Is it time to give your relationship a spring-clean?
Relationships require attention and effort and there are times that we need to be done with the old and embrace the new. The only real way to do that though is to clear out what no longer serves us. That means letting some “stuff” go.
How can couples change the course of their relationship for the better in 2021?
This past year, couples have experienced unprecedented stress while highlighting holes in relationships that otherwise wouldn’t have shown up if we were to continue with life and love on a “per usual” basis. These unexpected changes have placed a strain on many relationships.
According to the National Law Review, 2020 saw at least a 20 percent increase in divorce rates from the previous year.
My wife Christine Hassler and I have seen firsthand what it really takes to create and maintain a thriving and passionate relationship. As a married couple, plus 30 years of combined experience as Relationship Coaches, we know that what makes a relationship last is relatively simple:
>> Healthy communication,
>> Fast and effective repair of conflict,
>> Knowing each other’s history and your own emotional wounds
>> Emotional intimacy, and;
>> Connected sex.
In order to apply these practices in your life, it is important that you are done with what no longer serves you and is actually hindering the relationship.
Here are five key ways to get your relationship out of lockdown:
Heat Up Your Sex Life
Sex usually takes a backseat to the bills, kids, responsibilities, family dynamics, stress, and balancing work with life. We’ve seen it happen with countless couples. So what’s the secret to better sex?
The two key things to heating up your sex life is to never stop “dating” your partner and never stop “learning” about sex. Dating your partner means staying curious about your partner and who they are becoming, rather than holding them in the past and who they have been. Learning about sex means not being stuck in a rut! Continue to explore, research, and try new techniques so sex doesn’t become boring and routine.
Remember sex education in high school? Then, all of a sudden, sex education just sort of stopped. Be the perpetual student. Share your fantasies openly and safely, learn new techniques, incorporate breath practices, and get comfortably uncomfortable with exploring unknown dimensions of your and your partner’s sexuality. Sex becomes stagnant through monotony and that equates to a rupture in intimacy and connection.
Know Your Partner’s Pain
In order for this to happen, you must know your own. This is the area of your relationship where you get to take an interest in your partner’s past and how it may affect the present. This is about taking an interest in their history, the trauma (if any), and how it affects their ability to give and receive love in healthy ways, while also helping you understand how your “wounds” or childhood issues complement and feed theirs.
When you hold an awareness of your partner’s pain or triggers, you can be more aware of yours. You can both choose to be less reactive and more empathetic and compassionate. Relational neuroscience tells us that we become closer by creating a sense of safety for each other.
Knowing your partner’s pains and fears and holding them with love allows others to heal and teaches you something about yourself. You may not be able to do this by yourself. You may need an expert or professional to shine a light on the areas of your life and behavioral patterns that are not obvious to you. Having outside help becomes crucial during the process of spring cleaning and reigniting your relationship.
When you know each other’s life stories and major events, you can work to not trigger each other negatively. For example, if your partner grew up in an abusive household and loud noises, screaming, and volatility shuts them down and causes them to retract, your intimate knowledge and awareness of this allows you to not raise your voice in an argument.
Similarly, if your voice was never heard as a child and the only way you were able to be heard was to be loud and big in your energy, you get to practice a middle path of communication. Your partner’s wounds of needing steady communication and stable presence become an opportunity for you to heal your pain around the only way being heard is through being loud or forceful. To rediscover a way to be in a world that is less obtrusive or aggressive.
This creates a safe environment for both of you to flourish and release old patterns of relating that truly no longer serve you.
Communicate Like a “Love Boss”
Expressing yourself and communicating effectively aren’t always the same thing. No matter how long you and your partner have been together, you most likely have fallen into some communication patterns that are keeping you from actually seeing and loving each other the way you could be.
One way to optimize your relationship is by communicating like a Love Boss. That means asking for what you need with compassion, respect, and confidence. (Pro tip: this means doing your inner work, moving beyond old fears, and learning to love yourself.)
Communicating in extremes, such as suffocating your voice in order to make others feel better, or stonewalling in order to get your way, are both not healthy. Remember, ignoring your partner and avoiding conflict is a form of communication.
When we don’t speak our needs into the container of the relationship, we build resentment (stale anger) and that leaks out into how you treat each other. How you express really matters!
Create Argument Agreements
Arguing (or rather disagreeing that tends to lead to unconscious arguing) is often unavoidable in a relationship. The problem actually resides in couples building distance and resentment in the relationship by attempting to avoid conflict in hopes that it will be “swept under the rug” and forgotten about because they are too scared to address the issues. This usually stems from a fear of being rejected, told they are wrong, abandoned, or humiliated for standing in the power.
The difference between happy, healthy couples and unhappy couples is not found in the amount they argue, but rather how quickly they can recover from arguments.
Healthy couples are able to quickly recover from arguments and navigate conflict because they’ve formed healthy and clear agreements in a calm state about how they are going to argue (well before they may get into an argument).
>> Agree to not storm out of the room,
>> Agree to not call each other names,
>> Agree to take space to calm down,
>> Agree not to argue in front of others,
>> Agree to talk about what was learned and gained from the argument,
>> Agree to let go of being right and seek to understand the other’s POV.
By talking (not yelling), and forming “fighting rules” and guidelines, couples will be able to navigate conflict more smoothly, recover quicker and come back to love with greater efficacy.
Upgrade your Coping Strategies
When we are young, we form coping strategies or mechanisms to deal with difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, these become the habitual way we respond as adults and that usually become unhealthy ways to deal with difficult situations. As adults, these “habits” or strategies continue to play out, irrespective of whether they are applicable to the present moment or your current partner. Especially during challenging times!
Some common habits observed in couples are things like: shutting down, seeking affection and emotional or sexual validation outside the relationship, getting angry, or even pleasing people, which leads to resentment, isolation, lower self-worth and creates distance. What a couple can do to get their relationship out of lockdown is create a “pattern break action.”
This is an action that will shift the pattern of how things normally go. Couples have chosen a dance move, a song verse to sing, or anything that interrupts the bad habit when it begins to emerge. We raise one fist in the air symbolizing our unified love for each other and that we can calm our emotions; in the early stages, I recognized my tendency to be loud and big in my energy—this would intimidate Christine, and it reminded her of her father was when she was younger.
Honestly, this pattern also kept me in unhealthy patterns of aggression, rage, and oppression. I learned that I had to be intimidating in order to be valued or heard.
I had to shift this behavior. So, when I recognized it, I would drop, lay on my back, and throw my legs over my shoulders into the Plow position in order to pattern break the dynamic of arguing. I had to and wanted to take ownership and responsibility for my role and my “out-of-control” emotions. It gave me perspective and allowed me to learn new ways of connecting.
We would often both laugh from this, and it almost immediately placed us in greater resonance and connection. We were able to see beyond the preconditioned frustrations, and I was able to see another way to relate and convey my message without having to be so hyper-defensive.