Relationships are never easy, but the coronavirus pandemic has tested relationships and marriages in countless ways. Whether you need a little relationship tune-up or are struggling to find your footing as a couple, therapists can help. Below, mental health pros reveal their best advice for thriving with your better half in 2022.
1. Improve communication.
"If you want to have a successful and happy relationship with your partner, it is fundamental to establish healthy communication," says Lin Sternlicht, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, based in New York City. "One of the biggest problems when it comes to communication is that we often don’t listen to understand, but rather listen to reply. Seek to understand rather than to be understood. Your partner will feel validated in the process, improving communication and the overall relationship."
Lin stresses the value of using "I" statements to express how you feel and using the "XYZ" principle: "‘Try ‘I feel X when you do Y in situation Z.’ Avoid saying, ‘You make me ___________.’ Nobody can make you say or do anything; take accountability," she says.
2. Focus on the tone of your voice.
Speaking of communicating, how you convey what you have to say to your partner with your voice can make a big difference in how they perceive and address what you have to say.
"It always comes back to the tone," offers Lynn Zakeri, a therapist/social worker in the Chicago area. "As partners, it is like we can recognize a slight tone shift as if it were magic. Work on your ‘HIIII!’ Work on your ‘Can you please?" she suggests. "Requests can feel playful or demanding or condescending. It's the tone."
3. Avoid being overly critical.
If you’re dealing with a lot of unnecessary arguments right now, you’re not alone, since the pandemic has made tensions at home sky-high. Take back the reins.
"It is easy to fall into a trap of being negative and argumentative with your partner. Instead, be positive, point out their assets and attributes, and remember to tell your partner what you appreciate about them," says Sternlicht. "They will be more likely to listen and respect your feelings and thoughts when you are even-keeled than if you are only critical of them."
4. Know that you don't always have to agree with your partner.
Yep, it’s A-OK not to agree with your sweetheart.
"If you become capable of acknowledging their point of view, their stance, their hard line, people are typically soothed by this," says Zakeri.
Consider a scenario in which your partner wants to move to another city, and you want to stay.
"This is a hard line for both of you," says Zakeri. "This can become tense and full of resentment, or it can be a discussion that gets you both somewhere. ‘So from what you are telling me, it is important for us to move. Tell me again the reasons why, so I fully understand them.’ Then repeat back the reasons, without judgment or tone."
You may find doing this will give you a deeper understanding of where your partner is coming from, or even change your perspective.
5. Spend some time apart.
It may sound counterintuitive, but creating some physical space from your partner can enhance your relationship.
"Usually when a partner wants to improve their relationship with their significant other, they think they may need to spend more time together, but some couples may benefit from contrarian thinking," says Sternlicht, noting that this is especially timely advice during the pandemic, since many partners are spending virtually 24/7 together.
"Each individual can benefit from their own time and space to be alone or spent individually with other friends and family. Being away from your partner may make you realize that you miss them and can help you reconnect with them in a deeper and more meaningful way when you are together," she says.
6. Be accountable.
"It’s easy to find faults in our partner as a result of relationship troubles, but it is so important to take accountability. Acknowledge your own faults in the relationship, take accountability, and work towards change," offers Sternlicht. "It’s also important that each individual feels good about themselves, otherwise if you are not feeling your best for you, it will be challenging to be your best for your partner and the relationship."
Along with accountability, being selfish (in a productive way) may prove beneficial.
"Don’t be afraid to be selfish with your time by working on yourself, whether that means more self-care, exercise, or time alone," shares Sternlicht. "Being selfish in order to improve yourself can be a selfless act to improve the relationship and be a better partner.".
7. Check in regularly.
Zakeri advises that couples regularly ask questions like "How are we? Are we both feeling connected? Are we ‘off?’ Why are we off? Is it you, or me, or us? What is working? What isn't?" Then, spend some time discussing these questions together in a kind and compassionate manner.
"Listen to each other and care about working on it," she says, adding that she’s never seen a happy relationship that doesn’t take a lot of work. "When it is good, it does not feel like work, but nevertheless, it is work."