From not enough money to too much stress, there are many common triggers for relationship issues. But can your union be saved?
According to the top relationship experts, there are certain things you need to understand about yourself and your partner:
1. Understand relationship phases.
Relationships have three general phases: romantic, conflict and commitment. Unless they’re sending you a serious red flag, it’s hard to figure out if someone’s a keeper in the romantic phase.
“This is the stage where it’s all fun,” says Richo, a psychotherapist (DaveRicho.com) and author of How to Be an Adult in Relationships (Shambhala). “Neither person will show their dark side very much, so you don’t have a picture of the whole person.”
So when do you really know whether he’s that special someone? When the masks come off, says Richo. Which is why fighting from the very start about money, work and how many times you have sex a week can threaten even the most promising unions.
What’s key is how you handle these relationship stages and working through relationship issues appropriately.
2. Admit your emotional dependence.
Making an emotional connection is what people hunger for the most, says Sue Johnson, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa and author of Hold Me Tight (Little Brown and Company).
Recognizing and admitting that you’re emotionally dependent on your partner can transform key moments in your relationship and bring you closer than ever.
“All the evidence shows that when you feel safe, connected and sure, you’re better at taking care of your partner, at talking about everything from kids to sex,” Johnson says. As a result, you’ll have a more satisfying sex life.
People often feel ashamed about needing emotional ties. “Not just men either,” she says. “Women say this means I’m weak or immature. I shouldn’t need this comfort from him.”
3. Show your love the right way.
Attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection – as well as respect for each other’s deepest needs and wishes – is the foundation of a good relationship, Richo says. To improve your relationship, help your partner know what he means to you by expressing these 4 A’s.
“Love isn’t based on the amount of adrenaline we feel coursing through our bodies, but rather whether we’re present in those five ways,” he says. “I know I love someone when I show those four A’s and I know they love me when they show them in return.”
Unfortunately, we often mistake that first rush of hormones for true love.
“The pitter-patter excitement of a heart skipping a beat is all OK in the romantic phase,” Richo explains, “but that can’t be your ultimate test of whether love is real.”
4. Embrace “Me, me, me!”
Sound selfish? Not at all, says Alison Armstrong, founder of the Understanding Men series of workshops (UnderstandMen.com) and author of Making Sense of Men (Pax Programs).
“Before you commit to someone else, get clear about what is most important in your life and spend your time, money and energy on that.”
In fact, most people are attracted to those who feel comfortable in their own skin, she says.
5. Fight, yes, but don’t be cruel.
Happy, functional couples fight – it’s part of the deal (and make-up sex is the happy ending). But when unhappy couples brawl, it can be like War of the Roses. And nothing brings a troubled relationship down faster.
“A lot of couples’ therapy is helping people fight in a nicer way,” Johnson says.
Happy couples who feel secure with one another probably won’t get as mean as those who aren’t feeling love from their partner.
“They can find a way to reach for each other” and make “safe, emotional connections,” Johnson says.
Her No. 1 fighting rule: Don’t turn your partner into the enemy. “Try to listen to your own needs and fears that are coming up in these fights,” she says. It’ll help you feel secure with each other, even in the midst of battle.
Another difference: Even in the midst of a fight, healthy couples feel safe, they can “call” for their partner and their partner will come, Johnson says.
6. Examine your definition of trust.
Traditionally, a relationship based on trust meant, “I trust you to be faithful and keep your agreements,” Richo says.
But in modern times, your definition of trust needs to also create room for the inevitabilities of life and love, and how you handle them, he says, such as:
“I trust myself to appreciate that you will keep your agreements and work things out with me.”
“I trust myself to receive that with appreciation, and I also trust myself to handle the times when you don’t come through, when you don’t keep agreements.”
“And in those times, I trust myself to try to work it out and not to retaliate.”
People aren’t perfect, and they’re not always as loving and loyal as they intend to be or you want them to be.
Even though “you’re totally open to your partner’s trustworthiness, the trust is in myself,” Richo says. “If and when something happens to contradict that, I’m not going to fall apart.”
7. Get to the real heart of the problem.
You know those arguments where your partner complains about the dirty dishes in the sink and you end up defending yourself or shutting down?
The real problem is deeper, Johnson says.
“This isn’t about whether to build a new cottage,” Johnson says. “This is about the fact that I’m scared if we build a new cottage, you’ll spend a lot of time up there and withdraw from me and I’ll feel lonely.”
Getting to the truth of feelings driving the fight – and sharing those truths – is key to a happy love life.
Likewise, recognizing the wounds that make you react impulsively is the first step in healing them, Johnson says. Those raw spot forms when your attachment needs aren’t met and you feel emotionally deserted.