A marriage therapist’s 5 best tools for a great relationship
It’s February, and nearly everyone’s thoughts turn, at least fleetingly, to love and relationships. Whether you are in a wonderful, supportive relationship, wish to be in one or are struggling with a relationship that has become difficult, relationships are an important part of our lives. They can be amazing, but sometimes they just hurt.
Every day I sit with couples in pain - couples who began relationships with the best of intentions, but somehow, someway, things have gone awry. I’ve come to think there’s no pain like the pain of a relationship that hurts.
I’ve been a marriage and family therapist for nearly 20 years, and over the years I’ve realized that some of the things I do in the therapy room reflect some basic themes, Generally, these are things distressed couples need to change, and some mindset revisions that are necessary for them to regain their connection and peace.
Five of the best of these are:
* Your partner is not the enemy. This is possibly my second favorite saying (my favorite is the next bullet point) but the best one for couple dynamics. If you are a person of faith, then you might be able to acknowledge that there IS an enemy, but I assure you, your partner is not them. Virtually no one begins a relationship wanting to hurt their significant other, but over time, the warm fuzzy feelings can erode into something much different, and the partner can feel like the enemy. If a couple dynamic ensues in which both parties begin to act like the enemy to each other and each of them sees the other in that light, the couple is indeed in trouble. If you can manage to avoid seeing your partner in this way, even in the midst of disagreements, you will make your relationship stronger and more resilient.
* Take the high road. My favorite saying – and the likely title for my eventual book – is “take the high road.” In every circumstance, but especially in your relationships, this is wise advice. The low road is tempting, and couples often allow themselves to go there, but taking the high road, while not as immediately fulfilling, is ultimately the best course. You may not have the endorphin rush of “telling it like it is,” but you will always be able to live with yourself. And in some ways, that’s the best win.
* Act like a team. You and your significant other are a team, whether you act like it or not. And, just like your favorite sports team, you work best when you are in sync, when the lines of communication are open and everyone is working in concert with everyone else.
* Find ways to turn toward your partner on a regular basis. Marriage researcher John Gottman has found that this is significant in divorce prevention, and I’ve found that it’s a magic bullet for couples sometimes. Find ways to interact in positive ways. Pay attention to your partner’s words and actions. Look at them. Spend time. It pays great dividends.
* Try your best to recognize selfishness when you are stuck in it. So many people have trouble in their relationships because they are just plain selfish, thinking of themselves more than their partner, and causing great harm. There’s not much sadder to me than having a couple come to me who are struggling with this – quite frequently the selfish person hasn’t even been aware of their self-focus until it’s nearly – sometimes completely – too late. By the time the other finally breaks through to them with their own pain, it’s sometimes unfixable. Being aware of our own feelings, motivations and actions, and how they affect those around us, can be a valuable relationship tool.
Focusing on relationships is a two-edged sword. For some – the lucky few in great relationships – it can be fun, a chance to celebrate love and connection. To others, it’s a painful reminder that they are alone, lonely, and feeling scared. Others find it a mockery of their painful relationships.
If you are struggling, whether with a difficult relationship or the loneliness and distress of a lack of relationships, we can help. At Sanctuary Christian Counseling we help grieving individuals, distressed kids and teens and couples in conflict find peace, solution and connection. Give us a call or drop us an email.
We can help it be so much better.
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17257