If you and your beloved are knee-deep in petty domestic disputes, and tensions at home are so thick that you can’t even stomach the sound of your significant other eating dinner (do you have to eat your peas like that?), then it’s probably time to roll up your sleeves and dig into a little relationship improvement.
Here are six tips for patching up the cracks in your love life:
1. Start with a coat of “conflict is normal”
Think fights about money, sex and the division of labour are unique to you and your partner? Think again. They’re the three major reasons people seek marriage therapy, says London, Ontario-based marriage and sex therapist Guy Grenier.
Realize that these issues aren’t peculiar or particular to your alliance or its health, says Grenier, and then you can begin to tackle solving them with smarter communication techniques.
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2. Layer on your feelings
Good news gals, next time you’re telling your hubby how you feel when he forgets to call about being late and then he admonishes you to stick to the facts and eschew the emotion, let him know that Dr. Grenier — expert in marital concord — says that’s just hooey.
“When it comes to relationships, you don’t focus on facts, you focus on feelings,” he explains, causing approximately four billion women to break into simultaneous applause across the globe. “Your relationship is supposed to be about feelings. You’re not with the other person because of the facts about them. You’re with the other person because of the feelings you have for them, and hopefully the feelings they have for you.”
3. Put “I” language in your tool belt
You may have been given the green light to get emotional but you must do it wisely. That means no accusatory “you” language: ‘You never do this…You always do that…’ Instead, stick to “I” language.
“When you stick to I language — I think, I feel, I believe — you’re Teflon, you’re bullet-proof. You are the world’s leading authority on you,” explains Dr. Grenier. More importantly, when you choose “I” over “you” your partner is less likely to feel attacked by what you’re saying and therefore is more likely to listen to how you feel.
4. Fluff the pillows in the boudoir, metaphorically speaking.
Boring sex life? Tell us about it. No, seriously. You really need to talk about it. One of the biggest issues surrounding sexual dissatisfaction in long-term relationships is the inability to speak honestly about what’s going right and what’s going wrong in the bedroom, says Grenier.
Make “eroticizing your relationship” a priority, he advises, which is a lot more fun than it sounds. Start by asking your partner what’s working in the boudoir and what’s not and then make creative suggestions along the lines of ‘We’ve never tried…’
5. Talk to your partner every day
The best relationship maintenance is conversation, so talk to your partner for at least 20 minutes every day, in casual, shooting-the-bull sessions Dr. Grenier calls “wine/whine time.”
Whether it’s a jovial chat about work while sipping a glass of wine, or a tea and cookies hand-holding session while your partner whines about how much he loathes the commute, make sure that these chats centre on the small-scale, innocuous details of life.
“The more meaningless the information we share during whine/wine time, the more it cements people together,” says Grenier, who says this daily interaction acts as “relationship glue.”
Save the big talks for quarterly tune-ups, says Dr. Grenier. “Every three months or so sit down and have a ‘how are we doing?’ conversation in which you discuss your feelings on the state of marital concord, sex, money, future plans.
6. Lay the path to agreement
Occasionally couples face big decisions. Should we move? Should we renovate the bathroom? Should I quit my job and go back to school? When partners disagree on the answers to these questions conflict can emerge.
Dr. Grenier says there are four “paths to agreement” when dealing with a contentious issue. You can persuade your partner to change his or her mind. You can compromise, you can take turns (‘this time you can quit your job, next time I get to quit mine’), and if none of those seem to resonate, there’s always number four: end the relationship.
“[Number four] often serves as a reminder to go back to the other three,” jokes Grenier. It also makes taking turns look like a pretty great alternative.
-Article originally published May 2012.