Couples Therapy 101: How to Fix Common Relationship Issues At Home
More than any other time, this year has been all about the home - we’ve thrown ourselves into home improvement, spent more time at home than we ever thought possible, probably wished we weren’t spending all our time at home….you get the picture. One positive outcome of all this time at home has been the discoveries we’ve made along the way - that things like exercise and socialising don’t necessarily require venturing out and spending time and money that we don’t really have. Backyards become home gyms, spare rooms become WFH setups, meeting rooms and classrooms, and our couch becomes the setting for a myriad of social events.
Now, while 2020 has been tough on relationships in general - don’t get us started - we do know that - just like with our workout routines and day to day jobs, it has forced us to get creative and innovative about how we engage in our relationships. Our lives have been thrown upside down and this has taken a toll on our relationships in a number of ways - from arguments about shared responsibilities, parenting, personal space and leisure time. The good news is that there are some useful strategies we have right in front of us that can improve the quality of your relationship - it just takes some consideration about what to focus on. Here are some ideas to get you started:
If you’re cohabiting with your beloved, it is likely that you already have some rituals in place - the coffee run or making, the bathroom/shower dance, the ‘what are we having for dinner’ conversation. What we fail to acknowledge with these daily rituals is the power and comfort that comes along with these moments. Rituals are incredibly powerful tools, according to BJ Fogg, author of ‘Tiny Habits’. Tethering meaningful and useful behaviors to our rituals (Fogg recommends doing pushups every time you use the bathroom, but that is a whole other story) means that we do these things reliably and EVERY DAY. Imagine if - when you bring your partner their coffee in the morning, you also have a long, heart-warming cuddle, or tell them one thing you are grateful for that day. Imagine if - as you are discussing the inevitable ‘whats for dinner’, you also share one of your favourite memories of your relationship. Harnessing the power of rituals - the things we do each day without fail, and that give order and meaning to our lives - means we can deliberately insert things we know are helpful for the relationship - whether this is gratitude or reminiscing.
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So: you are at home together A LOT. You might be starting to be a bit sick of each other, so the idea of a romantic dinner or a roll in the hay is somewhat….less enticing than it could be. Fear not! This is a very normal reaction to being in each other’s space 24/7 - even the most white-hot of relationships suffer under these circumstances. That said - quality time is an essential for any relationship at any stage - so see what you can do to make it happen. Perhaps this means booking a hotel room for the two of you to get out of your rut and have some adventures - or sending the kids somewhere for the evening in order to focus on each other. The key is to rediscover what you like about each other - shared interest, humour and - of course - physical and emotional attraction. If it is hard to come by, don’t beat yourself up - the key is that you are both putting in the effort and are both there, wanting to make it work.
As per our previous point - as much as we can love someone, we also need alone time. It is incredible how different all of our alone times are - for some people, it entails relaxing on the couch - for others, it involves sweating excessively over an exercise bike - for others, it involves staging elaborate re-enactments of ancient battles complete with figurines. Each of us has a private life and private interests, and we generally feel energised and complete when we get to do these. Circumstances often mean that we can’t do these as much as we want - but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. We’re not exaggerating when we say that one of the best things you can do for your relationship is to go off and follow your interests - this might have nothing to do with your partner, but it is likely that you will return to them refreshed, excited and with a huge amount of emotional resources. It is a bit of a paradox, but in long term relationships, these individual pursuits are often an essential part of the fabric that holds people together.
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Ah yes, the ‘what should we cook tonight’? question. One key feature of long term relationships is the sharing of the responsibility of feeding each other - and it can get exhausting at times. One solution to this is to be intentional in your decisions and plans for your meals, How will you divide the cooking? What kind of food do you want to be eating? Research shows us that being intentional about our decisions is helpful for our motivation and direction - planning our actions rather than reacting to our environment, can be transformational. Perhaps you want to impress each other with your incredible recipes? Perhaps you want to make sure you are eating cleaner and more veggies, with the aim of improving your health and energy? This shared responsibility - cooking - could be a great opportunity for a lifestyle overhaul.
Just like with cooking, certain home tasks are best done together. Intentionally setting aside a day to clean out old cupboards or junk can be a powerful conversation starter as to where you are headed, and what is important to you. Physically sorting through the junk and the ‘non-essentials’ also translates to real life - it gives us the opportunity to overhaul and refocus. How do you want your space to look? What is taking up room and giving nothing in return? Often a refresh in our living space gives us a new perspective on life, and we have the opportunity to do things a bit differently. Whatever the case, you are working towards a shared vision.
No matter how much spring cleaning and meal planning we are doing, there are some times that we might hit the wall. This can be due to ongoing issues that never seem to get resolved, new and upsetting issues like infidelity or conflict, or even day to day challenges like feeling disconnected or lonely. The reality is that - although relationships can be rewarding and affirming - they can also be stressful and distressing, and the challenge of living closely with another human being is a lot to ask at times.
Fortunately, we live in an age where high quality support and advice is literally the click of a button away - and we can access confidential support safely and inexpensively. Relationship coaching apps like Relish offer evidence based support for couples who are struggling with issues such as communication, intimacy, trust and connection, as well as peer support and Relationship Coaches. Members get their own personalised plan based on the key issues in the relationship, and you can also send quizzes and lessons to your partner (with the topics ranging from serious to more fun).
Staying home - as we know - is a mixed bag, but you do have the potential to work on your relationship in small ways each day - without waiting for things to return to normal in the rest of the world. See if you can take a few of these suggestions and run with them - and start to feel closer and more connected today.
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