Esther Perel, a world-famous couples therapist, states that “it is the quality of your relationships that determines the quality of your life”. The health of your relationship can be pervasive and interfere with all aspects of life- and healthy relationship building skills are conducing to a much more fulfilling life.
Couples often opt for counselling once habits are ingrained, problems are at crisis point, or after years of unhappiness have soured the water. Even still, good quality couples counselling is highly effective in helping the vast majority of unhappy marriages resolve major issues.
Many faltering relationships are simply suffering from a lack of energy in the relationship. If you are looking for ways to re-energise your relationship or start conversations about hard things, there are some tried and true skills that both researchers and happily married couples consistently model as well as contacting our marriage counselling service.
Think of these as handy tools in the marriage toolbox, which when practised or used regularly, can buffer and boost the energy in a relationship to help make it last, even when instabilities arise.
Keep depositing goodwill and gratitude in your relationship well when you can. Even tiny but regular deposits help for when the cage gets rattled; the little moments of joy, the tiny acknowledgements and thankyou’s, the simple bouts of gratitude for a delicious dinner made. As life’s blows and changes and transitions drain from this well over time, having enough little regular deposits and joyful/grateful memories to draw on becomes a surprisingly sustainable force.
Every single marriage is dealt blows, rattles, struggles as well as joy, beauty and pleasure. When the blows do knock, it you have fortified and replenished your well with the buckets of goodwill, gratitude and faith, it may be drained somewhat; but you’ll have reserves and something still to draw on and put the fires out. If there is nothing in the well when those fires come, the marriage lacks protection.
Start some conversations around the following: work hard to pick out tiny moments of sheer gratitude: and say them out loud, and feel them.
We are capable of having successful relationships with many people, provided we have learned relationship skills. Conversely, even the most compatible people can be unhappy in a marriage if managed poorly. Relationship skills are learnable, like tools added to a toolbox, and become honed when used regularly. All couples and marriages will find points of difference and points of struggle. A key relationship skill is learning when to exit an argument, to protect both its victims – you and your partner.
Fighting, to the point of losing awareness of the other person’s perspective or in the pursuit of finding a winner and loser, activates our deep seated survival responses. This response protects us from threat, but also hijacks our brain’s ‘higher’ responses. This usually stops us from being able to represent our thoughts clearly and eloquently or from being able to hear or absorb. Our body and primal brain works to survive the ‘attack’, while our partner is often left wounded.
Learning how to ‘step out’ of a conversation when it begins to escalate into something unhelpful is a skill that will go a long way to protect a marriage. This is what psychologists and couples experts call ‘emotional regulation’, while others call it cooling off.
Emotional regulation involves checking in on yourself and being able to change the heat on the thermostat to match what is actually happening and with whom. Anxiety, dizzy rage and a thumping heart can quickly hijack a well-meaning brain, if not checked and regulated.
Having the insight to physically feel your mood and watch where your thinking state goes can help you reset and walk away from an altercation so that you have space to make a considered response and avoid needless damage.
If you can practice sensing that hijacking feeling in your body when it arises- maybe it’s a knot in your stomach, butterflies in your cheeks, hotness in your neck- and know that it signals a good time to cool off and take 10, you give your relationship and future marriage a very good chance of resolving conflicts as they arise- and every marriage has them arise. A great marriage can work to resolve them.
Research also correlates ‘influenceability’ with lasting relationship success. This assesses how much mutual influence each partner gives to the other in the decisions they take in life. In men in particular, being able to be influenced healthily by your partner in big life decisions is connected to being a better father- but no matter the gender, considering your partner’s wants and needs in major life decisions shows respect and forms a very strong bond that can withstand a lot.
Influence-ability is not the same as dependence or complete reliance upon the other’s behaviour and wants. Yet it IS a signal that we want to regard our partner’s wants and needs, and we look to see where we might be able to accommodate for their happiness and fulfilment. Lasting relationships and marriages involve near constant negotiation of everything from paying bills, to cooking dinner, to house hunting, to television shows. To let your partner’s wishes influence what you will do with your own decisions is a sign of respect and being a loyal team player.
Where available, devote energy and focus to giving feedback to each other on what is going right in your relationship.
Research shows that people tend to overemphasis the negatives in their relationships and therefore remember less of the positives. So, taking up some space to be positively biased towards the state of your relationship is an important way to take stock of the marriage. A little positive feedback goes a long way.
Feedback can feel like a dirty word- but feedback done well, with the intent of helping and respecting the relationship, can be a joyful experience when it focused an appreciation. Research too supports the idea that positive feedback has significantly more impact on performance and relationship health than does negative feedback. If you and your partner can practice being eagle eyed on finding the positives and good things, and calling them out to each other, it means you have more in your marriage well than before.
Building a loving and lasting relationship has more to do with building healthy skills than it is simply ‘chemical magic’. Over time, your marriage well will always need some repairing, and having some tried and true tools and practices in the relationship toolbox can help support it with energy, solutions and respect. These principles are crucial to a happy relationship and a lasting marriage made up of healthy and thriving individuals. Speak to one of our marriage counsellors today to discover more.
Mahlia is the CEO of Life Supports Counselling and has been advocating within the mental health industry since 2013. With tertiary degrees in Science, Psychology and the Arts from Monash University, she is innately curious about human behaviour, neuroscience and psychology and translating the frontiers of scientific research into real-world business application.
Mahlia has a passion for building socially impactful businesses that help people thrive, and is responsible for leading and developing all aspects of the Life Supports mental health service, vision & purpose.