Wednesday, October 21, 2015

21 Days to Getting Your Relationship Back on Track

Have you ever wondered why so many people are having affairs, separating, and feeling downright miserable in their relationships? Does it sometimes feel like your own relationship is running on auto-pilot? If so, you're not alone.

The bottom line is that even the best relationships can get stagnant. And even the most compatible couples can find themselves thinking that the "grass is greener on the other side."

Culturally, we're inundated with the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. A 2011 survey showed that the #1 reason for divorce is "falling out of love" followed closely by infidelity. The good news is, there's no reason to believe that you and your partner are doomed to become a statistic. Believe it or not, your choices - be it in your job, how you raise your kids, what you eat for dinner - are in your own hands entirely. And the same goes for how you approach your relationship. Most couples long for the honeymoon phase. They want to feel loved and wanted, but are at a loss on how to get the intimacy and passion back. Little do they know that it's not only possible to revive their relationship, but that they can do so with greater passion and intimacy than ever before. This is true no matter what you're dealing with. Whether it be infidelity, emotional neglect, money conflicts, communication problems, or whatever else.

But before I give you strategies for reviving your relationship, let's first start by understanding how things can get off track in the first place...

If you're like most, you may remember the beginning of your relationship when meeting your partner's needs was at the top of your priority list, and vice versa. But then something happened. As a therapist and life coach, I have seen first-hand what happens. Couples start out strong and then they fall into what I call "The Program" - They get married, have kids, get a job, buy a house, get deeper in debt, and get totally lost in the rat race. Exhausted, under pressure and easily annoyed from being in this constant state of stress, they have little time or energy left over for each other. In other words, when you're running around like a madman (or woman), working, running the kids from activity to activity, trying to catch up with friends & family, distracting yourself with shopping, TV, pornography, food, alcohol or whatever, you become dissatisfied and disconnected from your partner. When you're not feeling connected to your partner, chances are you're not very interested in meeting their needs or even having them meet yours.

As human beings, we all have physical and psychological needs that we strive to fulfill on a daily basis. And when we have unmet needs, whether sexual, emotional, or other, we start seeking ways to meet those needs. The problem is we don't always come up with the best solutions. For example, a woman may turn to another man because she feels emotionally unfulfilled in her marriage or a man may turn to pornography because he feels sexually unfulfilled. These "solutions" obviously won't work and will only serve to create a deeper level of disconnection. When our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs are not being met, we become dissatisfied and unhappy. And when we're not happy, we tend to make other people unhappy, usually starting with our partner. We start putting expectations on them, and to make matters worse we expect them to know what we need without us having to tell them. Then when they don't meet our needs, we become resentful, and punish them by not meeting their needs. As a result we get further and further away from each other on all levels - mentally, emotionally, romantically, sexually and spiritually.

A good relationship should have a positive energy return. Think of it as 1 + 1 = 3, meaning we bring out the best in each other, we add value, we meet each other's needs, and together we become greater than the sum of our parts. Unfortunately when needs are not being met, the energy balance is in the negative (1 + 1= minus 2). When a relationship has a negative energy return, we usually feel helpless and hopeless as to how to turn things around.

If you're reading this, I am guessing you are in a place of self-awareness and self-discovery - you may be suffering, but you know there could be a more positive way to approach your intimate relationship, and you're looking for ways to re-connect with your partner on all levels. As it is with making any significant change, it requires honesty, commitment and a willingness to instill new practices into your relationship. I will give you strategies to help you feel more connected to your partner, however you need to think of it as a toolbox; if you merely let tools sit in the box, nothing will be fixed or created. The tools will simply collect dust. Therefore, I urge you to thoroughly complete the exercises provided. Be patient - and celebrate yourself (and your partner) at each step of the way.

So let's get started...

Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and odds are, trust will be broken in nearly every long-term relationship at some point. But it can be repaired provided that at least one of you is committed to breaking out of the relationship patterns that are not working for you. This can be hard work, especially if your spouse is not on board yet, but it is achievable. The urge to revert back old patterns may arise throughout this process, but if you're serious about getting your relationship back on solid ground, you need to consistently take action to create new relationship dynamics - these are the actions that serve to strengthen your connection and bring you closer together as a couple. At first, your partner may not trust your intentions, but over time and with consistency, trust levels will rise along with the feeling of connection.

Here are 5 exercises for you to get started:

1. On a sheet of paper, make a list of all of the things you are currently saying/doing that are disconnecting you from your partner;

2. Make another list of all of the things you are currently saying/doing that are strengthening the connection with your partner;

3. For the next 21 days, make a commitment to not doing any of the things on your "disconnection" list and to doing more on your "connection" list. Then write your commitment on three sticky notes and put them in places you see often throughout your daily life (e.g. on your closet door, on your bedroom lightswitch, on your computer).

4. For the next 21 days, do not talk about your relationship problems. In fact, I want you to take a sheet of paper and write down all of the problems in your relationship that you can think of. Then fold the paper and place it in a small box. Close the box and put it in a safe place. If your mind wanders back, simply remind yourself that your relationship problems are safely stowed away and do not give yourself permission to re-visit them until the end date. You may be wondering what's the point of putting your problems on hold. Well the point is that you can deal with problems much more effectively from a place of connection than from a place of disconnection. So instead of talking about problems or logistics (i.e. who is picking the kids up, deadlines at work, what's for dinner, etc), once a day, take the time to talk about your hopes and dreams, and to ask about your partner's.

5. Initiate at least 3 positive interactions per day - I.e a compliment, a supportive comment, or a show of affection - it doesn't matter as long as it is 100% positive. In other words, do not add a negative to a positive (i.e. I really love you, but wish you'd take out the trash). At least one of these interactions must be physical. For example, give your spouse second hug for a full 30 seconds at least twice per day (without back patting).

Fill-Me-Up Cards for Couples is a 21-day challenge for couples looking for some creative ideas on how to recharge their relationship. It is a fun game that encourages partners to share in the common goal of re-igniting passion and intimacy. Just imagine feeling connected to your spouse the way you once were!

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