New Year Tips to Help Improve Your Relationship

couples and relationships

For many couples, the post-Christmas lull can expose underlying tensions and difficulties in their relationship. With awareness, commitment and some practical skills, this can become an opportunity to improve communication and resolve interpersonal conflicts.

Enhancing Communication

The single most useful skill to bring to a relationship is that of active listening. This means listening with full attention without having any agenda. The goal is purely to hear, understand and empathise. Questions are used only to gain a greater sense of the other person’s experience, not to fix, criticise or score points. Active listening is a skill that takes practice. It means putting one’s own concerns and wishes to one side, even for 10 minutes, to give the other person undivided attention. For couples, making time to be together, taking turns to share, confide in each other and listen, can deepen and strenghten their relationship.

Destructive Behaviours

When arguments occur, certain behaviours have been shown to be destructive to the relationship. Stonewalling means shutting down, withdrawing and refusing to engage. While it can be useful to take time out if a discussion is getting too heated, stonewalling leaves the other person feeling rejected and unheard. Criticism refers to commenting negatively on the other’s behaviour, over and above the current problem, e.g. “you are so selfish”, “you never listen”. This makes the person feel personally attacked and threatened. Contempt is using sneering or sarcastic language e.g. “Of course, your family are perfect”, which humiliates and belittles. Defensiveness occurs when we feel we have to justify our actions, e.g. “You haven’t got a clue just how much I have to remember every day.” The other person feels alienated and becomes defensive in response.

Defusing Arguments

Couples that argue a lot tend to fall into repetitive, circular and aimless patterns of fighting. Becoming aware of how this happens allows a more constructive approach to be adopted. Start discussions amicably, with the goal of achieving a “win-win” situation. Listen carefully and compassionately and be prepared to compromise. We all have different needs and a healthy relationship will accommodate these for both people, allowing for quality time to be enjoyed together. Letting the other person be themselves means disagreements do not have to descend into intractable conflicts of personality. Learning to breathe, stay calm and not react emotionally when an argument appears to be brewing is a powerful skill. Remaining rational, caring and solution-focussed contributes greatly to diminishing the hurt that can otherwise be caused.

Concentrate on the Positive.

We are hardwired to be more aware of the negative – it is a survival mechanism. Every expression of negative emotion requires five expressions of positive emotion to bring us back to a position of neutral feeling. We can build up our “positivity bank account” every day, by giving compliments to our partner, being affectionate with hugs, kisses and small gifts, and saying thanks. Everyday things can be taken for granted, like cooking, paying bills and companionship. Appreciating the benefits and comfort of a relationship and the uniqueness of our partner can help see our problems in perspective. Short-term counselling can be a first step in understanding recurring difficulties and developing useful tools to resolve issues into the future.

Fro more information on couples counselling, call or text me on 087-2877837

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