Coping with rough patches in your relationship
All relationships have their ups and downs. So what's the best way to ride out the difficult times? I was asked for my thoughts on this for two articles in quick succession. In the i paper, I commented for an article on '20 ways to sail through a rough patch as a couple'. For the Fatherly website, I commented on 'The most helpful thing to do when you're annoyed with your spouse'. These articles include comments from a number of people, and they're both worth a read. I learnt a lot from them too. So what are the important things to think about if you're coping with rough patches in your relationship? Here are a couple of ideas:
Ask for what you need
Are you a mind reader? No, me neither. And yet in so many relationships, we expect our partner to know what we need. Think about what you have needed in your relationships. It might relate to the time you spend together, to romantic gestures, to intimacy, to communication, to spontaneity. What holds you back from communicating your needs? Maybe you feel frustrated that they can’t read your mind. Or embarrassed that you have to explicitly ask for your needs to be met. Maybe you’re scared that if they don’t automatically know what you need, it means that you’re not right together. Perhaps you want to ask for what you need, but you are frightened that you’ll upset them or offend them.
If you’re weighed down by fears or worries, then it’s easy to avoid asking for what you need. But consider the downside. What’s the cost of suppressing your own needs? It’s likely to lead to anger, resentment, or frustration.
If this makes you feel uncomfortable, then spend some time planning what you might say. Make sure it’s clear that your goal is to improve the relationship. And it’s not about blame. It’s important to take responsibility for the fact that your needs haven’t been met. Explain why it’s been difficult for you to communicate and share your feelings. Invite feedback from them. It’s an opportunity for them to share their needs with you too. They may well thank you for it.
Don't 'kick the cat'
No man is an island. And this is true of relationships too. If you’ve hit a rough patch, it’s important to take stock of everything that’s going on around you. Your own lives as individuals, plus your life as a couple. Typically, there’s a whole range of stresses on our shoulders, including friends, family, work, housing, health, the list can be endless. So, if you find yourselves feeling angry or irritated with each other, make sure you know what’s really going on. Reflect on what’s really stressing you out. Try to distinguish between the stresses that you can control, and those that you can’t. Acknowledge and accept that you might cope with stress differently from your partner.
Make sure you’re not ‘kicking the cat’. This refers to the situation where we take out our stresses on an innocent party, who happens to be available. It’s common in relationships when we’ve held in all our stress and frustration all day, and then we let it out at our partner. If you’re prone to ‘kicking the cat’, take steps to release your stress or anger before you walk through the door. Remind yourself that your partner isn’t responsible for whatever is stressing you out. Consider how they deserve to be treated.