How to fix a broken relationship: 8 expert tips
How to fix your relationship: Go to a therapistWell, of course, the pros would say that. But hear out their reasons: “First of all, we are trained in working with couples, watching their dynamic, being able to figure out their unique dance, and mirror it back to them in a way that they might not be able to do themselves,” Sussman says.
Therapists are also objective, in a way that family members or friends aren’t, says Louis. “Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re communicating in an ineffective way. And so that’s why it’s important to have an objective third party to really walk you through some of the patterns that you might be stuck in,” she says.
Plus, they can use science-backed data and evidence to convince you why what you’re doing (like nagging) isn’t effective, Sussman notes.
Or try DIY therapyYes, changing the way you interact with your partner can be tough to do on your own, but it’s not impossible, says McManus. And plenty of well-known couples therapists have resources to help guide you, including websites, books, podcasts, Ted Talks and YouTube channels. Among the therapists McManus suggests checking out: John and Julie Gottman, Esther Perel, and Ellyn Bader and Pete Pearson at The Couples Institute. “They are all fantastic resources for anyone interested in learning how to improve their relationship,” she says.
Learn how to ask for thingsInstead of attacking your partner for never washing the dishes, take a different approach. “I give this example to my couples – when X happens, I feel Y. I would like Z,” says Louis. So, for example, you’d say, “When I come into the house and the dishes are everywhere I start to feel overwhelmed. So maybe we can take turns: I wash the dishes one day, you wash the dishes another day. That will make me feel really supported.”
It works because your partner feels less defensive if you avoid using words like “always” and “never” and “you” statements. Instead, focus on your emotions, as well as what Louis calls a “recipe for success.” “So instead of just leaving it with a criticism, sharing what can their partner do for things to start to feel more balanced,” she explains.
Know how to fight fairlyDoes this sound familiar? In the heat of the moment, you want to talk the issue out until it’s resolved but your partner can’t deal and withdraws. That’s pretty common actually, says Louis. It could be that your partner’s emotions are running too high to deal with right now.
Louis advises the following strategies instead.
Find some self-soothing coping strategiesA self-soothing coping strategy to fall back on can be beneficial when you get overwhelmed. “It could include meditation, going for a walk, or taking a hot bath, but it’s really important that couples have their own strategies on what they do to make themselves feel better, especially when a conflict arises,” Louis explains.
Don’t beat a hasty retreatInstead say, “Let’s take a break and then in 20 minutes, we can come back and talk this through when I’m feeling calm again. Because right now, I’m struggling with staying emotionally present.” It’s crucial that you set a time when you’ll be back to resolve the conflict, says Louis. If one “person just walks away, then the other person is going to feel abandoned.”
Set a reasonable time-outIf you can’t calm down in 20 minutes, then you can extend it for up to two hours, advises Louis. But don’t let that break stretch out an entire day, she says. “At that point, resentment and bitterness can start to come in where they’ve made up an entire story from their own perspective and not really got a chance to hear things from their partner’s perspective.”
Here’s another important point, says Louis: If you initiated the break, you set the time to reconvene. That way, your better half won’t follow you around the house asking you when it’s time to talk. Now that you’ve got these steps down, here are other ways to have more productive arguments.
Start dating againLouis recommends you spend quality one-on-one time at least once a week, preferably for two hours. No, you don’t have to go out to dinner or do anything fancy. Light candles and put on some tunes, play a board game or cards, or give each other a massage.
The key: Spend a couple of hours of uninterrupted time, she says. “Nobody’s on their phone, nobody’s on their computer, but you’re just knee to knee, eye to eye, really engaging each other.”
It’s a good way to avoid monotony – spending evenings in front of the TV, tending to the kids, or doing chores. “Especially couples who’ve been together for a while – they can get stuck into a routine,” says Louis. “So I teach them how to be intentional about bringing creativity into their marriage.”