Not all relationships deserve to be saved. And it’s not easy to know if the relationship you are currently in falls into this category. I think taking an ailing relationship through the process described in this post will be a good test as to whether it’s actually worth saving. If your partner does not show an interest in making an effort, it is a bad sign. But it may also mean that he or she has not (yet) realized that the relationship is in a bad state.
If you want to save (or strengthen) a relationship, then both partners need to work on it. The first step should therefore be to get your partner to commit to an extra effort, which can usually be inspired by any of the measures below.
The measures listed below can also be used to strengthen a relationship that is already good or at least ok. And what’s extra cool is that the measures (with the exception of what I have written about sex) will work in all types of relationships, both romantic relationships, friendships and relationships between family members.
1. Learn meta-communication
People communicate all the time. Not only through conversations, text messages or reactions to Facebook posts, but also by way of body language. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of communication is non-verbal and that body language accounts for more than half of the communication between people.
I think the main reason behind a weakening relationship is poor communication. And to improve communication you must practice meta-communication. And what is that? Meta-communication is simply communication about communication. In practice, this means talking about how we communicate and how we respond.
People have triggers for various behavior patterns. Triggers can be both positive (e.g. receiving a gift) and negative oriented (e.g. receiving personal criticism). Some people have more triggers than others, and some have more powerful reactions than others to these triggers. Understanding each other’s triggers is vital and should be a priority in a relationship.
Let’s begin with the positive ones. Most people have different things they react positively to. To take an example from my own life: both my wife and I are big tea enthusiasts. Having a cup of tea in the morning, or sometimes at any time during the day, brings joy to us both, which is many times greater than the effort required to make a cup of tea. So here is a great opportunity to score points with your partner with minimal effort. Each day offers up hundreds of such small opportunities, but many of us are not fully aware of this.
How do you identify these opportunities? By asking your partner. “What can I do which will make you happier in your everyday life?”
The negative triggers functions in parallel, but with the opposite effect. You are different from your partner and you cannot expect him or her to react to things in the same way as you do. Even if you do not mind dusty window sills, your partner may hate it with a passion. So here you can earn some brownie points by dusting them more often. In order to discover the negative triggers of your partner, simply ask about it. “What am I doing in everyday life that annoys you?” Make sure you don’t react defensively when you receive an answer.
You will find that these are usually simple, almost banal things, but 99% of life is made up of just such simple and banal things.
Have you had a quarrel lately? Meta-communication is extremely important in such situations. When your emotions have settled, you can have a good conversation about what went wrong. What triggered the quarrel? What escalated it? Do not talk about guilt at this time because it’s insignificant. It takes two to tango. But understanding which buttons were pressed, and the effect they had on the other person is essential to strengthening a relationship. In order for this to work, both parties must enter into such a conversation with an open mind. It’s easy to return back to the argument in such a conversation, and that’s why you have to approach the issue with care. If you see that the quarrel is about to flare up again, you can take a time out and try again later. Meta-communication is a characteristic that requires exercise (like everything else in life) and it is wise to start cautiously.
2. Practice gratitude.
Gratitude can also be used to strengthen relationships. All you need to do in order to accomplish this is to remind yourself and your partner of all the wonderful things you have had and still have together.
For example, you can open an old photo album and reminisce about some happy moments you shared. Look at photos of travels you have done together. Talk often about your good memories. Remind each other of the wonderful home you’ve made together. If you have children, remember that you brought them into the world as a couple. Be good at praising each other’s positive qualities and what each of you contributes to the benefit of the relationship. When one of you makes a positive gesture like this, express your appreciation for it.
You can actually influence the degree and direction of the feelings you have for another person.
To achieve this in a positive way; sit in a comfortable chair (be alone the first time you do this). Close your eyes. Imagine your partner as he or she was when you first met him or her. Highlight the traits you fell for. Intensify the colors and sharpness of the image. Turn the picture into a motion picture. Put on some background music you like. Look at the movie in the first person, in other words, you’re the camera. Run this video every day and vary the content; run different short sequences taken from several different memories. Select only positive memories when you do this or you will not get the positive effect.
3. Experience something exciting together
During a social psychological experiment, a group of subjects was divided into two groups (Group A and Group B). Each group consisted of several couples, where the individuals in the couples had never met each other before.
Each of the couples in the two groups was asked to cross a bridge, together. The pairs in group A went over a solid stone bridge. On the other side of the bridge they were asked to assess how much they wanted to see the other person again.
The couples in group B crossed a badly built, scary suspension bridge. They too were asked how much they wanted to meet the other person again.
What do you think happened?
Yep, you guessed it: the couples who had crossed the scary suspension had a significantly greater desire to meet each other again.
This is a psychological phenomenon that is used by those who want to establish strong ties between people in a group, such as in a military unit. Experiencing something dangerous, or a little scary together, creates a human bond.
You can use this to strengthen your own relationship. Just find something fun that you’ve never done together before (and that both of you would like to do), maybe something exciting or even a little scary. Adventures in nature are good at providing this. Sign up for a climbing course. Or go rafting. What you do is not important; as long as there is something both of you experience as positive (do not go rock climbing with the hubby if he has a fear of heights…).
4. Give time and space
If you love somebody – set them free
There is a big difference in how much self-time an individual needs. Personally, I have a very big need for this. I’m also lucky to have a wife who fully understands my need for it (and who also has the same need). There is an optimum level of time spent together, set by each individual’s need for self-time. You must figure out the right level of time spent together vs alone time, and the only way to do so is to talk about it.
You should give each other as much space for self-time and self-expression as possible, without sacrificing your own needs and the needs of others (such as your children). In other words, you need to find the ideal compromise. You need some distance from each other too, so that you get the feeling of missing one another somewhat, which is all part of a healthy relationship.
There are periods in life (such as when you have toddlers) where there is little room for self-time. And during those periods, such solo time is the finest gift you can give your partner. When you receive some time for yourself – use it well; go for a jog, a couple of beers with friends, or just sit and relax.
Apart from time, space is one of the most valuable things in a relationship. Space to be yourself. You cannot force your partner into your ideal mold, and trying to do so is to poison the relationship. You must let your partner be themselves, he or she is, after all, the person you fell in love with.
Note that there are some personality traits which are less sympathetic, and that one should ideally change over time. Such a change must come from the person themselves, not from you. You can facilitate the change and motivate, but the change process itself can only come from the person that has to do the changing.
An important side comment here. Do you have a partner who is violent or who abuses you or others (physically or psychologically)? If so, this is not something that you should be looking to change. In such a case your focus should be just to get away as fast as possible. Violence is never acceptable, not in any form.
5. Have lots of physical contact and sex
Physical contact can be the glue in a relationship. Through physical contact and sex, there is a physiological change in the body that directly strengthens a relationship. What I am talking about is the production of the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone.
Oxytocin is the hormone that is formed when a baby is breastfeeding from its mother. But it is also formed through any other form of physical contact, and the contact does not need to be romantic or sexual. The hormone is central to the connection process between two people. If you get a hug from a friend (or from a stranger for that matter), then oxytocin is produced in the body. Oxytocin is stress-reducing and leads to a feeling of well-being, peace and safety. It is a hormone we need in order to live a good life. It’s no coincidence that lounges are appearing in the world’s big cities where you can get a hug from a professional snuggler (non-sexual physical contact).
Ensure that you have plenty of physical contact with your partner. And extend this further through good sex. If you’ve lost the desire for each other – you will be able to become close again by giving each other good long hugs, or by lying or sitting close to each other. Massage is also a combination of physical contact and giving your partner a great treat.
If you take this post as a whole, the summary is that you can progress a long way through a combination of generosity, gratitude and physical contact. If you add a good portion of understanding your partner and his/her needs and reaction patterns, you have the recipe for a long and close relationship.