When it comes to relationships and romance, the key to long-lasting happiness is usually prevention, not repair. It’s far easier to develop the skills and good habits to keep your love life working than it is to fix things when they’ve begun to fall apart.
But the reality of life is that nearly all of us will find ourselves in a relationship rough patch at one point or another. Sometimes it signals the end of a partnership, but other times it's simply a rough patch. If you're married or in a committed relationship, there will always be ups and downs; the trick to staying together is learning to weather the dips together.
As a wife and a therapist, I can assure you that there is not a single secret recipe to help you get through a rocky time and rediscover your love. But there are some fundamental guidelines that can help you, no matter how you got here.
1. Make time to just be together ... even when you’re mad.
One of my favorite quotes on love is from Julia Child. When describing her 48-year marriage, she said “We had a great marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”
Yes, date night is important; anniversaries and birthdays are important; but most important are the tiny, everyday things that you do together. The simple fact is that time together is an essential ingredient for every relationship. When things get hard, it’s easy to want to retreat from each other and find solace alone, at work, or with friends but, if you want to ride out the storm, you have to do it together.
2. Don’t give up on sex or physical intimacy.
For most men, sex often leads to emotional intimacy and for many women, emotional closeness can lead to sex — not a big deal if you're getting along. In fact, it’s a pattern that becomes a positive feedback loop: you feel close so you want to have sex and by doing so, your husband feels close to you and is more likely to do things that make you feel close to him.
The challenge is when you get out of sync. Someone has to change the pattern to fix things and sometimes, it's as simple as just doing it anyway. If you can’t get to a place where you feel emotionally safe enough for sex, try to start over from the beginning. Kiss each other hello and goodbye (I mean a real kiss that lasts at least 10 seconds, no grandma pecks), hold hands on the couch, or give backrubs and foot massages. Gentle, loving touch is amazing at reigniting physical and emotional intimacy, which is the first step out of a marital dip.
3. Stand your ground and fight.
Sometimes you need to take a break and cool off, but don’t go away for too long. One of the most difficult things for a couple to recover from is emotional disconnection. The feeling that one or both of you has checked-out is often the beginning of a slippery slope into isolation, loneliness, and many times, divorce or break-up.
Even when you aren’t sure how things will get better, commit to showing up and working at it until they do. When both partners can say that even in the midst of challenge, they are willing to stick it out and find solutions to make things better, there is a much greater chance of success. The real secret to staying together is not reducing conflict, it's learning to stay and fight for what you've built together.
4. Stop pointing the finger and look in the mirror first.
Often the things we are frustrated with in our relationship are a reflection of what's happening within us as individuals. This doesn’t let your partner off the hook or excuse bad behavior. It does however give you an opportunity to reclaim a sense of control in the relationship. If you look carefully, you'll likely find that you’re playing a role in creating the problems that you want your partner to fix.
By taking ownership of your part of the problem, you empower yourself to create change, even if your partner isn’t ready to do their part. Ultimately you'll both have to take a “we” perspective instead of a “you" perspective. When you can look at how you can both improve an area, you are sure to find your way back to the good stuff that you’ve been missing.