Most people assume that I spend my time refereeing. It’s true, couples come to me, wanting to hash out their fights and discover, once and for all, who is “right”. To this, I always respond, “you can be right or you can be married” (Esther Perel). Still, I gladly help navigate couples through conflict, reenact arguments with alternate endings, and rephrase statements and requests. But the bulk of my work consists of identifying, strengthening and helping couples experience the positive aspects of the relationship. If they can’t remember what they’re working for, what is the point? Putting emphasis and intention towards the positive aspects of your relationship will help strengthen the bond. It can also help the difficult times seem much more manageable. Here’s how to stay positive in your relationship:
Create positive memories
I constantly ask couples what they are currently doing to connect with one another. Many make sure that they have weekly or monthly date nights, which is great. However, “date night” typically ends up being 2 people eating, looking at their phones, talking about their kids and managing lives. This is hardly a connecting activity. I try to suggest the value in scheduling a date night that includes a physical activity like hiking, bowling, or a yoga class. This allows you to get out of your head, into your body and create some new positive memories. Take turns deciding on an activity and keep it fun- nothing super competitive or anxiety ridden (paintball may be a bad idea…)
Picture the glass half full
When you are in the middle of an argument, it is very easy to assume that your partner is trying to hurt/ frustrate/ shame/ attack you. But for the most part, in a conflict, both partners are trying to defend themselves (or their truth). Using the power of empathy, you can begin to focus on your partner’s good intentions. For example, your partner shrunk your shirt in the laundry. Most likely, this was an accident, and it was very nice of your partner to help out with the laundry. You have every right to be frustrated that your shirt no longer fits AND you can be grateful that you have a loving, helpful partner.
Become intentional with positive interactions
Try creating daily ritual that helps you both focus on what you love and appreciate about your relationship. Take time each day to tell your partner what you are grateful for in your relationship. Leave little love notes around the house or car for your partner to find. Cook a meal that your partner loves. Little bits of effort can show your partner how much they mean to you, while reminding you how important your partner is.
By creating these habits, you are allowing yourself more control over the climate of the relationship. You don’t have to stay stuck in an emotional vacuum. Sloughing off the negative energy can help let down defensiveness and address issues with fresh, curious eyes.