On average couples spend 6 years feeling dissatisfied before going to couples counseling. SIX YEARS. If you are nearing that mark then it’s time to switch tracks. I get it, nobody wants to have go to counseling. But are you happy with the status quo? Short of starting couples therapy, there is a LOT you can do to rekindle love and improve your marriage.
Most of it falls under the umbrella of creating a culture of positivity in your relationship. According to Drs. John & Julie Gottman, arguably the country’s most respected researchers in romantic relationships that last the test of time, couples that last share one fundamental mindset. They may vary widely in how much they argue and what types of relationships they have, but the couples who are “masters” in lasting relationships all create a culture of kindness and generosity between them. This is not to say that they never fight, but what it does mean is that they are building a culture of respect and appreciation into their partnership, even in the midst of an argument.
This may sound impossible. But with a little practice, you’ll find it’s not. The idea is to create a bubble around your couple, a loving shield of kindness and generosity the protects your relationship even during the hard times. HOW ON EARTH? you must be asking yourself. Here you go: The Gottmans found that the masters “turn toward” each other in many small ways all the time. It’s as simple as responding to what’s known as a “bid for connection” – the little things you say to each other throughout the day (“Hey, there’s a finch on that branch.” “I ran into the preschool teacher at the post office.” “I’m tired of kale, I want to find a new green vegetable” You get the picture…) How often do you hear these remarks and let them drop? Can you instead pick up the thread and respond? (“Yeah, I saw it too. Do you think there’s a nest nearby?” “Really? I haven’t seen him in years.” “I know! I’m so over it. What’s something we haven’t eaten in a long time?” etc…) When you do this, this picking up the thread with your response, it’s like sewing. You are actually strengthening the bond of goodwill between you. Give it a try for a few days and see how it goes.
Another thing that masters do is notice the things they appreciate about their partners and share it. It can feel VERY AWKWARD for folks who are not in the habit of sharing this stuff out loud. But do it. If you are facing the six-year mark and you need things to change – what have you got to lose? I can tell you that couples who do the opposite, who share grievances more often with criticism or passive aggression – those guys are hurting and don’t have to. Remember? You probably used to appreciate your partner more, and somehow along the way with all the stuff we juggle everyday, you’ve dropped it. A lot of people do. The good news is you can actually start turning it around this very minute. Send your partner a text message right now about something you love about them. What have they done lately for the family that you appreciated? Don’t keep that stuff to yourself!
The two of you against the problem
And the last tidbit I will share is to remember this when you are in conflict: There is the two of you, and then there is the problem. The problem is outside your bubble. Neither one of you is the problem, even if you are very angry – remember it takes two. Most likely, your partner does not want to hurt you or to feel hurt by you. Remembering this and reminding your partner of it as you open your conflict-solving talk can help set you on the right track. This is not to minimize the very real divide you may be experiencing right now. Conflict is a big subject that couples work really hard on in couples counseling, but if you are looking for small changes you can make on your own – adopt this mindset: the problem is outside your bubble and you guys can work on solving it together. By no longer viewing your partner as the enemy in a fight, but as a team member, by trying to understand their point of view and offering validation, you are turning towards your partner.
This is not a cure-all, but it’s a start. There are lots of little ways to turn towards your partner everyday, and together they can help you rebuild a culture of kindness and generosity in your relationship. While they will not get to the root of deep-seeded issues that may have grown between you over the years, they will soften the ground making the bigger stuff more approachable, and possibly even more amenable to change.