In today’s time it can be easy to take our significant other for granted, especially when our own stress and daily activities weigh down on our emotional well being. I know that I can sometimes be guilty of neglecting my partner or even taking out my stress from work on him, even though I know that he had nothing to do with my specific bad or off putting day. Unfortunately, if these types of negative interactions occur between a couple on a routine basis it is detrimental to the relationship. What tends to occur in such circumstances is that one or both partners begin to disconnect from the each other and the relationship as a whole; in other words, their sense of friendship and intimacy is damaged.
The idea of really loving and connecting within a relationship has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently completed an intensive training on a specific type of couples therapy, the Gottman Theory of how relationships are supposed to achieve a healthy state of being and maintain its existence. According to Dr. John and Julie Gottman, there are several layers of a relationship which must be focused on while a couple is seeking therapy, one of those layers is re-establishing the bond and sense of friendship between the partnership. There are several techniques which a Gottman trained therapist can integrate into the session to help the couple refocus on their level of connection, however I thought it would be helpful to provide you with some tools to utilize in your daily activities.
In an article published by Harrar & DeMaria (The Seven Stages of Marriage, Reader’s Digest Association, 2007), the duo outlines 8 helpful ideas to help to reconnect with your partner and reestablish the friendship between the two of you. Below are the suggestions which Harra and DeMaria recommend for couples who might be stuck in their routines; please feel free to expand on these ideas and really make them your own. The more creative the better.
1) Ask ‘is this good for us’?: When faced with a major obstacle, it is best to ask which path is best for the couple as a whole. Communication is key here, make sure to discuss the issue in as helpful and positive of a way possible to really understand that you can see your partner’s point of view on the situation. Compromise is usually key in such circumstances.
2) Boundaries 101: You might have heard me mention this concept in previous articles, but healthy boundaries are a must for any relationship that wants to succeed. Harrar and DeMaria state that the relationship should have semi-permeable boundaries, both inside and outside the partnership. Establishing healthy boundaries not only with your significant other but also friends and family will help you both maintain a sense of connection when stress and high expectations might arise (ex - family holidays and get togethers).
3) Create Code Words for Love: Harrar and DeMaria suggest that a couple should be imaginative and create secret sayings of saying ‘I love you’ to one another. This helps to create a feeling of just you and your partner and is also a handy tool to have when in an environment where such affection cannot be displayed (ex - your supervisor might be around).
4) The Relationship Should be a Priority: Making sufficient time for being alone with each other is a must. Couples are simply not going to survive if everything else comes first and their time together is what is leftover from their days. I hear it sometimes in the therapy room, ‘we are too busy, we can’t make that kind of time for one another’. My suggestion is if it is important enough to you then you will try to make it work, over scheduling time with work, friends, and hobbies is common for a lot on individuals but not an excuse none-the-less. Research time management skills to have a better balance with ‘my stuff’ and ‘us stuff’.
5) Leave Work at Work: I personally believe that this issue is on the rise for American couples and can potentially be an area of major dysfunction within the partnership. With technology evolving so quickly and our increased need to ‘be connected’ at all times, it is no wonder that people are more often bringing work home. This type of behavior takes away from personal time with your loved one. Setting healthy boundaries and limits with your work can help to maintain a better connection between you and your loved one within the home environment.
6) Create Rituals: Create time for you to do something with each other on a consistent basis. Examples include, weekly date nights, having dinner with one another (no TV, phones or smart devices), going for nightly strolls with the dog, or even having giving each other mini-massages before bed.
7) Be Each Others #1 Fan: Encouraging your partner during their struggles is a helpful way to let your partner know that you are there for them no matter what and want them to succeed. Cheering on each other is also helpful when the couple as a unit is going through a particularly trying time (i.e. tight finances, career struggles, major life transitions and family conflict).
8) Check-in on a Daily Basis: Take time to really talk about each others day, both personally and professionally speaking. How was their day at work? Did they do anything different or exciting they might want to talk about? How are they feeling?
Until next time -- take care of yourself, take care of your mind.
Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate
Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha