Expert Q&A: How to Overcome Difficulties in Your Relationship
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Happy marriages and long-term relationships are not happy every day. John Gottman, a pioneer in marital research, discovered that even in mutually satisfying marriages, couples said they went through bad patches--and years! Yet, these same couples said they were glad they "toughed it out" and would choose their partner as their mate all over again.
Remember the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Yes, tough times can be opportunities to deepen your love, but difficult circumstances can also erode it. Here are some tips to help you survive and thrive.
1. Take the long view. Troubling times can come in waves or drop out of the sky. For example, children with serious diseases put constant strain on relationships, whereas an unexpected diagnosis can turn the calmest home into a storm. Yet, happy couples say that they never lost sight of their commitment and joy in each other. They knew that marriage was an uncharted adventure that wouldn't always be pleasant.
Solution: Regardless of your situation rekindle your connection. Each of you should sit down and write the answers to these questions: What made me fall in love? What do I like and respect about my partner? Do this exercise throughout the entire situation--even if it lasts a lifetime.
2. Keep the passion. Happy marriages do not function forever like the fifth gear of a car. Couples don't wake up each morning in the throes of passion. Many happy partners often describe their relationship as being in a "cruising gear" that they can easily "ramp up" to fifth--or even overdrive. So don't despair if you have health, financial or other family issues. And don't let the situation kick your relationship to the curb.
Solution: Steal time for intimacy and private talks. Go away for a night. Get a babysitter. Go for a walk. Write each other love notes. Leave sexy voice messages on your partner's cell phone. Make sure you don't let a day go by without touching and kissing.
3. Renew your team. Good relationships function like well-oiled machines. Usually, after several years, couples know how to divide up the tasks. One person might be better researching information on the Internet, another might be better speaking to people. Strong marriages and relationships are usually made up of good problem-solvers.
Solution: Recall how you and your partner handled an important decisions in the past. Who did what? What task would you now like your partner to do? Which ones do you want? Recruit help. Do you know someone, a family member or an agency that can help you? Don't go it alone.
4. Develop and sustain healthy stress-busting behavior. Stress can get to the sanest of people. Sudden bad events, as well as long-term ones, can wear down a person's patience, resolve and problem-solving ability. Don't wait until the stress piles up so much that you weaken your rebound abilities.
Solution: The first step is to know your stress warning signs. For example, do you eat, drink or sleep too much? Do you get crabby? Are you prone to getting sick? Or, do you "check out" of the relationship emotionally and let your partner do the work? Of course, these behaviors only add to the difficulty.
The next step is to work as a team with your partner to address your reactions. Help each other. Don't live off of "comfort food" or hide out in your bedroom. Make sure you each get physical exams and go to the doctor the moment you develop problems with sleep, infections and other ailments. Exercise together. Exercise strengthens your immune system, fights depression, and elevates your mood.
5. Keep kindness. Tough times can turn any one of us into ogres. Stress can make you short-tempered and critical. In a moment, arguments develop a life of their own. Hair-trigger reactions set off a domino effect, and soon you find yourself thinking about all the things you dislike about your partner.
Solution: Apologize immediately. Let your partner know, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 the highest, how stressed you are. Say briefly what's bothering you. Tell your partner what you want him or her to do right now. For example, do you want to be left alone? Do you want to set a time to talk about things over the weekend?
If you are on the receiving end of the barb, develop signals to let your partner know that he or she is over-reacting. Some couples agree to hold up their hand. Others, tap each other gently on the arm. The goal is to bring the mood back to normal--and not to make your partner wrong.
Finally, don't forget to say please and thank you. Compliment your partner and tell them how much you appreciate everything they do.
6. Keep perspective. Happy couples know that at any moment World War III could break out in their relationship. Don't stoke the flames of anger.
Solution: Get a perspective and ask yourself: How important is this thing that bothers me? Can the issue wait? Ask yourself: Am I really looking for validation for what I've endured, done and taken on?
7. Volunteer. Some couples work together as volunteers for charities or for causes that have touched them deeply. Other couples have turned their strife into lifelong causes. Think of John Walsh's contribution to society. Following the kidnapping and murder of his young son, he devoted his life to fighting crime. You don't have to become as prominent as John Walsh. The smallest act can help not only others but yourself as well. Volunteering connects you to other people, gives you a perspective and makes you feel more in charge of your life. You also increase social awareness of the problem and strengthen your relationship with your partner.
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com. Also on her website, if you donate $5 to Habitat for Humanity-Sarasota, Florida, you can receive a download of her relationship advice cartoon book for women, "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie."
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