How do partners continue supporting each other mentally and emotionally especially after experiencing rocky times together, and what do those conversations sound like?
Knowing what doesn’t contribute to healthy relationships helps us define the things that do. For instance, we live in a day and age where we are able to learn more about ourselves thanks to the many available mental health sources found online that is helping people worldwide have a better understanding of their emotional needs and how to communicate them.
Understanding your own emotional needs is undoubtedly a very important factor because it determines how you approach communication in long-term relationships. How do partners continue supporting each other mentally and emotionally especially after experiencing rocky times together, and what do those conversations sound like?
Huffpost points out that a “healthy relationship doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes two people, however imperfect, who are committed to putting in the work to better themselves and improve their partnership in the process.”
Here’s what therapists, psychologists, and relationship experts say are the best ways to maintain a well-balanced connection in long-term relationships.
1. NO SWEEPING ANYTHING UNDER THE RUG
In order to nip any problem in the bud, recognizing what it is and articulating feelings of doubt or anxiety makes it real. We can’t escape uncomfortable feelings so analysing them helps.
A healthy relationship allows for both parties to freely express their worries or struggles in a non-critical way as soon as possible, avoiding pent-up frustrations in the long run.
“Instead of holding in whatever’s bothering them and letting it fester, couples who feel safe and secure in their relationships bring it up in a non-critical manner as soon as possible,” said Danielle Kepler, owner and therapist at DK Therapy in Chicago, USA.
“They might say something as simple as, ‘It feels like we haven’t had any time this week to connect. Can we take some time just the two of us this weekend?’” she adds.
2. IT’S A ‘WE’ PROBLEM AND NOT A ‘YOU’ PROBLEM
Couples in healthy relationships try their hardest not to place unnecessary blame the blame on the other. To that end, intentional tweaks are made in the way they speak to each other: Specifically, when discussing stressful situations, they use “we” language instead of “you” language, Kepler said.
For instance, “It’s important to me that we’re in agreement on what we do for child care when I go back to work,” not “I really need you to get with the program on this child care thing.”
“This helps to reduce possible defensiveness and one partner feeling ‘blamed’ for the disconnect,” Kepler said. “Connection works both ways; both partners are responsible for turning toward their partner.”
3. RESPONDING OVER REACTING, ALWAYS
As human beings, we’re hard-wired for connection as a means of survival. When we sense a disconnection from our partner, the survival, primal part of our brain lights up and we have an automatic fight-or-flight reaction, said Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, USA.
Secure couples notice when they’re feeling triggered and instead of yelling, fault-finding or withdrawing (reacting), they warmly reach for their partner and communicate their needs for harmony and connection (respond).
“Then they communicate their needs for connection in a healthy way,” Chappell Marsh said. “For example, instead of saying, ‘You never spend time with me anymore,’ a partner may say, ‘I’ve noticed we haven’t spent much time together. I miss you. I’d love to plan a date this weekend.’”
4. RECONNECTING STAYS A TOP PRIORITY
After calling out the problem and getting a handle on their fight-or-flight reaction, happy couples brainstorm ways to foster reconnection, said Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California, USA, and the author of the “Mental Health Journal for Men.”
“Do you need to talk more, have more focus on intimacy, or hang out with others socially?” he said. “Much of this depends on your own wants and needs, and how these mesh with your partner, but if you work collaboratively you should be able to get back on track with your relationship.”
5. UNDERSTAND THAT CERTAIN PROBLEMS ARE NOT RELATED TO THE RELATIONSHIP
Sometimes, issues that crop up are not even about you because your partner might be going through something wholly separate from your relationship, said Beatty Cohan, a psychotherapist and author of “For Better, for Worse, Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love.” It could be a full plate at work or that they’re feeling estranged from a sibling they’re usually close with.
Healthy couples ask open-ended questions to get to the bottom of things like “I’ve noticed something seems off. Is everything going OK?” rather than jumping to self-centered conclusions such as the classic “Are you mad at me?”
“Happy couples talk openly about why they may be feeling the way they’re feeling,” Cohan said. “Maybe the disconnect is not about the relationship, but about some individual problem, past or present.”
When a partner pushes away or otherwise creates distance, the secure person tries not to immediately take it personally, added Susan Pease Gadoua, a therapist in Northern California.
“Happy partners understand that they are not the cause of the issue,” she said. “They trust that their partner would talk to them about the issue if it did involve something they did. Happy partners communicate openly and honestly so when there are breaches in their connection, they can withstand them much better than if they were conflict avoidant, for example, and had no foundation in trust because they lacked honesty.”
6. SINCERE CONCERN GOES A LONG WAY
Those in healthy relationships find it easy to put themselves in their partner’s shoes ― or else they’ve learned how to do it with time and practice.
“A little thoughtfulness in this conversation can make a big difference,” Howes said. “Are they overwhelmed at work? Are they experiencing grief, anxiety or self-esteem problems?”
Rather than blasting them with, ‘I need more from you!’ the therapist said you might soften this with something like, ‘I know work has been a mess for you lately, is there anything I can do to help so we can free up some time to connect?’”
Not only does this sound better, it can help lay the foundation for real togetherness. “This is an appeal for partnership, and if both of you hold this mindset. you may be able to support each other on multiple fronts,” Howes said.
7. IF A DISCONNECT OCCURS, KNOWING IT’S ONLY TEMPORARY GET THINGS BACK ON TRACK
We develop certain attachment styles depending on how we’ve been taught to emotionally bond and show affection to others in our adult lives. Attachment styles play a big part in our dating and relationship behaviours with the most common unhealthy ones being anxious or avoidant attachments.
When there is a foundation of secure connection versus insecure, disconnection isn’t experienced as the end of the world, Chappell Marsh said.
The therapist added there are three main components of maintaining a generally secure connection with your partner. You can remember it by thinking of the acronym ARE.
“Availability, Responsiveness, Emotionally engaged,” she said. “Essentially, couples who feel their partner is available for them when they need them, responsive to their needs, and care about them are more securely connected.”
8. ALWAYS FOLLOW THROUGH
Bridging the divide here isn’t solely about good communication; happy couples back their words up with measurable actions, Howes said.
“You have to set realistic goals and follow through to get back on track,” he said. “Will you actually make that camping trip or date night happen, or were they just empty words?”
The happiest couples even check in with each other with a “state of the union” every week or so, regardless of how the relationship seems to be going.
“This brief chat usually starts with one person saying, ‘So, how are we doing this week?’ and then talk about the ups, downs, and areas to work on for the coming week,” Howes said. “If this is done regularly, and not only when there is a problem, it tends to keep things running smoothly.”
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