How many times has your partner asked you to take out the trash, fold the laundry, or do something for them this week, and you have failed to follow through? It happens. The problem is that after being asked five times, your partner may no longer remember that a lapse in memory is a normal thing. This has the potential to be a problem. So save yourself the punishment and read on.
One of the first things I ask my clients is how often do they take time to sit and talk about the events of the past and upcoming week. Most of the time I get a blank stare on their face, followed by a nervous chuckle. The reality is that most of you who are reading this probably could communicate more effectively. This is not to say you aren’t talking about the week with your partner, but let’s break it down a bit more.
I ask my clients to set a specific day and time during the week that is designated for them to talk about finances, kids, household responsibilities, work, schedules, emotions, sex, and etcetera. This meeting is not meant to give one partner the chance to simply complain, or load the other up with requests. It is meant to allow both partners a designated time to effectively communicate their needs, emotions, and frustrations.
The weekly meeting is an opportunity to open up to your partner. It allows you to talk about specific topics, and then let it settle until the following week. For example, how many times have you asked your partner or been asked to show more affection? (Uh…. what the hell does that really mean anyway?) The great thing about this meeting is that you can ask what more affection looks like in your partner’s head. This is a time for you and your partner to practice communication skills. Ask questions that give you information you can work with. Ask questions about the questions you ask. Set goals. Make plans. Settle issues. And, possibly the best part, talk about your sex life!!
The goal of all of this is to leave the table with an understanding of what behaviors need to be adjusted from the last week, and what the plan is for the next. This does not mean you cannot talk about any issues during the week; nor does it mean you can’t give your partner an occasional (gentle) prompt to follow through with what was committed to during the meeting. This is not just about communication. The idea is that you build a stronger bond between the two of you. It is about building trust, building a safer relationship, and allowing both partners the autonomy to manage their responsibilities without feeling additional pressure to get things done.
Lastly, take time to talk about you. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable demonstrates trust and safety within the relationship. Talk about your needs. Hear your partner’s needs. This is not a time to make judgements, but a time to observe and respond empathically. Validate each other. You do not have to agree with your partner to hear what they are saying. Sometimes you will not agree; you don’t have to. I think you will find that being understood may feel just as good as getting approval from your partner. So go out and apply the skill. Feel free to comment on the blog post, and come back next week for more!
Throughout my career I have been asked for tips on building and strengthening relationships. Here are a few things I think might help.
Although this is not a stand-alone fix, effective communication is a great start to moving in the right direction. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before reading on. What the heck is effective communication, why is it important, and how do you know if you are doing it?
Simply put, when a couple communicates effectively, both partners understand what the topic of discussion is, know the reason for the discussion, and are aware of the emotions involved in the conversation.
This type of communication is important because it often prevents a phone from being chucked at your head. Not only is your physical safety important, but effective communication allows both parties to feel heard, understood, and to be a valued part of the conversation.
So how do you know if this is happening? Ask questions. Engage in active listening. Rephrase what your partner has said to show that you are listening, and that you understand.
How many times have you had a conversation with your partner only to find out that not a word you said was processed? (Guys, we are notoriously bad for tuning out when the conversation is not about football or sex.) Feeling understood is a big thing in a relationship, so it’s time to apply the skill.
Active listening is a great way to show you partner that you are not only engaged in the conversation, but care what the heck they are talking about. You can do this by repeating back what they said, asking questions, and by validating their feelings. Yes, this sounds like a lot of work, but the more you do it the better you get.
So this is a big one. Let’s think of a relationship as a machine for a moment. A machine has several parts, and requires all of the parts to work together in order to make the machine run. A relationship is very much like this. When you take two people and cram them together to make one functioning relationship it requires the couple to work together and compromise. Without it, the relationship often suffers, or at least a phone or two gets thrown.
Compromise requires understanding. Understanding requires effective communication. See the patter?
I like to have fun! Relationships need fun, and part of my job is to help re-ignite that fun if it has died out. How you define fun is up to you. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Fun can be nerdy, playful, romantic, relaxing, or whatever fits for you. It is easy to forget what the heck fun is when you have been in a relationship for several years, or when kids take up every precious moment of your day. I get it.
So it's time to combine all three of the previous tips and show your partner that you are still a rock star! If you have forgotten what fun looks like, who cares! Do something out of the ordinary. Go to a new restaurant, get together with friends, do something together that has a no clothing rule. Whatever it is, get up and go out!
Welcome to the Couples Ignite Blog. This is a blog about relationships, and all the things that come with them. These posts are not meant to provide therapy, but our clinical perspective, along with the perspective of guest authors, will be scattered throughout the writings. We will pick topics at random, and are open to suggestions. Happy reading!