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Every couple will likely encounter challenges in their relationship, and, in many cases, they will find happy resolutions to their differences. However, according to research conducted by Dr. John Gottman, an American psychological researcher who studies marital stability,69% of problems in relationships are unresolvable. Having different personality traits is an example of one of these problems (i.e. if you’re an introvert and your partner is an extrovert, it’s unlikely either of you will change this dimension of your personality).
Gottman’s research highlights the need for couples to learn to manage conflict rather than attempt to eliminate it altogether. If you feel like your problems are breaking your relationship and you’re not sure how to fix things, you may be experiencing common problems that are actually solvable with skill and intention (i.e. Maybe you or your partner constantly brings work stress home). The 10 strategies below will help you fix a broken relationship.
Word of caution: If your partner refuses to take responsibility or put in the effort to resolve conflict, it may be time to walk away. Also, the strategies below aren’t recommended for relationships in which there’s emotional, mental, or physical abuse or violence or untreated addictions (as these types of behaviors are not easily healed or alleviated). Remember these types of behaviors from a partner aren’t your fault and don’t have to be tolerated.
Regardless of the problem, you both must want your relationship to work for it to get back on track. You need to come together as allies, approaching conflict together and not pointing fingers at each other and acting like enemies. Hopefully, you and your partner are on the same page and want to fix your relationship and not break up. Remember you’re in this together, and healthy relationships take two.
It’s easy to simply blame your partner for any relationship issues you’re experiencing, but it’s essential to analyze your role in the problem. How you contributed to any issues may not be obvious at first, but recognizing your part will help lead to solutions.
Consider what you need to take responsibility for, how your actions may be affecting your partner, and what you need to improve on. Understanding your weaknesses (it’s OK — we all have them) and making a commitment to grow as a partner are huge factors in fixing a broken relationship.
Are you constantly having the same fight over and over again? What’s going on in your relationship that’s causing continuous stress or tension? As I mentioned above, not every relationship problem is solvable, so acceptance, effective communication, and conflict management are a must. It’s important to identify patterns in your relationship, and find strategies to accept what you can’t change and thrive through your differences.
While it may be challenging to be your best self during emotionally charged conversations, your relationship can’t thrive without healthy, open, and honest communication. Behaviors like interrupting, using defensive or accusatory language, yelling, lashing out, and dismissing your partner’s concerns (and vice versa) often lead to troubled relationships breaking down even more.
Be present, be attentive to what each other is saying, listen to understand (and not to simply defend yourself), and validate your partner’s experience even if it’s different than yours. Saying “I understand how you feel” and “I hear you” goes a long way in repairing relationship ruptures. Also, be sure to take turns with listening and speaking and avoid dominating the conversation.
If you’re not able to remain calm and think rationally during arguments, you won’t be in the right headspace to put forth your best effort. In fact, it may be hard to listen and be present if your mind is filled with anger or anxiety. Often couples tell me they feel they should be able to resolve conflict “in one sitting” and “never go to bed angry,” but there’s nothing wrong with you if that’s not possible and you need some time to chill out.
Have a proactive agreement with your partner in which you can both exercise a time out. Once you have this rule in place and you would like to implement a break, you can say something like “I’m committed to hearing your concerns and doing my part to resolve things. However, I’m feeling very angry right now. I feel our conversation would be more constructive if I took a breather. I’m going to go for a 15-minute walk and relax with some music, but I love you and I hope we can work this out when I get back. Thank you in advance for understanding and giving me some temporary space.” Whatever you do, don’t just walk away, slam doors, shut down, and leave your partner wondering where you went.
You and your partner are both imperfect people who are going to make mistakes despite the best of intentions and genuine love for each other. Maybe your partner snapped at you after a long work day, or maybe you lost your temper due to external stressors. Taking accountability and genuinely apologizing for hurting your partner is the path toward healing and preserving your connection. So is forgiveness.
It’s important to have compassion toward your partner. You don’t have to agree on every little detail in life, but you do need to have empathy for how your partner is feeling and not minimize his or her experience. Your partner’s feelings are valid, and so are yours.
If your partner feels pain due to your actions or is articulating emotions that are different from yours, exhibit empathy. Empathy means appreciating and understanding how someone else feels and putting yourself in their shoes. Compassion, empathy, and kindness all act as glue in healthy relationships.
Whether you’re fighting about minor things, such as who does the laundry, or larger issues, such as a lack of trust, it’s important to listen and take action. This involves rebuilding trust by following through when you say you’re going to get the laundry done or coming home at the time you promised.
Show your partner that you’re trying to change and bring positive energy into the relationship by compromising on the little things (not your values or morals) and finding common ground.
As I mentioned in my previous article, expressing love and appreciation in the ways in which your partner receives love will ensure your partner feels it. Don’t assume your partner knows how you feel.
Understanding your love languages and expressing gratitude to one another will help bring you back together post-conflict as well as stay connected during challenging times. Discover your love language through Dr. Gary Chapman’s quiz here.
It will be nearly impossible to fix your relationship if you feel deep contempt toward your partner and are solely focused your partner’s negative qualities. It’s helpful to view your partner as a good person and assume your partner has good intentions. Be grateful for what your partner has to offer. Remind yourself of what you were originally attracted to, and try to recreate your connection as you work on overcoming your differences.
While you deserve to be in a satisfying, loving relationship and you should not settle, it’s important to remember all relationships have ups and downs and even the healthiest couples experience conflict. How you and your partner manage it can make or break things.