Over the past year, research has found more couples struggling and breakups happening far more than ever. Many of us are juggling more responsibilities around the house and often use up every minute of the day for work, kids and maybe a little self care (if we are lucky!). Even though we may be spending more time together, the quality time is often lacking and frustrations are more likely to increase.
We all know that one of the most important aspects of a relationship is communication. Talking to your significant other feels like something that should be natural. Yet, it is a common struggle among couples. But, are we truly communicating about what matters? Briefly asking about their day, requesting they pick up milk, or scheduling your family affairs is technically communication. But, we didn’t choose to be with this person because we wanted an assistant or someone to help with chores. We chose them because we love them.
When stress is heightened, it’s easy for communication to break down and for intimacy to be pushed aside from the relationship. If your partner doesn’t know there is an issue, you can’t work together to resolve it. If they don’t know you’re not feeling loved, needing space, or desiring a little more affection, they won’t try.
We asked leading relationship experts to talk about ways we can strengthen our bonds, open up the dialogue with our partners, and even rekindle a dulled spark.
Match Your Inner and Outer Dialogue
If you’re thinking angry and expressing nice…believe me, your partner is “hearing” the angry loud and clear. And then, you’re confused as to why they’re acting defensive! Instead, be clear about your needs and be willing to negotiate. You don’t want to have to be a mindreader. If you’re sensing a problem, give the person permission to express it. If you need something, ask.
—Laura Day, New York Times bestselling author and practicing intuitive
Define The Level of Affection You Need
Some people just aren’t that affectionate. There are many degrees of affection. One partner might feel they are being affectionate, and their partner still feels starved for affection. This is an area where you need to reach a happy medium. Affection is part of what sets you apart from just being roommates. You need to communicate your need for more affection the way you would any other need. Ask your partner what affection looks like to them and try doing more of what they ask for in a relationship. Affection is what makes some people feel valued and loved, so it’s very important to be on the same page and make strides to meet their needs. Check in with your partner to see if what you are doing is working for them as well.
—Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking.
You are 100% responsible for your own satisfaction in your relationship (in and out of the bedroom), so don’t wait around waiting for your partner to read your mind—initiate. Go for what you want.
Show Interest in Your Partner
It may sound obvious, but it’s really not. When you’re struggling to actually listen to your partner, especially when they’re talking about something mundane or boring (and your brain is already busy!), focus on something you love about them. Find the place within yourself where you can really listen to what your partner says simply because they are saying something! I often have to look at how beautiful my husband’s face is, or how lovely his voice is when he is telling me about some TV show I could care less about. Inform yourself about their day, and then ask them about it. Show your pride and investment in their life. We often know what our partner is going to say, but let them say it and really listen. Connection is everything.
Get Frustrated Energy Out Creatively
If you’re feeling annoyed at your partner, go play a sport or take a yoga class to get the stagnant or frustrated energy out. When you remove yourself from the current situation (or even just the room), you can take a moment to notice if it’s really about what you think you’re annoyed about, or if there may be other circumstances at play. Remember, it’s important to give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Are you assuming your partner has the best possible intentions? How might you feel differently if you did?
—Vanessa Ringel, founder of GRAVITĀS
In the morning over coffee or at the end of the evening, ask each other how you’re feeling about the day. What are the challenges? Can you tackle a chore so they can go for a much-needed run in the neighborhood? Can they help clear your schedule for some uninterrupted alone time? You can have these kinds of conversations at any time of day. It’s about finding connection and emotional intimacy each and every day.
—Monica Berg, author of Rethink Love and host of Spiritually Hungry Podcast
Romance in a marriage doesn’t need to die; however, the idea and expectation of what romance means does. Responsibilities, routine, and everyday stressors are inevitable. It is very easy when entering a marriage to expect love and romance and have those intoxicating early-relationship hormones keep raging. Vulnerability is actually the key to rekindling romance. When we’re seeking vulnerability and its byproduct, genuine connection, we aren’t looking for excitement. Choosing to take a break from your everyday routine with a date night or a staycation is a wonderful way to infuse excitement and mystery. Take that time to foster an appreciation for all the reasons your relationship is already wonderful, and build upon them. Sharing our past fears, embarrassments, and experiences requires an openness that each couple should try to create between each other. It’s not always an easy task. The more you open up to your partner and them to you, a space is created in which you are stronger together.
Plan Alone Time
Needing space, especially during these unprecedented times, is understandable. Having too much togetherness can zap the passion in any relationship. It’s the time apart that keeps your partner interesting to you. You don’t need a mirror image of yourself that does everything you do. You want someone to take time for their own interests and hobbies or just some time apart to think.
—Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking
Many people in partnerships feel like one or the other does more of the heavy lifting. Let’s say your partner comes back from the grocery store without the essentials, but remembers to buy bags of junk food. It’s easy to become frustrated and judge their actions. But, when we judge our partners, we’re not supporting their journey. This is not to say that you can’t gently and kindly communicate how something made you feel—just leave judgment out of the equation.
Communicate, Then Communicate More
Communication is the #1 important thing to have in a relationship; and oftentimes, it is the culprit of relationship breakdown and breakups. There really aren’t different ways to communicate to your partner on various issues—it’s simply a matter of learning the right way to express what is on your mind of what you need/want. Talk in a way that your partner will actually hear you and not just listen. Be honest, clear, and authentic in your words and feelings, and keep it brief. For example, if you want more space from each other, say something like “I love that we spend so much time together, and I value that time we have; however, I do feel that it would be great for our relationship if we also focus on ourselves. The time spent apart will be healthy for our own souls and will help to keep our relationship close.” You’re being REAL and acknowledging your partner. Also, make sure to be respectful of each other’s time, and look for moments when both of you are in a good place to talk and listen. Trying to tell your partner that you’re upset when he/she is in the middle of something won’t get the results you are wanting.
—Destin Pfaff and Rachel Federoff, relationship experts and founders of Love And Matchmaking
Beware of Your Ego
Be aware of our ego’s desire to be right at any cost. Our egos convince us we have the answers to our partner’s perceived shortcomings. Instead of thinking about the thoughts and needs of others, we make their traits and actions all about us. “You’re not making me happy. You’re not fulfilling my needs. You’re wrong, and I’m right.” We may think we’re in opposition to those around us when our real foe is our ego.
Pause Before Reacting
This one is a simple, but game-changing practice. Breathe and count to 10 slowly before you respond. This will help calm your nervous system and bypass your reptilian brain that is concerned with fight or flight. Once you get past that, you can access a more reasonable reaction. Then, keep the topic on your feelings, not what your partner did wrong (since that will only make your partner feel defensive). Try as much as possible to keep the subject on your feelings only. If you need it, take space, too. Sometimes, space to process can make all the difference between a productive interaction and an unnecessary emotional escalation.
Timing Is Everything
Don’t bring up an issue first thing in the morning when your partner is trying to run out the door to catch a train. Pick a better time when you are both relaxed, and put in some extra effort to make the ambience calmer (i.e. cook a nice dinner and turn on some mood lighting). Doing this shows that you care and you want to work on the relationship. Be mindful of your words. It’s all about how you deliver what it is you are trying to say…whether you are upset, annoyed, need alone time, or need more affection. Try to be open-minded and maintain a receptive body language (i.e. do not cross your arms). Start the conversation with an affirmation such as “I love you so much and can’t imagine my life without you”, or “I’m so thankful for our relationship, and I really care about nurturing it.” And then, go into what it is you want to talk about.
—Rori Sassoon, co-founder Platinum Poire, a VIP power-couple matchmaking service
One of the biggest mistakes is making assumptions. We think we know why our partner behaves a certain way, but we are not psychic. Overcome that by asking questions instead of assuming. Also, stop with the blame game. We make our feelings our partner’s fault when really nobody else is responsible for how we feel except ourselves. Overcome that by taking responsibility for your feelings, and know that nobody can make you feel anything if you don’t let them. Oftentimes, we can put what we want (or our greatest fears) onto our partner and make it about them when it’s really about ourselves. Become aware that some part of what we see in our partner is fabricated, and we have the ability to see our partner more accurately when we drop those preconceived notions.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)