Relationships will have their ups and downs, their highs and lows, their peaks and valleys — roll your eyes if you like, but the cliché metaphors all hold true when you bring two people together under one roof or sit them on the same sectional and ask ‘what do you want to watch on TV?’
If you’re currently going through a down cycle, and the very sight of your partner in the morning (cowlick!) — not to mention the sound of him eating his toast (lip-smacking!) — is driving you around the bend, console yourself with the knowledge that this too shall pass.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have to step on the gas to speed the process, however.
Here are five tips on how to travel over a rough patch on the long and winding road that is your blessed union.
1. Pay attention to signs
You’re sharper, angrier, more impatient, snappier and more withdrawn with your partner — these are all signs that you’ve hit a low point in your relationship, says Dr. Marion Goertz, a registered marriage and family therapist based in Toronto.
Other signs include indulging in what Goertz calls “soothing behaviours” such as shopping, gambling, flirting, joining online chat rooms or use of porn, drinking, staying out late, working longer hours and the like.
In short, if you’re thinking, “I’m taking care of me, you’re on your own,” says Goertz, you’ve lost sight of the fact that you’re in a relationship and you’re putting “me” above “we”.
Cut that kind of thinking off, says Goertz, and stop the associated behaviours that fuel it.
“If you always have to be right…expect to eventually be alone,” she says. “Keep your own ego in check. Speak the word, ‘we’ more often than the word, ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘mine’” and make “It’s you and me babe and we’re in this together” your mantra, she advises.
2. Connect, accept, love
Connection, acceptance, love — that’s what we desire from our partners, says Goertz. During a rough patch, one or all of these things may feel in doubt and the effect can be corrosive to intimacy because we then withdraw from our partner, or are partner withdraws from us.
Make ‘connection, acceptance and love’ the foundation of your interactions with your partner by being “reliable, honest, kind and available,” says Goertz.
These kinds of attitudes “will go a long way to generating the necessary trust that a solid relationship requires. The opposite of these behaviours will decay the foundations and cause a reactionary cycle to spin out of control.”
An example of everyday kindness and availability: offer to give your stressed-out partner a back rub.
3. Perform regular relationship maintenance
“We often invest more time, effort and energy in maintaining our cars and our homes than we do our relationships,” says Goertz.
Apply the same conscientiousness you extend to your car and home to the health of your union by checking the “emotional dip stick from time to time.” (And no, ‘emotional dipstick’ is not an appropriate term for your partner, snarky.)
Ask your partner how they’re doing, if they need anything, or surprise them and do something for them without being asked.
Why bother to be so wonderful? To make dinner or wash the duvet and make the bed for your beloved after a hard day at work, or taking care of the kids? Because the payoff is real: “Your partner will feel valued and cared about,” says Goertz.
4. Take a look in the mirror
Of course your partner can be a thoughtless rube, but rather than focus on their shortcomings ask yourself how you may feed a cycle of hurt feelings and emotional reactions. The point of the exercise in self-reflection is to not lose sight of your responsibility for internal conflict, which as Goertz points out, represents an even split in a relationship.
“You can likely take at least 50 percent of the credit for what’s run amuck!” she offers.
If you’ve done something insensitive or said something cruel, don’t minimize — apologize. “Remember this is the person you love and who loves you,” she adds.
And think about the kind of person you want to be — not the kind of person your partner should be.
“Take responsibility for yourself and always give better than you get. Be the man/woman that you want to feel proud of in the mirror,” says Goertz.
5. Trust the power of “we” and don’t give up
Individually we’re flawed, but together we may just make up one not-so-bad human being, so see the journey through together — even when you hit a bump in the road.
“Such times build confidence in our capacity to manage life’s challenges and we begin to trust the power of ‘we’,” says Goertz.
And when we choose to stick it out rather than bail out, we grow together.
“I tell couples who are discouraged about the wear and tear on them that their reactionary cycle brings, that their part of the cycle, (their tendency to get triggered and react in destructive ways) is what they brought into the relationship and what they will take on to the next relationship…so they might as well get a handle on it now.”