I often see couples come into therapy for the first time when they are in crisis. They come to treat the consequences and not prevent them. Maybe someone mentioned the “D” word (divorce), someone cheated, they fell out of love, or are fighting all the time. But just like any kind of care – mental health or physical care – it’s always easier to do preventative care than it is to treat a deep wound.
These are some of the best and most common ways couples damage their relationship:
Not leaving time for self-care. That’s right, if you don’t take care of yourself, it could hurt your relationship in the long run. It may be a cliché, but it’s true – you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.
Getting lost in your routine. Couples often get lost in their daily routines, whether it’s work personal, or taking care of the family. If you don’t intentionally make time for one another, that one-on-one attention and affection will never make it to the top of your “to-do” list.
Only focusing on your kids. If you’re a parent and don’t make time for your partner, your relationship with each other will weaken over time. I know it’s a lot of pressure being a parent, especially if you’re a new parent, but even more pressure is put on the relationship with your partner if you don’t make time for one another.
Using an excuse for not having enough time. Using your kids or work as an excuse to not spend time with each other can ruin the relationship. No matter what is going on in your life, you have to remember that you and your partner have a shared life and need to dedicate time to each other.
Lack of connection. When you aren’t connected – verbally and emotionally – with one another, it can lead to a lack of respect and even anger. You might notice that you’re shouting at each other more, or being less kind to one another.
Not asking for help when you need it. If you’re having a difficult time, unrelated to the relationship, it’s still important to talk about it with your partner and ask for help. Whether you’re having trouble at work, wondering if you’re a good enough mom, or something else, let your partner know how you’re feeling. If you don’t, they might assume the problem is about them or your relationship.
Not offering help when they need it. If you notice that your partner is unhappy or stressed, don’t assume it’s about you or the relationship. Or don’t think that if you don’t mention it, it will go away on its own. If you don’t offer help, your partner might feel bad that you’re not supporting them in their time of need, even if they haven’t asked for help. The bottom line is open communication.
Always being on your phones. When you do spend time together, are you always on your phones? Put your phones away and talk to each other. Being next to each other on your phones means you aren’t paying attention to each other.
Being passive aggressive. Everyone has heard this before and no one wants to be passive aggressive, but over time it can just happen. You don’t want to hurt your partner, so instead of being direct with one another, you tip-toe around issues. You both have a right to have opinions and speak your minds. Being passive aggressive is not being open and communicative.
Not setting boundaries. If you don’t like something, an activity or something your partner is doing, speak up. Bottling up your feelings will turn into feeling resentment. It’s ok for you and your partner to have different interests, for you to voice your opinions, and to set aside time for yourself.
Not going to therapy when you need it. If couples counseling is important to you, tell your partner that you want them to come with you to therapy. But what if your partner doesn’t want to go to therapy? It’s OK to twist their arm. When something matters to you that much, especially when it’s about investing in and nurturing your relationship with each other, it’s your partner’s job to support you. If something is important to you, it should be important to them. Perhaps they don’t believe in therapy, but they need to believe in the relationship.
Simple Ways to Nurture Your Relationship
Every relationship takes work. That’s especially true if you want the relationship to last. Both parties have to invest in the relationship, and if one person isn’t willing to put in the work, it can ruin the relationship.
Be present. That’s the first step in forming a healthy relationship. Make time for each other, and don’t just shut your brains off by being on your phones or watching a movie in silence and not talk about it. Pay attention to each other, listen to each other, look at one another, and talk to each other.
Schedule time with one another. Many couples forget to carve out time in their busy schedules to spend time together. You don’t have to go to an expensive restaurant or on an expensive vacation. Small (and cheap) gestures can go a long way. Have a regular lunch once a month, go for a walk each evening, have coffee once a week. Anything to touch base, connect, and be there with each other.
Offer help when your partner needs it. The simple act of offering help can make your partner feel loved. It opens the door for communication and provides an opportunity for you to connect with each other. If you notice your partner is stressed out or unhappy, don’t be afraid to ask what’s going on. Say, “I’m here for you if you need it.”
Do chores together. Don’t always divide and conquer chores, even if it saves time. Do chores together as a family. It unifies you and counts as spending time together.
Give your partner time off for self-care. Time to yourself is important, but don’t forget about your partner’s self-care regimen. If they have time to nurture themselves, they’ll be more able to care for you and your relationship.
Set a goal together. Is there something you both have always wanted to do? Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to go? You can set big goals, like a dream vacation, or small ones, like going to the movies once a month. Then create a plan together and carry it out together.
Share an interest. Try new activities and hobbies together. If you find something new that you both enjoy, it will provide a way for you to connect while you are both having fun.
Honor what the other person likes. We change as we age. Pay attention to what your partner is interested in and ask about it. Doing that honors the connection between you and shows you care.
Talk about adult things. If you are parents, don’t always just talk about the kids. Discuss the news, current events, interests of yours, movies, work, art, etc. When you only talk to your partner about your kids, it doesn’t nurture your relationship. We all know that kids kill sex life, but it doesn’t have to! Romantic and physical intimacy will follow after your nurture your emotional connection.
Go to therapy by yourself. If your partner is adamant about not going to therapy, you can always see a therapist by yourself. Therapy is about getting the support you need, empowering you to care for yourself, and guiding you on a journey to reach goals you’ve set out for yourself.
Couples counseling isn’t just for couples in crisis. It’s a way for anyone to strengthen and nurture the relationship. And it’s not just for married couples – the same rules apply to all relationships, whether it’s with a friend, family member, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Open and honest communication is key to any healthy relationship, and therapy can help you strengthen your skills and deepen your bond with one another.