Last week Rebecca, a newly divorced, 30 something, professional woman was in my office discussing her divorce. Most of our conversation centered around the her husband’s infidelity and the breakdown of her marriage. Her hindsight was 20/20. Here’s a bit of her story and a few tips that may help you avoid having your relationship fall apart.
1.) Learn your and your partner’s love languages. Different people have different ways of showing love. There are 5 primary love languages (gifts, affection, quality time, acts of service, and words of affirmation). Your love language is how you communicate love and it’s fairly common for couples to have mismatched love languages. Take this quiz to determine your love language. Once you know your LL, see if you can figure out your partner’s LL. Then go the extra mile to show love in the way HE expresses love, rather than in the way you naturally express it. He will feel understood and appreciated more than ever before. Because’s Rebecca’s primary LL was acts of service she kept trying to show her husband love by cooking his favorite meals, offering to organize his closet and trying to help him by doing all of their grocery shopping. She was dumbfounded to learn his LL is actually quality time, and he was frustrated by all of her efforts to take care of him because all he had really wanted to was to spend quality time together with her. All of her efforts meant time apart because she wasn’t including him in these acts of service. Some approachs that might have met both of their needs was to offer to cook meals together, work on a joint project or grocery shop as a couple.
2.) Make an effort to be present daily. It’s not the quantity of attention that you give your partner that matters as much as the quality. In our busy, go-go-go world of trying to get a million things done 10-15 minutes of undivided attention goes a long way. Turn off your phone, computer, TV and ask your partner about his day. Check in about that issue from work, ask about his/her parents, or follow up about his best friend’s break-up. The point is to show an interest in his world. Love is a verb, and best expressed in action. In retrospect, Rebecca realized she was using reality TV and a glass of red wine to unwind and numb out from long days at work. In moderating these are fine, but she relied on these exclusively to relax instead of identifying her feelings of overwhelm and sharing them with her husband.
3.) Handle conflict as a joint challenge, a puzzle to solve together rather than a win/lose situation. There are 2 primary opposing stances to conflict: either people avoid it a all costs or they are ready to do battle and go in guns blazing. I myself am more of a recovering guns blazing type. Over time I realized my “let’s do this” attitude was actually damaging my relationship rather than working toward fixing it. The most productive and repairing way to handle disagreements is to approach conflict from a win/win stance. In practice this looks like seeing disagreements as opportunities to better understand each other’s needs, find overlapping goals/hoped for outcomes, and finding creative solutions together that gets the majority of both of your needs met. Want to develop more skills in the area? Click here. Rebecca admits to being conflict averse and often found herself down playing her feelings in order to make the relationship work and not fight. This led to resentment, frustration and eventually the breakdown of their intimacy.
4.) Be willing to look at your own behaviors and reactions as a part of the relationship’s problems. This is by far the most empowering thing you can do for your relationships (all of them). It can be easy to get stuck in our own heads or rooted in our values, feeling entitled to our anger or hurt. But if you can get curious about your own thoughts it will allow you to expand your view of the problems at hand. A couple of ways to do this is to talk to a friend to get an outsider’s perspective, or meditate and sit with your feelings quietly for a few minutes. This can look like 10 minutes of solitude drinking a cup of tea or coffee or a quick walk around the block, if traditional mediation is not your thing. Taking ownership for your role in problems or admitting mistakes can create a completely new vibe in your relationship that promotes authenticity and connection. Rebecca eventually did this, but it was too late. She came to my office when she and her husband had already separated. While she wanted to make the effort to fix their problems, he had already emotionally left the relationship. Doing this sooner could have allowed a better chance for repairing their disconnection.
These small adjustments can go a long way to strengthening the bonds in your relationship and build an intimacy that connects you and your partner on a deeper level. By doing this what you bring to the relationship becomes valuable beyond measure. Being the best partner and lover you can will establish tremendous security and commitment in your relationship.
Now that Rebecca is going through the heart-break of divorce she’s taking all of these things into account as she considers relationships in her future. She knows she’s not ready to get back out into the world and start dating anytime soon. But she also recognizes that when she is ready, she’ll be much more likely to have a successful, loving relationship because of how much she’s grown and learned about herself as a result of the end of her marriage.
In which of these areas do you have the most room to grow?
For more info on how to be the best partner ever click here to learn about Stopping Relationship Sabatoge.