For any organism to flourish it needs intentional care and attention. Nothing grows to be the best it can be through indifference or neglect—marriages are no different. However, we sometimes miss the fact that even exciting and new adventures create change, which can cause a relationship to need to adjust—each new baby, a new job, moving house. Change (even good ones) brings a level of stress that needs to be faced and readjusted to.
The best way to face change is to carve out times in our busy schedules to communicate with each other. Communication is a vital investment in keeping relationships healthy and moving forward, but we sometimes think of communication as just talking. Much of good communication involves listening, so that each person feels heard and understood. A vital aspect is making time for meaningful connecting, before the talking part even happens.
Relationships that continue to grow have the following habits in common:
- Find a way/ways to stay connected through a shared activity. The physical proximity and shared experience help develop a sense of having something in common and something to talk about.
- Every person needs to feel loved in a way that communicates love to them. Find out your partner’s Love Language (read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman) and try to connect in this way at least once a week.
- Stay more than roommates. It’s the old cliché, but it is extremely important to create ways to keep the romance alive in your relationship. Sending daily love texts, phone calls to just say “hi”, occasionally buying favourite treats . . .
- Make a specific time to communicate each week.
- Actively listen. Drop everything you are doing, then sit or go for a walk together and pay full attention to each other, with your face and your body language. Try to consider things from each other’s point of view. Allow each person to have time to speak without being interrupted. Each party needs to feel heard and not to simply withdraw to keep the peace. (Allowing things to go unresolved for too long just leads to festering issues within the relationship.) Then, repeat back what your partner has told you, to see if you have understood it correctly. This also allows the other party to clarify any misunderstandings.
- When you talk, be polite and non-demanding in tone. Perhaps speak in the same way you would to a co-worker you were trying to resolve an issue with.
- Even if you have been married for many years, don’t expect your partner to read your mind and know what you were expecting or thinking. Be specific about what you need and how you feel. Use “I” statements: “I felt . . . ”, “I would really appreciate . . . ” Put up reminder lists of weekly tasks or joint expectations if that helps.
- Fight fair. Every couple will have a period where they are under strain and might struggle to communicate effectively, but during arguments, it is important that you constructively attack the problem and not destructively attack the person. When we have been close with someone, we know their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Stay away from those areas in arguments, as using them to hurt someone can cause scarring and create deep rifts in relationships.
- Flourishing relationships work toward solutions together, rather than simply repeating the problem over and over.
- Move forward. If something is resolved, apologise and agree not to bring the situation up in negative ways in future arguments.
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