a shift or change to occur in the relationship.
Couples typically call when in crisis—perhaps one or both partners has had an affair, for example; or, one has requested a divorce or separation, seemingly out of the blue.
The truth is that we need to take care of the relationship at every stage, not just at crisis stage.
We Maintain our Relationships in Small Ways Every Day
How do we keep realistic expectations and avoid miscommunications?
How do we see each other for who we are in the here and now and not who we want our partner to be?
How do we communicate needs, empathy, understanding, kindness, compassion and love to each other… every day?
The simple answer is found in the small ways we connect to each other, each day.
Dr. Gottman’s research highlights that the small ways we connect with our partners go a long way. When couples stop turning toward each other, they start to disconnect. This, I find, can sometimes be a very quiet and sometimes long disconnect from each other. One day, the couple wakes up and feels they no longer know the person sleeping next to them.
When we stop nurturing our relationship, or working through challenges, distance comes between us and our partners. When we stop reaching out in those small ways that used to come so easily, fears can pop up. We can start to become resentful, angry, hurt, and alone. We feel like our partner might not care about us any more, or we might ask ourselves if this is what marriage or relationships are supposed to be like.
If these feelings and thoughts go unaddressed, contempt and indifference enter the relationship. Once contempt and indifference turn up, it is a real challenge to come back. This is why it is so important to pay attention to each other, to learn how to address conflict or hurt feelings in the moment and to connect to each other, every day.
So what are small ways we can connect to each other?
How can I express love to my partner?
How do we make sure we are nurturing our relationship everyday?
1. First, let go of all expectations.
I’m sure you all have heard the quote that expectations are the roots of resentment. Or that an expectation is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Expectations are harmful and hurt the relationship.
2. Share common relationship goals.
Talk about the kind of relationship you both desire and work together on creating that relationship. Learn how to find a healthy balance of independence and togetherness.
3. Learn how to address hurt feelings or disagreements in the moment.
Start with couples meetings. Once a week or bi-weekly pick a day/time where you turn off distractions like phones, TVs, and computers. Set a timer for 30 minutes to an hour. Come together and talk about your relationship goals,and how you want to spend time together. Talk about how you want to take care of yourself. Once you get the hang of these meetings, they will become like little “check-ins.” You might ask questions like, “How are we doing?” “What are our plans for the week?” “What’s on the calendar?” “When is date night?” The couples meeting becomes a ritual that the two of you share, and it strengthens the relationship.
4. Have a mindset of positivity in the relationship.
Again, I understand when we have been hurt by our partner this can be hard. Positivity can be kindness, compassion, empathy, affection, admiration and humor. Positivity is not just that we smile all the time. Dr. Gottman has a saying, “Catch your partner doing something right.” I love this saying. It changes the way we view our partner. When we have been hurt or if the relationship is just really disconnected we tend to focus on the negative aspects of the relationship or partner. If this goes on for too long, again, contempt or indifference enters the relationship. When I shift my thinking to catch my partner doing something right, I am looking and participating in positivity. This is a beautiful way to create gentleness in a relationship, and connection, and intimacy. Every morning challenge yourself to say in what ways you choose to show kindness, respect, compassion or appreciation. You can just pick one, and what you are really choosing for that day is connection to your partner and creating a deeper commitment to each other. Then at the end of the night, tell your partner one thing that you appreciated about him or her that day.
5. Small ways to nurture your relationship and turn towards each other.
I recently wrote about love, I talked about what love looks like. It really is the small ways we connect to each other and the deeper understanding we have of our partner. Love is knowing what brings your partner to life—their goals, dreams, hopes and their deep hurts. Love is knowing that when you hear them laugh it makes your heart smile. Small ways to connect can be found in giving your partner appreciation everyday, making sure you touch them—whether it’s a hug, holding their hand, cuddling on the couch or touching and rubbing their back. The power of touch is an amazing gift; it is a beautiful way to express to your partner, “I am here with you,” without having to say any words. Another small act of turning toward your partner is showing empathy and validation to each other. You can give empathy and validation; it’s not saying I agree with every word you are saying, it’s simply expressing to your partner, “I am here in this moment with you.” It is a gift to be present with your partner. Dr. Gottman suggests that partings and greetings can create a healthy ritual in your relationship—another small way to connect to each other. Partings and greetings are how you say goodbye before you’re off to start the day and how you say hello when you come home for the evening. These are just a few ways to turn towards each other.
When you both decide the small ways you want to nurture your relationship, you both are agreeing to make a commitment to the relationship and to each other. On a deeper level you are saying to each other, “You are a priority, our relationship is a priority.” You are both committed to taking time out for each other every day.
Sometimes it can be challenging to connect when we have been hurt by our partner or when trust has been broken. It can be hard in those situations to see that small ways help reconnect and recommit you to each other. I do know there are a lot of other components that go along with rebuilding trust in a relationship and I also know that connection in the everyday is a really important component.
We think unrealistically if we think everyday is going to be like the first day we met—intense and passionate. When we are working on repairing the relationship we have to remember the small ways we are committing to each other everyday.
So back to the beginning, how do we maintain our relationship in the everyday? We do it with connection and commitment.
We find small ways to connect to each other everyday. We create rituals or a ritual to come together and discuss how we think things are going, and we agree to cultivate a mindset of positivity in the relationship.
The other commitment I want you to make to each other is that if you feel like things are going off the path or you feel like you are two separate journeys, or you don’t know how to address a conflict, make a commitment and a promise to each other that you will seek outside help.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you need someone to help you through this part of the journey. Remember it’s an act of bravery to ask for help.
Enjoy finding your small ways to connect to each other and maintaining your relationship in the everyday.