Holidays are supposed to be about celebrating with the people you love, but for many of us, it inevitably puts romantic relationships under a microscope.
Will it last? Am I with the right person? Should they be meeting my family?
As a psychologist, I often work with patients to evaluate the strength and potential longevity of a relationship. I'd like to offer you a unique way to look at what might not be working and what you can do about it.
If you truly love your partner and want to isolate what's not working in the relationship, you can bring these insights to your significant other and try to improve the relationship together.
Essentially, once you identify the problem and have the motivation to discuss it with your honey, you've created an opportunity to promote longevity in your relationship.
Here are a few signs I've seen in my practice that your relationship is in trouble and what you can do to change that:
1. "Quality time" always involves a screen and rarely involves face-to-face sharing.
It's wonderful to watch your favorite show or movie together, but those passive activities have to be balanced by true bonding. Quality time is the glue that keeps partners bonded together. Without it, your relationship loses its luster, and you and your partner will grow apart.
Discuss what quality time means to each of you. Guard it like your life depends on it. Make a mutual commitment to do more together than just sit on the couch and watch TV.
2. When you or your significant other share words from the heart, one of you doesn't put the phone down.
This one is an extension of the first sign. When you have to constantly compete with your partner's phone for his or her attention, it puts distance between you. Phones dilute the quality of the attention you give. Divided attention fosters resentment and a lack of caring. Even if you both do it, it's still not OK. Making each other compete for attention is slowly draining the love out of your relationship.
Have a code word you'll use as a cue that it's time to put the screen down and look at each other.
3. You argue about who's right. A lot.
All couples do this to some degree as time passes, but these disagreements can become immensely frustrating for both of you. The problem with this kind of argument is that there's no solution. Therefore, both partners are left feeling bitter and resentful. A frequent need to be right is associated with a lack of curiosity about your partner and sometimes predicts the presence of a personality disorder in one or both people.
Accept the following truth: There are two "rights" in every relationship. You're right. Your partner is also right. If you respect this truth, you can stop trying to make your partner wrong. You can learn to respect his or her opinion.
4. Your arguments often include the phrases "you always" or "you never."
These sentences are relationship killers. Why? Because they shut down curiosity and they leave no room for behavioral change. If I say to you, "You never look at me when I talk to you," you'll probably look once and then not feel very motivated to change the way you look at me in the future. So, these sentences don't promote change—they encourage resentment and become self-fulfilling prophecies.
It's simple. Ban the use of these phrases in the relationship. Period.
5. You or your partner suffered intense abuse or neglect at the hands of a family member and refuse to get help for it.
Chances are the effects of abuse or neglect are wreaking havoc on your relationship, especially if you lack the motivation to overcome the resentment and emotional blockages that result from childhood trauma. There's no question that unresolved trauma will negatively affect your romantic relationship.
Find the humility to seek help even from a priest or rabbi. Find a self-help book related to your childhood experience or current behavioral manifestation of the problem. Ultimately, the goal is to commit to psychotherapy with a licensed professional.
6. One partner frequently talks about bringing a third person into the bedroom despite the other partner's discomfort with or disgust over the idea.
Some people argue that alternative lifestyles allow their relationship to work. I would say, "Maybe, possibly, probably not, unless you're over 50 and it's a last resort to save a marriage." The need to add a third person to your sex life is usually a sign that something in the romantic bond is broken and needs fixing. It's often a sign that one partner either has a strong fetish or has lost sexual interest in the other partner.
It's my belief that if one partner will not relent on a request for a third person in the bedroom, the other partner should insist on talking about this problem with a licensed sex therapist or couple's counselor. There's no better way to handle this.
7. One or both of you lacks an explicitly stated commitment to personal growth or life goals.
A commitment to personal growth in yourself and in your partner is one of the strongest predictors of individual happiness and healthy couplehood. What often ends up happening is that the partner who is committed to his or her life goals eventually feels turned off by the other partner's lack of evolution. A lack of focus on personal growth leaves very little room for each partner to grow as an individual or for the couple to evolve together in a healthy way. Many of the happiest couples I know are committed to satisfying the goals of the other as much as they work on their own selves. Quite often, a couple that lacks mutual investment in personal growth is a depressed couple with limited chances of fulfillment and relationship longevity.
Sit down with your partner and write down your personal goals for the next year. Get very concrete with them. Talk about how each of you can help the other fulfill personal goals. Read a spiritual self-help book together and discuss each chapter. Sign up for events that promote spirituality and personal growth. Make personal goals a regular conversation within your relationship.