Tips for Building a Better Relationship

Truth: Relationships are hard work.Most of us know and have experienced this. As a therapist, I see couples each week that are taking steps toward improving their relationship by working on communicating effectively with one another and building new skills. I love getting to see their relationships grow and develop through our sessions. In my work, I’ve noticed some common issues that are often topics of conflict for many couples. Sometimes these small stressors can lead to larger hurts and disagreements. Here are a few easy tips on how to navigate some of these common issues.

#1. “I have list in my head of all the stuff to get done, but my partner DOESN’T have a list in his/her head!”

Whether it’s making a grocery list, packing for a trip, or having out of town guests come over to visit, many times one person in a relationship is the list maker (either in their head or on paper!) and one person, well…is not! If this is the case for you, you may want to try utilizing a shared list to “brain dump” all the tasks that need to be completed so that both parties can share the responsibilities. You can do this on a shared sheet of paper that you keep in a main area of your home or you could try an app on your phone, such as Google Keep. Google Keep allows you to add another person as a “collaborator” so that you and your partner can both see and work from the same list simultaneously.

#2. “I feel like I end up doing everything around here!”

When one partner is carrying the mental load of the household, it can lead to exhaustion and irritability and often ends with resentment toward the partner. It is important for the person carrying the mental load to communicate their feelings to their partner. Beginning with an “I feel” statement—such as “I feel overwhelmed” or “I feel unappreciated”—can assist in keeping the conversation about feelings rather than just chores. Having said that, it also helps to have conversations about who does what and to create a chore list to assist both parties in dividing up the responsibilities. Many times, when a couple starts looking at their individual duties in writing it is easier to divide up responsibilities more equitably. If this sounds daunting, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. The energy and time it takes to put the list together will be far worth it if you and your partner are able to work as a team more effectively.

#3. “He wants to do this on the weekend and I want to do that.”

Weekends are often a topic of conversation in couples counseling. Sometimes couples have a different view of what the weekend will entail. One person might go into the weekend ready to complete several big projects while the other person wants to finally relax! Scheduling a time to decide on the plan for the weekend BEFORE the weekend can be helpful. Several couples I have work with have designated Thursday night dinner as a time to discuss and figure out weekend plans.

#4. “We never talk about anything except for the kids or work.”

In a relationship, it’s easy to fall into a rut and talk about the same topics all the time. We forget to be curious about our partners and continue to build the connection to each other. I recommend the Gottman Card Deck app, a free, convenient, and fun way to connect to one another. It has a ton of great questions to ask your partner while at dinner, on a walk, or before bed. It’s a great way to stimulate conversation in your relationship again.

#5. “I told you I was right!”

This is probably the most important tip here. Try to keep a competitive attitude out of your relationship. There is never a winner or loser in any conflict in a healthy romantic partnership. Relationship communication needs to be about understanding each other, not trying to get your partner to see you are right. This can be very difficult when you or your partner are feeling hurt or resentful. Watch out for statements that establish one person as “right” or “wrong”. One way to do this would be to have each partner restate the other person’s point of view during or at the end of the discussion so that both parties feel heard and understood.

Relationships take a great deal of work and communication. If you and your partner are in a difficult place right now, I highly encourage you to seek out help. Many couples have felt that the hardest step to take was agreeing to set up an appointment, but then they are so grateful afterward that they made the investment in their relationship. Counseling not only helps to heal your relationship but can also help you and your partner build a better foundation and begin moving forward.

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Practicing Mindfulness