When you first meet someone and you’re getting to know them, and as your relationship starts to develop, it can feel like there is a great flow of conversation, little arguments, everyone is putting their best foot forward and there is passion and romance. It is what we often refer to as the “honeymoon” stage. As a couple grows and life continues on, issues do arise and we don’t always show up as the best version of ourselves and your partner of themselves. How can couples invest in their relationship and show up as the partner they want to be, to fill their “relationship cup”?
–The relationship bank account: First, I think it’s helpful to think of your “relationship bank account”. There are investments and there are withdrawals. The little things you do make a difference and can protect your connection and add to your relationship bank account. Little things could mean emptying the dishwasher when it’s been a while since you did this without your partner asking, giving your spouse a compliment, leaving them a sweet note, offering to pick up the kids from daycare or make dinner so your girlfriend/boyfriend can have a break. It’s also the big things like going on unique dates that keep life interesting, planning a weekend getaway, truly hearing them when they are sharing with you something that they need and taking action to show them that you’ve truly heard them, showing up and being present to your partner when they really need to talk or they’re feeling really sad during a period of loss, showing them who you are and how you will continue to show up for them and stick by them even when it’s hard.
–Learn to self-soothe and respond rather than react: During arguments, when we’re upset or feeling triggered, we may say or do things that we’ll later regret. Strong emotions can lead us to act on our impulses and this is often where someone is needing to take a pause. These comments or actions can hurt and be withdrawals from your relationship bank account. There is a lot of power in taking a moment to pause and to ask yourself “What type of partner do I want to be in this moment?”, “What values do I want to practice during this interaction?” (eg. Patience, respecting your partner’s different view, etc.) or “If I give in to the urge right now to say what I want to say, will this help me to have the kind of relationship I want to have and move me closer in this direction or will it take me further away from the kind of relationship I want to have?”. I have seen couples get a lot of benefit from taking a ten-minute break when they are getting upset with their partner to ground themselves and think of how they want to respond. This is where instead of reacting automatically and falling into the same habits and patterns, we can learn to self-soothe and chose how we want to respond and show up in our relationships.
–Being open and framing your message the right way: Communicating your feelings and your needs to your partner is vital as well, so that you aren’t holding on to resentments. Doing so in a way that doesn’t feel like an attack is key. No one likes to be blamed or have the finger pointed at them, so it is better to speak about yourself in terms of your feelings and what you want and need. Using “I” messages, if you’re not already doing so, can make a difference.
–Looking out for the Four Horsemen and learning about the Four antidotes: Julie and John Gottman have written numerous books for couples in which they talk about the Four Horsemen that they’ve identified in relationships. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. They’ve also written about the Four antidotes for them, which are worth looking into. The Gottman Institute website (https://www.gottman.com/) has more information and articles that describe them.
–Get a better understanding of certain patterns you have in your romantic relationships: Attachment theory has a lot to teach us about how we show up in our relationships. Find out more about what your attachment style is, what type of patterns you see in your relationships and how these might be perceived by your partner. Find out more by reading “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love” by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller.
–Take care of yourself: Practicing self-care will help you to be more present to your boyfriend/girlfriend in the moments that matter and will also help to nourish you in your own life. I think the key for most of us is to slow down. When your life is more balanced and you are creating time for doing and time for rest, and engaging in activities that fulfill you, you can show up as your best self and commit more wholeheartedly to the things and people that matter to you.