You can take the easy way out when the going gets tough in your relationship (and you should if you don’t love your partner anymore), but there’s plenty of value and payoff in saving your relationship. How you do that is up to you — there no right or wrong ways. Yet, these tips on putting the pieces of shattered partnership back together are a great place to start.
1. Check yourself first
When you’re not positively connecting with your partners, it’s easy to concentrate on their negative behaviors. For example, they’re falling short and letting you down (and annoying the hell out of you while at it).
“The trap within this mindset is that it focuses on what the other partner is doing or failing to do, but doesn’t make the individual accountable to their own choices and behaviors,” explains Anna Osborn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California.
“Doing a gut check on how you as an individual are showing up in the relationship and being willing to admit it can have a profound positive impact on the relationship. It can also help couples make communication safer by demonstrating admission of mistakes and work together to create change without it held against them.”
2. Revisit what each of your values
Most couples consider calling it quits because feelings have changed, and don’t realize emotions are supposed to change. No one is the same at the beginning of a relationship as a few years later. But shared values, like affection, quality time, fiscal responsibility, and loyalty, are what hold a healthy relationship together. When couples work together in pursuit of these values, they’re more likely to re-experience positive feelings toward one another.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jill Gross says, “When couples feel out-of-sorts, it’s because either their values are changing and they aren’t talking about it with each other — sometimes because they aren’t aware of these changes themselves — and because they aren’t spending time consciously living their values.”
If this sounds like what’s going on in your rocky relationship, Dr. Gross recommends a few strategies.
Find a list of values (easily found with a Google search, she says) and talk about the top five values.
Of the five values, identify one or two that you in common. Once you determine these values, brainstorm something you can do together in service of these values. “For example,” says Dr. Gross, “if [you] both notice that affection is on the top of your values list, I encourage [you] to get creative about setting aside a regular, prescribed amount of time dedicated solely to the practice of giving and receiving affection.”
If you find you have no common values in your respective top-five lists, Dr. Gross encourages seeking outside assistance (relationship coaching or couples counseling) to help dig a little deeper for creative ways to pursue your common values together.
3. Make an appointment with a couple’s therapist
Not all couples can fix their issues on their own, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. An unbiased, highly trained third-party mediator may be what you need to make progress toward healing old wounds, especially if your attempts at home end up in arguments where nobody walked away appreciating what the other was trying to express. For this to work, however, you both have to be willing to take your sessions seriously while recognizing how effective therapy can be and how crucial it may be to your relationship’s survival.
To make the most of your time and money (couple’s therapy isn’t a drop in the bucket financially), go in with open minds and listen to what each other is conveying during the sessions rather than assuming attack positions right off the bat. The latter won’t accomplish anything except building more resentment at $100-plus an hour.
4. Plan a getaway together
Whenever my boyfriend and I eye aren’t seeing eye-to-eye (or just getting on each other’s nerves on a more frequent basis than usual), I like to plan a getaway to forget about whatever’s going on at home and work and spend a couple of days reconnecting. Our fighting doesn’t mean we don’t love each other anymore — quite the opposite, in fact. The moments of heated passion said we love each other enough to spar about whatever’s driving us crazy, and sometimes a few days unplugged, focusing on the relationship help get us back on track.
5. Stop talking and start listening
Many of us — gay men, especially — like to talk at, instead of listening to, our partners. We think we’re right about everything (seriously, what’s that about?). Generally, we’re not (and many times we know it), so we allow our partners a chance to express their feelings? The mending process will move along much faster if we just shut our mouths every now and again.
“Ask your partners what they need, and tell them what you need,” advises relationship expert David Bennett, who owns the relationship coaching company Double Trust Dating and Relationships with his twin brother.
“Be honest and tell them they can be honest. In many cases, couples who’ve been together for years don’t know what the other needs to help make things work. It could be as simple as listening more, helping out more at home, or giving the partner more alone time. Research shows this important to the health of a relationship.
If neither partner can make an effort to work on meeting the needs, then it’s time to break up. However, a couple may find saving the relationship doesn’t take that much work.”
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He spends his time writing from the beach with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.