Fixing a troubled relationship is difficult, requiring a commitment of time, patience and emotional availability. Although it’s possible your efforts may not succeed, you’ll learn valuable lessons about how to separate your own emotional issues from your partner’s. Solving your own issues will leave you more capable of interacting in a dynamic, fulfilling relationship.
Practice objective listening. According to British psychotherapist Trina Dolenz, star of VH1’s “Tool Academy,” you should listen to your partner’s words without adding any interpretations that stem from your own insecurities. If you’re reacting to your girlfriend’s use of a particular word or a habit that angers you, Dolenz advises you to figure out why. If you’re really angry at a parent or former girlfriend, do your best to separate that anger from anger directed at your partner.
Reconnect with your core values and positive traits. In “The Relationship Rescue Workbook,” Dr. Phil advises you to confront—then push aside—the voices in your head that tell you you’re going to fail or that you aren’t good enough. Too often, he says, struggling couples pay more attention to these negative thoughts than the good qualities that earned the love of their partners in the first place. Reconnecting with your core values reminds your partner why he fell for you in the first place and gives you a stable mindset from which to tackle your relationship issues.
Summon the courage to tell your partner how you feel. In “Reclaim Your Relationship,” Patricia and Ronald Potter-Efron note that many people don’t tell their partners how they feel because they’re too shy, proud, stubborn, hurt, embarrassed or worried about the power dynamic. However, they argue that these “cold thoughts” are usually caused by negative or irrational feelings. They suggest countering “cold thoughts” with “warm thoughts”--compliments and declarations of affection. The more you say them, the easier they’ll become, leading to more open and honest communication.
Share your expectations. In an article on the Oprah website, Dr. Brent Atkinson describes a couple who fought frequently because each partner created expectations for their marriage without sharing them. The wife expected the husband to pay more attention to her, but her independence was one of the reasons why he fell for her. If the couple had shared their expectations in terms of independence versus couple time, they might not have fought so often.
Be clear about what you want and why. Therapist Michael J. Formica, in his 2010 article "Ten Elements of Effective Relationships," states that being upfront about what you want reduces conflict. Your partner doesn't have to try to read your mind to find out where you're coming from. Being transparent allows you and your partner to meet each other's needs without having to interpret anything, giving you both a chance to reclaim your relationship.
- Retool Your Relationship: Fix the One You’re With; Trina Dolenz; 2010
- The Relationship Rescue Workbook; Phillip C. McGraw; 2000
- Reclaim Your Relationship: A Workbook of Exercises and Techniques to Help You Reconnect with Your Partner; Ronald T. Potter-Efron and Patricia S. Potter-Efron; 2006
- Oprah: The Love Breakthrough
- Psychology Today: Ten Elements of Effective Relationships