Stressful relationships are often not a result of a couple not being simpatico. They are often due to the stress and strain caused by outside non-relationship factors. There are however, some basic relationship techniques you must work at. Yes, you work at a relationship just like you work at customer relations. You must actively work at having good relationships and NOT take them for granted.
I will therefore break this discussion into these two areas,
1) Outside factors creating stress in relationships and
2) Internal Relationship techniques.
Although number one is often the biggest factor, many people need to work on both simultaneously, particularly if the relationship has been strained significantly.
Many relationships are severely strained by outside factors or what I call influencers. No matter how hard you work at improving your relationship with someone, this kind stress between you will eventually creep back in. This is why you must first address the root cause of the strain. It can be:
a. your job, (or lack thereof)
b. an aging or difficult parent
c. diminishing libido
e. conflicts with children
The list is almost endless. So what can you do?
1. First, you must get together and discuss the problem so as to agree on the fact that an outside factor is the root cause. This is a lot easier than playing the blame game. This is best done in a quiet setting without the usual interruptions – no kids, TV, phone, etc.
2. Next, agree on a game plan for solving the problem. Create a detailed (written) plan involving both of you. Your plan should be realistic, have short-term goals, tasks for each goal and who will be responsible.
3. Then go out and work your plan and make it happen. You might even have to involve the whole family. Work as a team. Think about it, there are countless examples of teams (sports, business and military) where some individuals don’t get along but when they passionately work toward a common goal, it changes everything.
4. Secondly and simultaneously, you need to work at having a good relationship. It may not be WHAT you say, as much as HOW you say it. Here are a few keys to use.
* Communicate with the other person. Screaming at them is not constructive communication. Discuss things that bother you in a positive way. Say, “It would be wonderful if you did X rather than Y”, as opposed to ‘I hate the way you do X.” Before you make a comment or “recommendation”, think about issues your loved ones may have in fulfilling your request. Use the word “we” a lot. If your significant other needs to shed some pounds, the chances are you both do. You can say, “What would you think if we changed our daily eating habits so we can feel and look more like we did when we were younger?”
* Think before you open your mouth. It’s a bit difficult to suck those stupid words back in, kind of like throwing up on someone. It’s hard to undo it.
* Spend more time together doing things you each like to do. It may be necessary to eliminate some things that your spending too much time doing. Your kids may not really need to do soccer, karate, scouts, sports, piano AND tennis. Explain to them that you need more time with the other parent so you fight less and you all have more fun together. Maybe your volunteer obligations are getting too onerous. Think it over.
* Never blurt out a hard criticism. Think about what to say and just as importantly, when to say it. Timing can be everything. Statements like “You look like _____ in that outfit,” will get you nowhere. But, “You know that dress or suit doesn’t show off your best asset,” could be lots of fun and positive reinforcement of a desired behavior.
In summary, remember two keys to significantly less stress in your relationships.
First find and address the root cause of problems and difficulties together.
Then, Work at Your Relationship! I’ve known people who wanted to have relationships, but were so focused on their career that they were unwilling to take time to find and maintain relationships. What happens to them if they lose their jobs? Your identity should be more than your professional title. Your life should be about fulfillment in all areas.
We need relationships, with their give and take, to sustain us through life.
Go for it and have fun.