Improve Your Relationship FOR GOOD - With These Steps
In my couples counselling practice, I have couples constantly telling me that they've tried all of these different things to modify behaviour - the 6-second kiss, the stress-reducing conversation, all the behavioural tricks that marriage researchers tell them *should* improve their relationship... but, inevitably, they fall back into their same old pattern, this time feeling even worse because if those behavioural modifications didn't work. What does that mean about their relationship? Are they doomed to fail?
So they come to counselling, hoping for even MORE tricks! Perhaps it was just the wrong technique they tried? Maybe their counsellor will be able to teach them a new one that will actually work this time?
Here's the thing. You can try all the tricks in the book, but if you don't work on your MINDSET, on how you actually THINK about your partner, on the things you actually NOTICE about your partner, no technique in the world is going to help you improve your relationship in any lasting way.
When my couples attend counselling, we go through a very organic process of creating safety, understanding what's going on within each partner and between them that causes their stuckness, shifting their attachment style, and practicing new ways of interacting. For you at home, though, this process will look a bit different because you won't have a counsellor organizing it for you - you'll have to very intentionally shift your mindset in small, easy-to-manage ways.
It really helps if both partners are doing this work together, but doing this mindset work will still positively influence your relationship if you're the only one changing for now.
The first mindset shift to master is to let go of your preconceptions of what a relationship "should" look like, and instead focus on the aspects of your relationship that ARE working right now. What you focus on gets bigger, so it helps to actually create a running list of the things that you love about your relationship, about your partner, and about yourself when you're with your partner.
Give yourself at least 2 weeks of actively searching for the good in your relationship. Then, continue to track what's going WELL in your relationship as you start shifting some other aspects of your mindset.
Next, you're going to tackle your fears. What are your biggest fears about being happy? What are some of the benefits of staying in this stuck place? It may seem crazy to think anyone would actually LIKE being stuck in their relationship, but if you look deeply and honestly, you'll see that there's something keeping you here. Perhaps it's a fear that, if you get too happy, something will come along to destroy it (that's one of my big ones). Perhaps it's a belief that you're not someone who's supposed to "have it all" - so if you're happy in your relationship, maybe your career will take a nose-dive, or your relationship with your kids will suffer.
It's really hard to think about this stuff, but awareness is your best friend. Through awareness, you can start to see how YOUR actions have been keeping you stuck, and take some of the focus off of what your partner is doing wrong. Then, you get to heal your fears and limiting beliefs. You can try Emotional Freedom Technique (a.k.a. "tapping") by yourself using YouTube videos or you can meditate on the hurt you feel and then simply say "I release you, I forgive you, thank you for what you taught me, I'm on a new path now."
Once you heal these old fears and limiting beliefs and start to truly believe you deserve happiness, it will be a whole lot easier to act in ways that make you and your partner happy - spending time together, laughing over things that might have made you upset in the past, and forgiving both yourself and your partner for not being perfect. The way you act and react can hugely change your relationship, but it has to be from a place of feeling deserving of relationship happiness, not from a place of toxic positivity where you just decide to ignore your hurts and laugh at things that you don't find funny.
See the difference? When you truly believe you deserve relationship happiness, you're easier about things. You love yourself first so you know you're lovable, and you have firm boundaries. If your partner brushes up against those boundaries, you're able to lovingly tell them so, rather than getting prickly about it, because you know they most likely don't mean to do you harm.
But, when you do things to improve your relationship WITHOUT going through the hard work of really believing you deserve relationship happiness, you end up changing your behaviours but not your thoughts. That will lead to short-term benefits but long-term dissatisfaction, because you're trying to change yourself in ways you're really not ready for.
Once you believe you deserve relationship happiness, the next step is to start focusing on CONNECTING rather than CORRECTING. We can have a tendency to try to "correct" the wrongs in our relationship by being critical, avoiding the problem, attacking, or some combination. This rarely, if ever, has lasting positive effects. As someone who knows the intimate details of countless relationships, and who helps couples improve their relationship for a living, I know one thing to be true: CONNECTION is the ONLY thing that will turn wrongs into rights in a relationship. Connection is the time machine that can actually change the past. When we are able to truly connect, we can transform EVERYTHING about our relationship.
So, how do you connect? I'll write more about this in an upcoming blog post, but the short answer is, do all the things you normally do that make you feel connected, but with an added twist - as you spend time together, you truly believe that your partner is a good person, doing what they can to love you in the best way they know how. Trust me, I have talked to so many people who say their partner thinks they have no empathy - THEY DO! They just have no idea that they are deserving of love. They have no idea how to talk to their partner in a way that makes their partner feel understood, because they've never had to do it before. It doesn't feel safe to be vulnerable, so they end up avoiding or shutting down or being critical.
There are so many of us who didn't grow up feeling deserving of love, who grew up feeling like nobody cared what we had to say, feeling like our emotions were something to hide and be shameful about. As adults, when our partner asks us to open up, it's terrifying, so we shut down and avoid instead of risking being embarrassed like we were as kids. Knowing this, truly understanding this, will help you to see your partner in a new way.
With this knowledge at hand, you can meet your partner where they're at and slowly, gently, make them feel loved enough to open up. And if you're the partner who feels this way, you can start by loving yourself, by recognizing that you're also doing the best you can, and by forgiving all those fears and insecurities so you can truly connect without your proverbial baggage getting in the way.
Here’s what happens when we connect: We no longer feel lonely so we’re not turning to our other addictions. We see the other person is actually trying (because it’s more fun to please someone you get along with than someone who you think hates you). We can be honest about our boundaries in a non-confrontational way. It’s easier to give our partner, and for them to give us, the benefit of the doubt, which stops fights before they start. We stop being hyper critical of our partner because we recognize and focus on the good of them rather than the bad - and paradoxically, they start doing more of the good and less of the bad because they’re feeling safe and appreciated.
The steps outlined above are a start to how you can treat yourself and your partner in new ways, transforming your relationship quite organically. Believing you deserve relationship happiness, and knowing you can foster connection yourself, can be life-changing.
If you need help with the above steps, please reach out via the contact form on my website. I've come to realize that the only way to truly change our relationships are with our own MINDSET SHIFTS, and I'd love to help you in any way I can.