Keeping romance and love alive in a relationship is a challenge for most couples. Instead, many couples become locked into a vicious circle of blaming, distancing, and disappointment. Forgotten are the partner’s traits that had been so endearing at the beginning of their relationship. However, all is not lost. With commitment and good will both can learn the skills needed for getting their relationship back on track.
Attachment is considered inborn into the matrix of our mammalian brain to assure the survival of human beings. It’s impossible for us NOT to attach. If we don’t have anybody to attach to, we will get unhappy or even ill. It therefore makes sense that the most stressful event in any person’s life is the loss of a loved one, whether this loss occurs through sickness, separation, divorce, or death. The grief for having the attachment bond broken and for being left behind is enormous. This is often expressed by feelings of depression, anger, frustration, sadness, hurt, despair, guilt, and shame for having failed.
Most people protect themselves heavily against these painful feelings. The way they do protect themselves is by numbing themselves, withdrawing, eating, drinking, working, or exercising excessively. Thus when attachment bonds such as marriage, friendship, or other close relationships get distressed and come under threat, a myriad of conflicting emotions may be experienced.
It is crucial for the partners in such a relationship to address their ‘discomfort’ immediately to ensure that their bond stays secure. If that does not happen, or relationship issues are only partly addressed and not resolved, a ‘savings account of grudge’ is opened, from which both parties take drawings during subsequent conflicts.
Although most people long for love and a partner that gives them a sense of belonging, safety, and purpose, it is surprising how many people confess how much they protect themselves from love. The fear most mentioned is the fear of being rejected, abandoned, ridiculed, hurt, or exploited. Many people are afraid to put themselves into a position of vulnerability and closely protect their hearts. The Fear of love can even be so dominant that people convincingly tell themselves that they don’t need love.
Because we are hard-wired to connect with others, to form social connections, and be part of social networks, longing for and simultaneously being afraid of love is a dilemma commonly faced by people. Thus people need help not only when they are weighed down by grief or adversity, but also when they encounter love. Some relationships go through years of destructive cycles of criticizing, complaining, attacking, violence, defensiveness, and distancing, as well as stonewalling, withholding, and avoidance. Often one partner feels that he/she is right and fosters the fantasy that everything would be resolved “if only the partner would see things my way”.
However, a relationship based on “my way” is a dictatorship and as such, is doomed to fail. Relationships can only work by developing “our way”, and both partners have to work hard on achieving this. Developing “our way” and having a successful relationship has to be based connecting rather than on being right. To find “OUR WAY” requires that both partners agree to some rules and learn some useful communication skills.
1. Step: Agree on Ground Rules
Useful ground rules are: using ‘I’- statements, listen actively, respect each others differences, don’t threaten with withdrawal of any kind, stay on the goal, never be abusive, stay in the present (right now I feel like never wanting to see you again), agree on a time-out signal, do something enjoyable mid-fight, don’t compromise yourself, but do be flexible, accept the present and forget the past, remember that the aim of fighting is to improve closeness!
2. Step: Taking Stock
In order to find out how to restore/improve your relationship you need to be aware of what’s not working well. Equally, if not more important, is the basis of your relationship – that means what’s good about it. What are the pillars that your relationship is resting on and what is the foundation that you could build on?
3. Step: Create a Relationship Vision
To be clear what it is that you want to work towards to, you will need to have a vision, a goal in mind for your relationship. It is not enough to say “My relationship is not good”. It is much more important to state “how you want your relationship to be different”. This will give your efforts direction, and communicates clearly to your partner what it is that you want. For example in a restaurant you would order “spaghetti and salad”. The waiter would not know what to bring if your order was “I don’t want pizza and salad”.
4. Step: Knowing Yourself
We’ll now take a good look at your formative years, and explore the experiences that shaped you to be the person you are. Understanding yourself is probably the most important ingredient to having successful relationships.
5. Step: Understanding Your Partner
Understanding your partner is an important part of effective communication in relationships. Only when you can see your partner for who he or she really is, without projecting any of your past experiences onto him or her, will your relationship be successful.
6. Dealing with Relationship Distress
Every couple over time creates a certain dynamic through which they repeatedly re-create distress. This distress is caused by the dysfunctional patterns of how couples go about resolving stressful issues or how they avoid intimacy.
7. Improving your Communication Skills
The core of good communication skills in relationships is active listening. By using active listening skills you make sure that you really understand what your partner. Often people don’t listen. They either don’t pay attention to what the other is saying, or they think they know what the other person ‘really’ means. It’s also important to be mindful of your body language. Are you open and inviting, or closed and distant? Very effective is also to make “I” statement. It improves intimacy and ensures clean communication.
8. Managing Conflict
No matter how close partners are, there will be a time when conflict enters the relationship. This happens even with the best matched partners. This has to do with the different needs and different levels of awareness each partner has at any given time. A powerful strategy for managing conflict is the ‘connecting dialogue’, a non-violent communication strategy. It involves 1. describing the problem you observe in non-judgemental language, 2. expressing how you feel about it, 3. stating what you need instead, and 4. telling your partner in specific terms what behaviour you would to see instead.
9. Avoid Conflict Amplifiers
There are a number of things to avoid in successful communication. They are: being oppositional, being right, blaming, collecting grievances, day-dreaming, deflecting, fighting dirty, generalizations, giving advice, judging, mind reading, sarcasm, and placating.
10. Finding Your Way Back into Love
To avoid the relationship becoming boring and run down, both partners need to continuously inject new life, new ideas, and new pleasures into the partnership or marriage. It involves having regular slots during each day in which you and your partner commit to doing ‘relationship work’, i.e. show your partner that you appreciate him/her, share something of your daily life, show an interest in your partner, share you wishes, hope, and dreams with your partner. You can keep romance in your relationship by surprising your partner with a romantic date or an exciting outing. Avoid having just routines.