Relationships, even the best ones, can be difficult. We often make sacrifices in our lives to make our partners happy. We might change our work schedule so we can pick up the kids after school or agree to take on more responsibility with the newborn so that our spouse can go back to work. In these times of need, it is crucial that people within a relationship remember that they are on the same team. Relationships triumph over difficult and challenging events when they approach that event as a single unit, as opposed to seeing who can get over the hurdle the quickest. Problems within a relationship arise when we approach challenges egocentrically, focusing solely on our survival instead of making sure our partners are okay as well. This unhealthy approach to tackling obstacles does not go unnoticed by individuals within a relationship and can have harmful effects on the stability of the relationship overall, with one (or all) members of the relationship feeling a sense of loneliness and rejection. Carol Bruess, professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas, suggests some tools to help people in marriages/relationships reconnect with one another and remember that they are on the same team.
- Ask questions: when you find yourself feeling lonely within a relationship, it is likely that so is the other person. They may not know where to begin with mending the relationship, so we can only start with what we have control over, ourselves. Start by rebuilding this team mentality within the relationship by asking questions about your partner. These questions should get at who your partner is as a person, what they’re excited, nervous, or worried about, and what aspirations they may have that you do not know about. When we enhance our knowledge of our partner, it reminds us of why we fell in love with them in the first place. This process may feel superficial at first, but remind yourself that you are reestablishing an emotional connection that has been missing for some time.
- Get into their world: When we ask questions about our partner, we begin to relearn what their experience of the world is like. We understand what motivates them in life, what they care about, and why they care about it. Through this process, we can better understand their perspective. One way to get into the world of our partner, Bruess suggests, is by taking 60 seconds out of our day to close our eyes and imagine what our partner’s world is truly like, from their point of view. When we purposefully make the effort to understand our partner’s world experiences, we can empathize with and take into consideration what they might be needing, feeling, or experiencing. This perspective taking can encourage us to become more generous and willing to compromise, which can ultimately help us connect with our partner.
- Create rituals of connection: With asking more questions about your partner’s life and engaging in effortful perspective taking to help understand your partner’s worldview, comes the need to make use of this newfound information. When we know more about partner’s everyday life, we can find moments where we can be helpful and supportive. We can create a tiny moment of connection by playing our partner’s favorite music while we clean the dishes or fold the laundry, for example. We can bring home our partner’s favorite flavor of ice cream to share after a stressful day of work. Acts such as these remind people within a relationship that they are part of a we, which is an essential component of thriving relationships.
These tools may seem small and easy to accomplish, but they require consistent and purposeful effort. If you find yourself wanting to use some of these tools in your relationship but have no idea how you would begin, a licensed counselor here at Symmetry Counseling would be more than happy to help.