1. Accept the unsolvable
Unfortunately, according to relationship scientist John Gottman, 69% of relationship conflicts are persistent problems, meaning they revolve around issues that tend to resurface no matter how long you’ve been together. If you find a problem seems to call up painful emotions, you’re looking at one that’s persistent.
To stop this trouble from ruining your relationship, you’ll need to address the bigger issues underlying your difficulty. Take turns discussing with your partner what this loaded issue really means to you. When your partner is talking, your job is to listen, be nonjudgmental and to find something in her perspective that makes sense to you. When it’s your turn to talk, she should be doing the same thing. By treading more gently into touchy areas, you should at least be able to agree to disagree or make some small concessions for one another.
2. Focus on what’s fixable
As long as an argument doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve been through an emotional roller coaster, consider it fixable. One major area that causes tension in relationships is finances, with a longitudinal study by economist Jay Zagorsky finding that 33% of couples have seriously divergent views on income, wealth and debts. In particular, the initial stages of living together may be especially fraught with monetary concerns. So that this problem doesn’t spiral out of control, sit down with your other half and craft a detailed action plan, consulting any resources that might help to get your finances on track. You should both be able to live with the new arrangement or it won’t work. Use this method to address any other problems in your life that you deem fixable.
3. Break negative cycles
Troubled relationships tend to follow a demand-withdraw pattern. That means that one person tends to be more critical and demanding, while the other tends to withdraw or shut down in response to conflict. Douglas Tilley, a proponent of emotion-focused therapy, notes that 85% of the time men tend to be the withdrawer. The reason may be biological — men’s cardiovascular systems are more responsive to stress, so tuning out your mate is an attempt to avoid uncomfortable sensations. To break the negative pattern of conflict in your relationship, next time things get heated, let your partner know what’s going on with you by saying: “I can see this issue is important to you. I’m feeling too angry to discuss it right now, though, so let’s come back to it once we’ve cooled off.”
4. Understand anger
While outbursts of anger are common even in healthy relationships, when anger becomes an entrenched part of your couple life, you should be concerned. Sue Johnson, master therapist and pioneer of emotion-focused therapy, an empirically validated treatment for distressed relationships, refers to anger as a secondary emotion. Her theory holds that other (primary) emotions, such as sadness or a fear of being abandoned, can be found behind an angry front.
Think back to the last argument you had with your partner and use this new knowledge to look for hidden messages in what you and your partner were each trying to communicate. Attempting to disregard the angry tone you both used and trying to tune in to what you were each really trying to say will help you to see that you both have needs in your relationship that make sense. For instance, “You’re a workaholic!” might really mean “I miss you and want to spend more time with you.”
5. Find common goals
A study conducted in collaboration with a dating site in the UK found that 13% of couples reported no longer having the same goals. This situation represents a ticking time bomb, as research has shown that couples who share dreams and goals have longer-lasting, more satisfying relationships. If you feel like you’ve been out of sync lately with your partner on this front, discuss your philosophy of life together. The aim is for both of you to share what you want your life to be about, where you want to end up and what these things mean to you. Look for anything that’s common between the two of you and talk about ways to work toward that aspiration together. Finding common ground with people is a vital life skill, but it’s particularly essential in romantic relationships.
6. Share power
When a man is not willing to share power with his relationship partner, John Gottman’s research indicates there is an 81% chance that his relationship will self-destruct. While hoarding power may have got you ahead in your career, this strategy will backfire in your relationship because your girlfriend will end up feeling like her opinions aren’t valuable and she doesn’t matter to you. To help save your relationship, develop a more accepting attitude toward compromise. Practice by giving in on issues you don’t feel extremely invested in, and watch your relationship improve.
7. Don’t distort
Researchers have known for a long time that unhappy couples focus on the negatives in their relationships. An early study by Robinson and Price (1980) found that unhappy couples underestimated the occurrence of pleasurable events in their relationships by 50%. Also, Fincham, Beach and Baucom (1987) found that couples in distressed relationships were prone to attributing negative intentions to their partner’s behavior. This is not a recipe for a healthy long-term relationship.
If you find yourself stuck in this rut of distorted thinking, the next time you have a negative thought about something your partner has done try to come up with a more neutral explanation for her actions. Consider this a way to improve your emotional intelligence and better understand how you and your partner feel. Another strategy is to consider whether you would judge yourself so harshly if the situation were reversed. Finally, remind yourself often of the good times you’ve spent together recently. Optimistic people consciously focus on the positive, and feel better for it, so it makes sense that couples who do the same would experience similar benefits.
8. Concentrate on the present to ensure your future
Interestingly, the ability of your relationship or marriage to weather tough times has a lot to do with your mutual availability in the here and now. Unfortunately, over time, for a variety of reasons, many couples move further apart from each other, meaning that when a rough patch hits, communication falters and their relationship doesn’t survive. To build a rock-solid relationship, start by acknowledging rather than ignoring the ordinary moments in your relationship. If your partner wants to share something she’s reading on the net, for example, take a minute to listen, even if you simply grunt in response. It may sound strange, but if you accumulate enough of the little things, when you really need your partner, you’ll find she’s there for you. Couples who make the here and now count by having a regular conversation about their feelings have a better chance of lasting into the future.
9. Appreciate each other
Remember when you first started dating, how you used to go that extra mile to impress her? Well, one of the secrets to a long, fulfilling relationship is to continue to actively appreciate your partner. You don’t necessarily have to pull out all the stops the way you did back in the day, but regular efforts to show your partner that you appreciate her will do wonders for improving your relationship.
If you’re not sure where to start, a good place is by doling out daily compliments. Couples who compliment one another regularly are on the right path to a healthy relationship. Tell her she looks hot or thank her for organizational abilities when she reminds you to call your mother. The only rule is to make sure that you genuinely mean what you say. This is a surefire way to inject some intimacy into a romantic relationship that’s started to fizzle.
10. Solidify your friendship
How satisfied you feel in your relationship has to do with how connected you feel to your partner. Research suggests that our ability to connect with others (our attachment style) is influenced by our childhood experiences. According to Prior and Glasser (2006), 65% of children can be classified as having a secure attachment style, with the remaining 35% having an insecure attachment style.
As an adult, an insecure attachment style is associated with a slew of relationship troubles, including jealousy, obsession, and emotional highs and lows. The good news is that, regardless of your present pattern, you can become more securely attached, or connected, to your partner by developing a deeper friendship. To do that, incrementally spend more time with her doing something you both enjoy. Also, regularly ask for updates on your partner’s likes, dislikes, current stressors, and new interests, as people change over time and effective communication is the only way to keep up with those changes