Relationship Reboot: Seven Tips to Help Reconnect
A few weeks into the pandemic, I heard a topic on the radio: “Will this pandemic lead to more babies being born nine months from now, or will it lead to more divorces and separations?” You may have had similar thoughts and conversations. How has this pandemic influenced your relationship?
Before the pandemic hit, most of us had it figured out—a rhythm, shared responsibilities, some balance… of how “we” as a couple worked and functioned. It wasn’t perfect. But it worked. With our outside world shutting down, it upset the delicate working balance we had in our relationships.
Personal boundaries are challenged as we find ourselves working from home, many of us with children in the house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What happened to missing the kids for six to eight hours a day?
What happened to being able to focus on work and not having to navigate relationship dynamics with my partner all day long? What happened to my alone time and routine? I remember early on, someone said to me: “It’s like a sick social experiment.”
I have seen the wide range of impact on couples and families through the experiences of my clients, friends, and neighbours, as well as my own marriage of almost 19 years and our family of five children. That is why I am excited to share some of my favourite strategies to nurture relationships, with suggestions I have been using in my work with couples over the last ten years.
Actively Remind One Another That We Are Allies and “in This Together”
Do you see your partner as your ally? Being mindful of the fact that our partner is someone who “has our back” helps us approach them in a spirit of partnership. When we argue and fight, we may see one another as adversaries. And for those of us who have been together for a long time, we can get stuck in “confrontational mode,” sometimes for so long that we forget what we are fighting about! Seeing one another from an “ally” perspective leaves room for differences in opinions while remaining unified. Verbally expressing this fact can remind one another of our good intentions and help avoid arguments.
Phrases like “This issue sucks but let’s figure it out together” or “I want to understand your position because, at the end of the day, we both want what’s best for you and me” earlier on in conversations can help curb arguments.
There Are No Winners or Losers in “We”
In team sports, the whole team wins or the whole team loses; the same goes for our relationship. “We” are on the same team, yet “we” have so many fights about who is right and who is wrong. Let’s face it: We all love to be right! If we can let go of our desire to be right, then we can turn to our partner and wonder “why” we are feeling and acting this way. A different approach can help you be understood by your partner and bring in a team win!
The next time an argument involving who is “right or wrong” or whose way is “better or worse” arises, shift into “ally” mode by using a phrase like “I hate that we’re arguing. We’re trying to reach the same goal.”
Say “Thank You”
With an unending list of things to do, the things that don’t get done are what catch our attention! Sadly, this can lead to an imbalance. I hear so many people complain that they feel unappreciated or that their contributions are not visible. It’s so important to voice to one another that we see them and the things they do, even if they seem small or a “given.”
Pick at least two or three specific things your partner does and thank them for it on a daily basis. Whether it’s for cleaning up after dinner or letting you pick the movie, saying thank you in a genuine way will foster positive connection in your relationship.
Emotionally Connect Daily
We get caught up in the demands of life, and find ourselves feeling distant and disconnected over time. Relationships need active emotional investment. Even something small but thoughtful can bring you closer. Feeling connected will bring you together in navigating challenges.
Have an honest talk and explore what helps each of you feel emotionally connected to one another. Then see how to make it happen—a hug at the start and end of the day, a thoughtful text, or time to share a laugh. You can also set reminders on your phone to help it become a regular thing!
Show Your Love in Thoughtful Ways
You and your partner probably have different ideas about what makes you feel loved. For your message to be communicated effectively, and your efforts to be fully appreciated, show your love in ways which speak to your partner—not according to your own preference.
Explore topics together like “what makes you feel most loved in our relationship?” and “what do you wish we had more of in our relationship?” Try to pick at least one of your partner’s answers and do it more often.
“Just Us” Date Time Once a Week
I suspect you have heard this one before, but this is all the more important now given how this pandemic has strained our lives. No matter what it is, take a break from stress and disagreements and enjoy each other’s company.
Book “us” time once a week and find something which will allow both of you to engage with each other in a positive way. Brainstorm fun, enjoyable, and relaxing kinds of activities to do together. Some couples like to take turns choosing the activity or create a “fun jar” of ideas and draw an activity every week.
Self Care—Take Time for Yourself
If we are going to tend to one another, we have to have enough energy to do so. When we don’t, our relationship can feel like another item on the “to-do” list rather than a relationship which nurtures and feeds both of us. It is a delicate balancing act of our own needs and couple relationship needs.
Each of you needs to figure out what helps you refuel, then plan for and use your “alone” time.
Hye Kam, MFT
A licensed couple and family therapist in Montreal specializing in relationship challenges.