One of my favorite articles as of late highlights the research of John Gottman. You can read Masters of Love in The Atlantic. If you want the cliff notes version, it compares successful couples with unsuccessful couples (masters vs. disasters). What the research found was that successful couples exhibit kindness and generosity towards each other while unsuccessful couples are critical and have outward contempt for each other.
Simple enough? Yes. It truly can be that simple for couples that have lost their way and possibly that spark that first connected them. If you find yourself feeling disconnected from your partner and wondering what happened to that amazing person you first fell in love with, try these tips to bring back the connection and love to your relationship:
1. Appreciations every day: Appreciating your partner is crucial to the relationship; so much so that I begin every couples session with the couple giving appreciations to each other! Unfortunately, after some time has passed in a relationship, many couples don’t verbally give appreciation. In fact, they may tell their partner what they are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right (see below for the next tip). This is totally counterproductive! Appreciations are actually conscious work. Make a point at the end of every day for you and your partner to give each other an appreciation (or two or three if you want!)
2. Tell your partner what you would like instead of telling them what they are doing wrong: Many couples like to tell their partner things like, “don’t do this, or, “I don’t like it when you ___.” Instead of keeping things negative, reframe it to a positive a”nd tell them what you would like them to do. So, instead of: “you never take out the trash,” tell them: “It’s really helpful when you take the trash out, would you mind doing that for me?” People respond much more favorably to positive statements.
3. Appreciate your partner in the moment: Did your partner do something nice or helpful? Make sure they know it! When they are aware of what they are doing that’s helpful to you and they hear it, they will want to do it more.
4. Set up a date night: Feeling disconnected? This is often a good indication that you and your partner need to get out alone and to do something you both enjoy. These are the moments where it’s important to get a babysitter (if you have kids). If money is tight, arrange to do something at home with no distractions, such as take out and Netflix.
5. Pick your battles: Figure out what’s important to you. If there are things you can let go, let it go. If it has a lot of energy and it’s hard to get past, bring it up in a constructive way instead of a critical way that might put your partner on the defense. Usually sitting on it for a while and letting your strong emotions pass before mentioning it is a good way to talk about something that is highly charged and contentious. A constructive way to talk about a topic that could bring about friction is to use “I” versus “you” statements and to avoid placing blame on someone else. For example, “I felt hurt when you were short with me last night.”
It’s OK to fight-all couples fight. It’s about how you “fight.” All couples get annoyed with each other. It’s about how you express the annoyance. There are also times when normal couples feel like they hate each other. Over time, all relationships go through peaks and valleys Remember that keeping positivity in a relationship is a conscious effort but it’s worth it.