7 Keys To Revolutionise Your Relationship

If you’re having trouble in your relationship, you’re not alone. The battle for marriage is on: half of American marriages, 40 percent of Australian unions and a third of Canadian and New Zealand nuptials end in divorce.

Australia has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Each year, around 50,000 people get divorced – and just under half of those divorces involve children. Marriage breakdown costs the nation up to $6 billion each year.

Marital breakdown is not confined to western countries. In Japan, the divorce rate has risen by 26.5 per cent in 10 years. In China, the number of divorces has been steadily rising since 1980 when the figure was just 341,000; in 2007 that figure was about 1.4 million.

All over the world, the figures tell a bleak tale – modern relationships just aren’t working.

Why?

What was good enough for our parents doesn’t seem to be good enough for us.  We are no longer willing to make the enormous personal sacrifices that our parents and grandparents made. We demand (and deserve) lasting happiness, intimacy and passion with a single partner and if we don’t get it we are prepared to sacrifice the relationship – personal fulfilment is now more important than the family unit.

What’s the solution?

It’s not divorce, separation or self-sacrifice. The answer lies in learning to create relationships that support our personal fulfilment. There is nothing wrong with wanting more than our parents did. The truth is, times have changed, and our values have changed with them. The new problems we are facing are not symptoms of failure, but the result of the evolution of our society.

Our changing values have served us well, but they do pose some new problems. When both partners are unhappy, the relationship they have cannot be fulfilling. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on…

Today’s ‘superwomen’ are overworked, overstressed and often feel unsupported and overwhelmed – and with good reason. More is now expected of women than at any other time in history. At least five days a week, they put on a uniform and march into an 8-12 hour battle. When they come home, they need to clean the house, make dinner, do laundry, help with homework, love and nurture the kids and then be romantically receptive to their mates. It’s just too much to ask of most women, and it’s making many of them feel split inside.

Men are also experiencing difficulty adjusting to our new values. Modern men often feel underpaid, defeated and unappreciated. Like women, they are experiencing the toll that a two-career relationship takes. Years ago, when a man returned to a stay-at-home wife, she had taken care of the day’s domestic duties; the house was warm, dinner was ready and the children were calm. Men used to return from work to a safe-haven of security and order. Now, abruptly, the home as a male comfort base is under siege. Many men work just as hard, if not harder, than their forefathers but still can’t manage to be their family’s sole support. Deprived of the strong sense of self that being a sole provider would bring them, on a deep emotional level many men feel defeated when their partners seem unhappy and unfulfilled.

The issues men and women are struggling with as individuals frequently destroy relationships. The statistics say it all: one in five marriages end in divorce within five years, and more than one in three end within 20 years. More often than not, divorce (or break up) is the result of one or both partners panicking. When we do not have the skills, the support, or sometimes the maturity to push through a layer of difficulty (which could lead to considerable growth) we abandon ship.

This decision is often encouraged by the belief that ‘if I could just find the right partner everything would be wonderful’. While this concept is certainly good to pursue as an ideal, it’s often flawed because it’s the same us that we take wherever we go.

The ‘panic and abandon’ mentality often does more damage than sticking it out. If we are in a difficult relationship, it can seem like the ‘cut and run’ approach will save us pain, but this is often not the case. Consider this…

What the divorce statistics don’t tell us is that it usually takes two to three years for a couple whose relationship has broken up to begin to put their lives back together again. It sometimes takes five years for individuals and families to get over the emotional pain and trauma. Many people can have serious health and/or emotional problems during this time.

Many men, women and children sink into poverty after a separation and are forced to rely on welfare benefits to survive. Their standards of living drop dramatically. Many people wish they hadn’t split up. A study conducted by Relationships Australia in 2001 found that 37 per cent of people regret their divorce five years later; while up to 40 per cent of divorced people believe their separation could have been avoided.

So, how do you know if your relationship is on an avoidable collision course?

There are some common early warning signs that we can all look for. If you identify any of the signs below in your relationship, it’s time to put some serious effort into nurturing your partner and your union. The early warning signs of a troubled relationship are:

 

Your Fire Is No Longer Burning

While a natural waxing and waning of passion occurs in every relationship, if sexual intimacy with your partner is as rare as a blue moon, your relationship might be in trouble. Psychologist and relationship specialist Dr Phil McGraw argues that when a couple has a good sexual relationship, it registers about ten per cent on the ‘importance scale’, “But if you do not have a good sexual relationship, that registers about ninety per cent on the ‘importance scale’”, says Dr McGraw.

Stress, fatigue, parenting and other pressures can creep between the sheets, but when you find yourself shut down to your partner’s advances, or they are shut down to you, it’s time to pay attention.

 

Bickering & Nitpicking Are The Norm

Have you noticed that either you or your partner seem overly critical of the other, focusing on one another’s flaws or faults or perceiving faults where there really aren’t any?

Are you constantly quarrelling about inane issues? Are there times when you can’t even remember what you’re fighting about? Little quarrels can lead to big problems. When bickering replaces conversation, nothing gets addressed or resolved. Instead, tension builds and a power struggle ensues. Anger, blame and resentment can become your bedfellows.

 

You’re Two Ships Passing In The Night

Do you rarely make eye contact or laugh together? Is dinner for eating and dancing for someone else to do? Do you end up in separate rooms each evening, or does one of you end up falling asleep on the couch?

A sense of space and freedom is essential to a relationship. Yet, too much separation and not enough shared activities can create a void. If you spend less and less time together, or the physical contact between you has diminished, you could be avoiding each other for a reason.

 

Avoidance Is An Everyday Affair

Do you seem to avoid deep and meaningful conversations? Are either or both of you absorbed in TV, books or other distractions? Is the table quiet during meals, and the mornings spent with noses stuck in newspapers?

Does one or both of you seem to be distant, distracted, or miles away in your thoughts? Are you daydreaming more than usual?

Like it or not, straight talk is healthy. Without it, you will lose your boundaries and values. Avoiding difficult conversations simply delays the inevitable. Real differences in a partnership don’t have to cause problems, especially when they are explored with respect. When you remain silent and stoic, repressed feelings become part of a toxic cocktail that kills relationships.

 

There’s No Tomorrow

Is today the only day in your relationship? Are you or your partner unable to commit to a long-term future? People in happy relationships often dream and scheme about their joint futures together. It is natural to dream of what might be. If you (or your partner) are unable to think beyond next year or even next week, you could have a problem.

 

Secrets & Lies

People who have nothing to hide – hide nothing. Is your partner suddenly secretive and suspicious? Are there whispered conversations on the phone? Is your partner evasive about where he or she is going? Does he or she give vague, indefinable answers? Or perhaps you are being secretive. Lying doesn’t necessarily indicate infidelity, but it does signal a problem with communication and connection between two people.

 

Dependency

Do you feel clingy or claustrophobic in your relationship? Does it feel like you’re involved in a power struggle? When you’re too dependent, or if your partner is, the fundamental basis for the relationship is out of balance. If there’s too much dependency, a natural resentment starts to build. One person is likely to feel burdened, the other frightened by their neediness. It’s a ‘no win’ situation. Equality is tossed out the window. The partner in power often feels unappreciated and undervalued. The needy one frequently feels disappointment. Resentment grows and both partners feel judged.

 

Mad, Miserable Or Morose – Mood Swings Rule The Roost

Are either or both of you down and depressed? Are you edgy or angry? If your relationship has been hijacked by the emotions of one of you, it can signal a serious problem. Your partner may seem more sensitive, argumentative or hyper-vigilant. Or perhaps the little things – things you once loved about your partner – are sources of great irritation?

 

Your Intuition Rings Alarm Bells

Do you just have an inexplicable feeling that there is something wrong with your partner, or your relationship? Do you sense or have a gut-feeling that something is amiss? Perhaps it’s just a feeling that despite the physical proximity, it seems the connection between you is no longer there.

Have you ever thought: “I never know what my partner is thinking any more”? Despite the inner certainty that things are wrong, it is often difficult to explicitly describe the problem. Pointing to things like, “she forgot our anniversary” or “he never brings me flowers anymore” may appear petty, but they are often indications of an underlying attitude.

 

You Feel Unloved

Are you feeling insecure, alone or neglected? Do you feel unloved, unattractive or incompetent? The biggest sign of a deteriorating relationship is noticing that you have become insecure. Your intimate relationship should be a source of strength, not insecurity. If you’re feeling belittled by your partner, it’s time to reassess.

Relationships are enormously complex and there are no easy, quick-fix solutions. Sometimes you may feel that it is too late, but time and time again, as coaches, we see relationships which appear to be doomed to the scrap-heap be resurrected and restored to life. It all begins with an honest and open conversation. Without talking, nothing can be resolved.

The seeds of why relationships fail should be apparent to both parties in the very earliest stages of difficulties. The seemingly insurmountable problems spouses experience in the last months of a failing relationship are just grown-up versions of the little problems they ignored at the beginning of their union.

So what do we do?

The first step towards a lasting, rewarding relationship is accepting that conflict is inevitable. Marriage (or living together) involves two people being with one another in a relationship for up to seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, year in, year out. This creates a great deal of physical closeness as we eat, drink, sleep and relax in the same house. To make things more complicated, we care for each other and often have high expectations of how we want to be treated by one another. Being human, we occasionally let each other down.

We all experience problems in one way or another – it’s part of sharing our lives with another human being. The difference between relationships that work and those that don’t is how well we deal with the challenges we face together.

Many of us get emotional when we see that our partner has different values, beliefs or expectations to us. We all need to accept that there will be differences in ideas and expectations between any two individuals in relationship, and, at times, conflict and strong emotions will be the result.

In fact, conflict is an essential element in any healthy relationship. In the context of a healthy, happy relationship, fighting is merely the expulsion of emotion and information about a difference of opinion. Thus, instead of asking, “how can we avoid conflict?” we should ask, “how can we care for each other and our relationship while we are having an argument?” and “how can we learn from our conflict?” Relationships become stronger when we talk about our conflicts. During discussion, we often discover that our differences are okay and that we can find solutions when we talk openly with one another.

Here are some common mistakes many of us make. If we do our best to avoid these, our relationships are far less likely to be damaged by a fight.

 

Avoiding Conflict Altogether

Rather than starting a discussion about building frustrations in a calm, respectful manner, we don’t say anything to our partner until we are ready to explode, and then blurt it out in an angry, hurtful manner. While this may seem to be the less stressful route – avoiding an argument altogether – it usually causes more stress for both parties. Tensions rise, resentment festers and a much bigger argument eventually occurs.

Refusing to discuss an issue with our partner is sometimes called stonewalling. If we are feeling insecure, we sometimes deny our partner the conversation they need. This is disrespectful, and again, only results in a bigger argument later. Stonewalling creates hard feelings and damages relationships.

It’s much healthier to address our concerns with our partners when they arise, and to allow our partners to do the same – even if we aren’t ready to hear what they have to say.

 

Being Defensive

Acting defensively often causes arguments to escalate quickly. When we are angry, it’s often a reflex action to defend ourselves. Rather than addressing complaints objectively and being open to our partner’s point of view, we steadfastly deny any wrongdoing and reject the possibility that we are contributing to a problem. This creates long-term problems when our partners feel we don’t listen to and understand them.

Overgeneralising

When something we don’t like happens, some of us tend to blow it out of proportion by making vast generalisations. Avoid starting sentences with, “You always…” and “You never…” For example, “You always come home late!” or “You never do what I want to do!” Stop talking, take a deep breath and think about whether this is really true. It’s also important to avoid bringing up old conflicts – this only creates more bitterness and negativity.

 

Trying To Be Right

We often decide that our point of view is the correct one, and therefore all others must be wrong. This can be very damaging to a relationship – avoid making your partner wrong.  Always search for compromise, and if you can’t find one, agree to disagree. Demanding that our partner sees a situation our way will only alienate them. Do not take it as a personalised attack if your partner has a different opinion, and remember that there is not always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to look at things – both points of view can be valid.

 

“Psychoanalysing”

Despite our best efforts, we often misunderstand our partner’s good intentions. Instead of asking about their thoughts or feelings, we decide we know what our partner is thinking or feeling based on flawed interpretations of their actions – and we often assume the worst! For example, deciding a late partner does not care about us enough to be on time, when they might have left work early to be with us only to be caught in bad traffic. Our negative assumption is likely to make our partner (who was trying to be thoughtful) angry and wonder why they bothered. Do not make any assumptions about how your partner feels – just ask!

 

Forgetting To Listen

It’s easy to forget to listen when we get angry. We often interrupt, roll our eyes and rehearse what we’re going to say next instead of truly listening and attempting to understand our partner. This prevents us seeing their point of view, and keeps our partner from wanting to see ours. We cannot overstate the importance of really listening and empathising with our partners. For more tips on how to do this, check out our post on communicating effectively.

(RELATED: 2 Simple Skills to Supercharge Your Communication)

 

Playing The Blame Game

When we are in a difficult situation, we can often be found blaming it on someone else. We subconsciously decide that admitting any weakness or responsibility will diminish our credibility and avoid doing so no matter the cost. This often results in ‘shaming’ our partner for being at fault. Obviously, this is unhealthy. Instead, try to view conflict as an opportunity to practice listening, empathising, accepting responsibility for your actions and compromising.

 

Trying To ‘Win’ The Argument

This is similar to trying to be right. Dr. Phil McGraw says that if people are focused on ‘winning’ the argument, the relationship loses. The point of any discussion in a relationship should be mutual understanding and finding a solution that suits everyone’s needs. If we are busy making a case for how wrong our partner is, brushing their feelings aside and remaining stuck in our own point of view, it’s time to take a deep breath and adjust our attitude.

 

Making Character Attacks

Some people make the mistake of taking any negative action from a partner and turning it into a personality flaw. For example, if a man leaves his socks lying around, it can be blown up into calling him lazy and inconsiderate, or if a woman wants to discuss a problem within a relationship, she might be labelled needy, controlling or demanding. This creates negative perceptions for both people in the relationship. Remember to respect your partner, even when you don’t like their behaviour. Instead, consider using the phrase, “I love you, but I hate how you are acting at the moment.” This distinction is very important.

The most effective strategies for caring for each other and our relationship during conflict are learning to listen, empathising and learning to compromise. Regular practice of these techniques unfailingly results in an open, honest relationship.

The definition of a ‘good relationship’ varies from one person to another, but most people would probably agree that respect, companionship, mutual emotional support, intimacy, sexual expression, economic security and, often, childrearing, are all important parts of an adult relationship.

However, we don’t all want the same things out of life. It is important that we discuss with our partner what a ‘good relationship’ means to us. Ask yourself the following questions, and then talk to your partner about the answers.

  • How well do you think your partner understands you – how you think, how you feel, what’s important to you? Do you tell him/her?
  • How well can the two of you discuss a difficult issue? How often do you argue? If you have many arguments that you don’t resolve, there may be communication problems. Lots of arguments over trivial issues may be a sign of a power struggle. If you never have any arguments, is it because you are avoiding important issues out of a fear of conflict?
  • What interests do you have in common? What do you do together for fun and relaxation? How often do you do something enjoyable as a couple?
  • Do you have independent interests? Do you allow each other alone time or time with old friends?
  • How do you feel about your sexual relationship? Does sex usually leave you both feeling physically and emotionally satisfied? Are you having any sexual problems?
  • What is your vision for your relationship? Do you think about the future or focus on the day-to-day grind? Is your relationship vision the same as your partner’s?

All good relationships are based on people respecting each other and being able to communicate clearly. A successful adult relationship means both people have equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities. Once you have answered the questions above, you will be able to identify areas in which you could improve your relationship. Discuss possible problems and solutions with your partner and set about working towards a better relationship together.

One of the best ways to improve your relationship is to take ownership of it. While this may sound like an odd concept, it’s actually a very powerful one.

If you were to write down a list of your most important possessions, rated in order from most important to least important, what would you include? Perhaps houses, cars, furniture or shares? A prized stamp collection or first edition book? A vintage car?

Most of us overlook one of the most valuable commodities in our lives: our spousal relationships.

How can a relationship be a possession?

Dr Phil McGraw suggests: “You initially saw something that you wanted, took steps to obtain it, and then made a decision to keep it in your life. Sounds like a possession to me.”

While there’s no point in time where we put a down-payment on our relationship and we never fully purchase it, we need to recognise that we ‘own’ our relationship. It may be easier to see a relationship as ‘something that just happened’, but this takes away your power to direct and shape your relationship into the type of union you want it to be.

If we don’t own our relationships, we can’t accept responsibility when things go wrong. If we decide that we do own it (or at least half of it), we are responsible for writing our own ‘user’s manual’ and looking after our product the way we would any other valuable purchase.

Accepting ownership for our contribution to problems allows us to release our blame and begin practicing new skills, which transform our relationships. As success coaches, time and again we have witnessed couples destined for divorce miraculously fall in love again. Through discovering and recognising their mistakes, they do not feel so powerless and hopeless. Their hearts open up again and they are able to see the person they fell in love with once more.

Falling in love is often easy, but remaining in love with your partner through all the trials and tribulations of life can sometimes be tricky. It’s important to consistently invest time in nurturing both your partner and your relationship.

 

Here are some more things you can do to improve your relationship…

Say I Love You With Feeling

When you tell your partner you love them, don’t say it off-hand as you rush out the door. Take a minute, look into their eyes and be sincere. The statement ‘I love you’ needs to be treasured – some people don’t say it enough, and for others it can become something to say when they need to fill the silence. When you say ‘I love you’, mean it.

 

Surprise Your Partner With Little Gestures 

Leave a love note in their lunch, bring home their favourite flowers, organise babysitters and take them out for a night, or babysit so they can have a night out with their friends.

 

Have A ‘Date Night’

This is time set aside for just the two of you. Work out how often you can manage this and do whatever you have to do so that you can be completely alone. Get dressed up for one another and do something romantic or fun. Note: this does not have to be expensive; it can be as simple as a cup of coffee or a picnic on your lounge room floor.

Set Aside Time Each Day To Catch Up

It’s easy to get lost in the busy world we live in and forget to really talk. Allow yourself and your partner 10-15 minutes a day to be together, breathe and talk. This can be while you make dinner, after you put the kids to bed, or when you get home. If you have children (especially young ones) you will need to make it clear to them that this is mum and dad’s time, and they need to be somewhere else for a short while. Do not tolerate interruptions during this time.

 

Speak Up

If you want or need something from your partner, don’t expect them to read your mind – it’s unreasonable and you will only end up frustrated and disappointed. Ask for what you want – be direct and honest. If you feel like you need some extra nurturing today, simply tell your partner. If you have had a hard day and you need a compliment, just ask your partner to tell you some of the things they like about you.

 

Allow Yourself Some Personal Time Each Day

If you don’t take care of yourself, then you cannot care for your partner. Take at least 10 minutes each day to be alone, breathe and centre yourself. Once you have taken care of you, you will be able to take care of others with much more love and sincerity.

 

Above all – Have Fun Together

Bring out your inner child. Shakespeare said, “A light heart lives long”, and the same goes for relationships. Joke around, make each other laugh and engage in activities that you both enjoy. Do crazy things and laugh about it. Have fun regularly – not just once in a while. Being silly takes your focus off the daily pressures of life and forces you to lighten up and enjoy yourself. Increasing the fun-factor in your relationship will keep it alive and exciting.

Ultimately, we must realise that a great relationship requires us to invest considerable time and effort. While we can enjoy relaxed time spent together, we must remember that maintaining a rewarding union takes work. The more time we spend working on our relationship, the better it will be.

We often hear people talk about falling in or out of love, but we don’t often hear of them ‘growing in love’. When we work through our difficulties as a couple, we create for ourselves infinite opportunities to grow in love.