There’s nothing scarier to some couples than the word “communication,” but that’s often a sign that something very big is wrong with the relationship. But, no fear—there is still lots that can be done to save the relationship… if you’re both committed to saving it, that is. Here’s what to do when you’re facing relationship challenges and aren’t quite sure how to overcome them. Don’t give up—it can be done!
- Open a channel of communication. I’m not going to beat around the bush—this is an important one. This is the mainstay of relationship advice for good reason. If you can’t speak freely and honestly with your partner, then what emotional service are they providing you with? How is the relationship serving you? This is a great time to mix things up, so choose a neutral venue outside of your flat and be ready to speak your mind.
- Ask friends and family for advice. Don’t shame yourself into the delusion that you’re the only one experiencing relationship challenges. Everyone goes through them, I promise. If they say otherwise, they’re lying, because relationships are about compromise and forgiveness. If the magical power couple you live next to claim they haven’t had an argument in four years, then at least one of them is not speaking their mind. Honesty is the best policy, and drawing on the experiences of those around you will be great to get the ball rolling. It makes you feel more relaxed to know you’re not alone. This will go a long way in helping you overcome them.
- Consider therapy. I know that it’s a scary word, but I truly believe that everyone should be in therapy. Not because trauma looks the same to everyone, but because we all need a safe space where we can vent our feelings. These constructive channels also introduce a level of professional third-party opinion that doesn’t, unlike overzealous family members, have an ulterior motive or bias. You can either go as a couple or an individual and it will be equally beneficial. You will notice a difference in your communication skills.
- Redefine your relationship. If you want to overcome your relationship challenges, start by taking a step back. Think to yourself: are things so hard because of the people in the relationship, or because of the terms of the relationship? Reflect on whether monogamy is for you, or if long-distance is proving too hard and you’re lashing out, or if you want an open marriage, or to experiment with your sexuality. There are so many options to explore, this isn’t the time to restrict yourself.
- Test the foundation of the relationship. Get back to basics. Check in with each other’s feelings. Consider whether you still want to pursue a future with each other. Assess what you like and dislike about each other. Be honest with them and with yourself. If your goals have changed, that’s natural. That isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. Look each other in the eyes and figure out whether you are still looking at your partner or just someone who is causing you stress.
- Explore new boundaries. Introduce a system of communication and risk-taking. Maybe try a threesome to spice up your sex life. Or, try the reverse and go a few weeks without sex to see what substance remains in your relationship without it. Maybe take up a shared hobby, or kick your partner out of the pilates class if you feel they’re suffocating you. If you aren’t comfortable sharing a bed every night—sleep in separate rooms or move out. Compulsory heterosexuality isn’t just about sexuality but about performances of how couples should be. Intimacy doesn’t mean the same to all couples, and if you can save your relationship by erasing a few of these unspoken ‘rules’, then do!
- Have “no strings” talks often. Give your partner a “get out of jail free” card at family functions; give them a ‘veto’ card, or claim one for yourself. Introduce new gestures of familiarity and trust to make your relationship less absolute and make sure everyone feels safe and relaxed.
- Have some time apart. See if absence makes the heart grow fonder! Get used to the thrill of texting when you’re apart and you’ll see such a change. After all, you can’t miss each other if you’re never apart, can you?
- Have a date night you’ve never done before. Try something new – it doesn’t have to be sexual, but show each other when you’re vulnerable and excited to learn a new skill. Take up running or hiking or climbing – something that you can enjoy. It might reinvigorate your sex life if you feel like it has lost the love it used to have.
- Consider what you are willing to compromise and what you aren’t. These are simple conversations that are mostly had with your gut. You know in your heart what you are comfortable with and what you aren’t. You know, hard as it is, what you want. Don’t sacrifice yourself for the other person.
All this to say: don’t be afraid to leave. “No” is a complete sentence. Do not be bogged down by the sunk cost of the relationship. No history is worth your future. End of. That being said, it’s possible to overcome relationship challenges by working together as the team you know you can be.