Why do we find time to formulate and articulate complaints about our intimate relationships yet struggle to find the time to make even small modifications that might improve how we feel being in them? You may think I was getting ready to criticize the need for “complaining.” There’s a cause for our drive to speak aloud the disappointments and hurts of our daily trek through coupledom, we are seeking to make sense of what we are feeling and…. we are terrified! So though we may offer these woes in anger or even jokingly, we are searching for validation that it’s all normal and that it will all be OK. Attending to your relationship with intent, in ways that allow you to feel that you have some influence over the trajectory may reduce the number of complaints that pile up in your mind just awaiting the appropriate ear, the slightest window through which to release them. Read on as I offer 5 tips to making your relationship a spot to nestle into.
#1) Set aside time to check in with each other about the mental relationship piles.
This occurs formally when you are participating in therapy however it’s crucial to any relationship. It isn’t uncommon for one person in a couple to experience great feelings of reassurance and relief from talking, while the other may prefer scrubbing toilets to hearing the words “we need to talk.” If it’s just a part of your routine, the partner that craves it will know with confidence that the time is approaching and have a greater sense of ease, and the partner that may avoid it will not be blindsided by a tearful outpouring in bed at the end of a long day.
#2) Ask yourself each morning “what is one thing I will do today that I know will be meaningful to my partner?”
I don’t mean the things that we bring up in our defense when our partner is upset with us “but I made your lunch or “I shoveled the driveway” or “I took out the garbage” or “I cooked dinner.” What are the things he/she is always asking for in those repeated heated moments? “Just listen to me” or “just hug me” or “just touch me” or “just call me.” Not always, but often, it would only take a few moments to come up with an answer to this question and it would only take a few moments to offer it.
#3) Acknowledge what else is going on in your life that may be contributing to your frustration and take ownership of that in conversation with your partner.
When you are feeling overwhelmed and lonely in your relationship, it is important to let your partner know that. It is equally important to identify what else is happening for you that is depleting you or worrying you or quite frankly boring you so that you both know what belongs to the relationship and what are actually individual concerns that may require additional support from your partner. Unhappiness is often multifaceted.
#4) Take the time to understand what you really want from your partner and be kind enough to clue him/her in.
Avoid the pitfall of convincing yourself and trying to convince your partner that he/she knows you well enough by now to know exactly what you’re asking for, even if you’re not actually asking at all. If support means” stay in the house with me but don’t ask me to talk tonight” or if support means ” tell me that it’s okay that this thing that’s been bothering me for three weeks is still bothering me, even though I”m struggling to do anything about it” or if support means “just sit with me” or if support means “help me find a therapist for us/for our child/for our family” then let your partner know. Give him or her, at least the opportunity to meet your need.
#5) Make your first few moments rejoining at the end of the day (or in the morning or in the afternoon) count.
Even if you are rushing to use the bathroom or throw something together to eat because your day leading up to now didn’t allow it, take a few moments (I really mean just a few moments) to look your partner in the eye and greet her/him or if he/she is on the phone when you come in, place a hand on his/her shoulder before you move along. If you travel often or work opposite shifts, can you take a moment to call and say “I know you’re usually falling into bed at this time, I just wanted to say that I hope you rest well.” What we do in relationship to our partner in those first few seconds of coming back together usually sets the tone for all that comes after.