As a therapist, I spend a good amount of time exploring the push and pull that occurs in relationships. For example, between couples, a lot of friction occurs when one person is wanting more closeness, while the other is seeking more space. With individuals, I observe many people who say they want love and intimacy, then take directly opposing actions to create emotional distance. What people often don’t realize is that all that pushing and pulling we do in our romantic lives often has less to do with our present circumstances and more to do with our personal story.
The decline of a relationship is an awful thing to experience. More often than not, the process starts slowly, and we hardly notice little ways we may be pulling back or growing apart. Eventually, negative dynamics start to evolve, then persist for so long that we have trouble knowing where to start when it comes to repairing the relationship.
When thinking about where things went wrong, it’s important to recognize that a lot of what we do to ruin our relationships has to do with us. Much of how we act is based on programming from our past and defenses we’ve built that cause us to overreact, distort or even provoke the people we feel closest to. Because the only person we can control or change in a relationship is ourselves, it’s almost always worth it to do what we can to develop ourselves before we throw in the towel with our partner.
The good news is experts say there are ways to discern whether you have reason to stick around, and there are also strategies you can call upon to restore the health of your partnership that’s currently struggling. Keep reading for signs that a relationship is in trouble in the first place, how to know when letting go is the best course of action, and then get tips for how to save a relationship and restore its status to healthy.
You know that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you sense that it is over? Signs are popping up all over. A distant look in the eyes. Simple conversations become difficult often turning into looping arguments. Texts ignored. Your partner is pulling away. Panic sets in. We are failing. Question surfaces, “Is my relationship coming to an end?”
Relationships end for a variety of reasons. However, if your partner is leaving because of things you repeatedly do to push him/her away then it is important that you get a grip on yourself and change your pattern. This is not a quick fix solution.
As a relationship specialist, I work with couples on developing healthy patterns of connecting. Sometimes, individuals come to see me when the relationship is failing and they are looking for ways to save it. I offer these five ways to get your partner’s attention.
1. Really listen and take seriously things your partner said that you previously ignored
“I wish I would have listened” is the lament I often hear from individuals who suffer a break-up in a relationship they cherished. People who do more talking than listening send the wrong message. It basically says, “I’m more important than you.” Maybe that’s not how you want to come across, but you will if you don’t show more interest.
If you want to save your failing relationship then open these three things: your eyes, your ears, and your heart. Active listening involves all three. Eyes have to do with giving your mate your full attention. Look them in the eyes in a conversation. Listen without interrupting. Avoid using terms like, “Yes, but…” Listening with your heart is showing empathy to your partner. It communicates that you care.
2. Own the behavior you have been avoiding
One of the things that drives a partner away is unchecked negative behavior in a mate. They feel stuck with someone who won’t own their behavior. It’s exhausting. Before long, they get tired of the pattern and want out.
If you constantly make excuses for yourself, blame your partner, or make empty promises, then your relationship is in danger of failing. Wake up! Take a hard, long look in the mirror. You better start owning your behavior before he/she leaves you for good.
Owning behavior with your partner is a simple as saying, “You’re right, I tend to take my frustration out on you. It’s not fair to you. I need to be more aware of my actions.”
3. Rebuild trust by repairing hurt you caused by your actions
Relationships cannot survive on love. Trust is the foundation upon which all relationships are built. If you break trust with your partner, the relationship suffers. In order to rebuild trust you have to repair the hurt you inflicted on your mate. In my work with couples, I guide them through a 5 step process to repair hurt. For easy remembering the steps begin with the letter A.
- Admit you are wrong.
- Accept responsibility for your behavior without excuses or blame.
- Acknowledge how your actions specifically hurt your partner.
- Ask for forgiveness.
- Agree to work on changing the behavior pattern.
4. Focus on the needs of your partner that you were neglecting
Neglect is an awful word in relationships. So is taking your mate for granted. It communicates a negative sentiment. If you want to save a failing relationship you cherish then you need to focus on the needs of your partner. It cannot be about you all the time. Listen to her music. Go to his sporting event. Show a genuine interest in the things that matter to her/him. Learn your partner’s love language and speak it.
Focusing on your partner’s needs with genuine interest will send a message that they matter. A pattern of doing this likely get his/her attention. Don’t expect it to happen right away.
5. Be consistent with your words and actions
This sets apart the “gamechangers” from the “gametalkers”. Some talk a good game, but don’t back it up. Others finally get it and change from the heart. They are serious and want to preserve the relationship they cherish. They back up their words with action. This is done every day. Over time it becomes apparent their love is genuine.
If you want to save a failing relationship you have to be willing to change your heart. Also, be prepared to work hard. This is not for the faint of heart. If you hurt your mate and damaged trust, it will take time and consistency to build it back. If you truly love this person then you can do it!
6. Avoid a Fantasy Bond
While it’s true that we need to be open in order to let someone else in, it’s also true that people who give up too much of themselves often wind up resenting their partner, or feeling deadened by the relationship itself.
This may sound counterintuitive, but at the point when two people fall in love, they are usually at their most independent. In these initial stages of a relationship, we may be spending a great amount of time with our partner and connecting in ways that feel central to our lives, but we’re still getting to know and regarding the other person as a completely separate and autonomous individual. We’re attentive and attracted to their unique qualities. We appreciate how they treat us, but we do not see them as part of us. Our ability to really see our partner in this way is what allows us to fall in love with them, rather than just falling into a fantasy of being in love.
7. Be affectionate – Most couples wonder how they went from not being able to keep their hands off each other to rarely making physical contact. Unfortunately, society tends to justify this pattern, reinforcing the idea that long-term couples are unsuitable for “puppy love” or PDA. Yet, this elimination of affection is a sad and slow progression that often starts when a couple transitions from being a “you” and a “me” to becoming a “we.” Of course, finding a connection with someone is thrilling and meaningful, but losing yourself and your separate identity in the mix is paving a dangerous road. People feel most attracted to their partner when they see them as someone separate from themselves, someone they are able to love, respect and appreciate for their unique qualities.
When couples replace substance (real acts of love) with form (the practical roles of being in a relationship), they enter into a “fantasy bond.” This bond represents an illusion of connection that actually kills off passion and attraction. We can keep the spark alive by refusing to give up our own, natural desire to express love on a physical level. Hold hands, kiss in public, sit close on the couch, touch casually in passing, and you’ll be surprised to see the depths of desire and feelings of intimacy that arise.
8. Slow down – We hear these two words all the time, but we rarely live by them. For most of us slowing down means plopping on the couch or zoning out to the TV the minute our chaotic to-do list is done. No matter how hectic our schedule, there are ways to take pause within our own minds and reconnect with ourselves throughout the day.
Mindfulness allows us to breathe and be present in the moment. In these times of reconnection, we are not only more in touch with ourselves, but we are better able to recognize and be attuned to our partner. We are more mindful of our actions toward them. We are also more aware of our feelings of desire and attraction.
When we are more present, we can make an effort to really connect, communicate and make eye contact. Again, this may feel like a no-brainer, but in truth, looking each other in the eye is one of the things we forget to do on a daily basis. Just looking at our partner and really seeing him or her as a whole person, separate from ourselves, can further rekindle our empathy, interest and attraction.
9. Try something old – As a relationship advances, it becomes all too easy to make excuses not to make time for each other. When we do get together, we may do things out of a sense of form or obligation. Relationships tend to start fizzling out when we stop sharing the lively things we used to share with our partner. Moreover, once things start to fizzle out, we become even less inclined to share these activities. The cycle that’s created forces more and more distance between partners. We can challenge this by making a commitment to take part in activities we and our partner used to share and enjoy together. If we used to go on walks, we shouldn’t let a long workday dissuade us from getting outside. Participating in activities that light us up or that light our partner up helps us stay close with our partner, while feeling the most ourselves.
10. Try something new – When people first get together, they often grow each other’s worlds, introducing each other to new people, places, interests and activities. When we fall in love, we are in a state in which we feel the most open and alive. As our relationship progresses, and the more we replace real love with a fantasy bond, the more we tend to resist anything new. Especially as we get older, we can become more self-protective or further drawn to routine. We may start to feel more entitled to our partner or more jealous or possessive and, therefore, put restrictions on each other. In effect, we start to limit or shrink each other’s worlds, rather than expanding them. We can keep love alive by continuing to be game to try new things. The more adventures we can create with each other in our day-to-day lives, the more awake we will feel to everything we experience, particularly intimacy and closeness.
In almost every relationship, there comes a time when we are challenged to the point of questioning whether to walk away. In fact when I interviewed my friend Jim Gilligan, who has been married to his wife Carol for almost 50 years, he said “you are not really married until you realize you can leave, and you don’t.” I encourage every couple I meet who has ever felt truly happy and alive with each other, who once felt like the best version of themselves, while being in the relationship, to stick in there and try to develop themselves. Otherwise, they are very likely to repeat the same patterns in yet another situation, perhaps one that isn’t even as meaningful or rewarding.
Relationships are a great place to work on ourselves. There is no harm in trying each of the above steps, as you truly have nothing to lose. The worst case scenario is that you will have grown your own capacity to be loving, vulnerable, passionate and lively. The best case scenario is that you and your partner will grow closer and rekindle your loving feelings for each other.
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MY ADVICE ON "Ways To Save A Failing Relationship That You Cherish so much "
Reigniting a spark or restoring a state of emotional health to a relationship can be as simple as taking an interest in one another. “In the beginning of a relationship, it seems to be easy to be curious about our partner and focus on the positive,” Pawelski says. “However, later in the relationship when the newness fades, we often mistakenly think we know all there is to know about our partner. We stop asking questions, and we fall into a rut.” So, by simply showing your curiosity for one another, you’ll be able to stay focused on what’s going well and what’s really not.