Are hard patches normal in relationships?

You and your partner are in a difficult place. It’s hard to feel connected and you don’t understand. You worry about whether this is the beginning of the end of the relationship. Fantasies about what it might be like to start life again, be single and what it might be like to go out with someone new. Maybe you even started looking for divorce lawyers.

Many couples experience similar situations and come out stronger, more connected, and more in love than ever before. This statement may sound idealistic or even unimaginable if you are experiencing a difficult patch in your relationship. It can happen, however, and it requires work. There is no sugar to cover the situation. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. If so, you need to commit to rolling up your sleeves and doing your part.

If this is your intention, here’s how to do it.

Own your part

Recognize your role in how you both got to this point in your relationship. There are “us” things that affect a relationship, but there are also “me” things. Decide if you are willing to make a personal inventory of the internal work you need to do. Need to change your attitude towards your partner and allow yourself to notice the good things they do? Can you find something you appreciate about your partner and let them know? You may need to forgive or accept some things you can’t change about your partner to open your mind. There may be work you do (possibly in your own personal therapy) that allows you to keep your partner in a positive perspective.

Have fun together

When was the last time you two went on a date or had sex that didn’t work? Great relationships need to be taken care of. Shared positive experiences lead to shared positive emotions. If you don’t invest in quality time with others, don’t be surprised when you start to see your spouse as a “business partner” with whom you are in the “business” of being in a relationship.

Sexual connection and real intimacy are ways to create vulnerability between them. If you want to add a positive charge to your view of the relationship, you need to behave in a way that generates affection, physical connection, and shared vulnerability.

Reformulate the situation

Relationships can be hard work. Hard patches often represent the consequences of a time when the relationship was not a priority for one or both. Reformulate this time as a wake-up call to let you both know you need to do a reset.

Many couples experience periods in which they have not prioritized the relationship, not because they do not care, but because they are busy with family chores or responsibilities. Tough patches can be those “aha” moments that serve as reminders that there is work to be done.

You can recover the relationship, but you have to see the consequences in the right light. This rough patch doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a couple and that you have to throw in the towel. Indicates that you have deviated from the course and can still do something to change it.

Remember the good times

Your relationship is likely to have had some really amazing times when you felt loved, loved and seen. If you’ve never been through those times, chances are you’re still in a relationship. Instead, you may have fallen into what is known as nullifying negative sentiment. This means that you are both so focused on your problems that it is difficult for you to remember the good parts.

This substitution of negative feeling can keep you trapped in a pattern of negative emotion that influences negative responses. Can you remember the things you like about your partner or the times when things went well? What contributed to the success of your relationship during those times? Can you find ways to recreate some of these positive emotions?

Getting in touch with some of these above positive emotions can generate warm thoughts about your partner. Feeling positive about the person you are in a relationship with can help restore genuine positive energy that leads to positive interactions. These balanced perspectives on the good parts that are also happening can help match your view on the value of the relationship.

Ask for what you need (positively)

Did you ask for your relationship needs or do you think that if your partner really loved you, they would? TO KNOW? Did you ask the right way? If the four gentlemen (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and obsession) were placed in your conversations, it may be time to learn to address your unmet needs in a positive way.

Learning how to use a smooth start-up or finding a way to accept some of the responsibility of how a difficult conversation deviated from the course are good places to start. Couple Therapist trained by the Aska Gottman Method if the tools you and your partner use to address your needs send conflicting messages.

Final thought

This time in your relationship it could be storm, and you and your partner need different navigation tools. There is no guilt or shame involved in hitting a difficult patch. It can be the shock that your relationship needs to get stronger and more valued on the other side.

Join Gottman Certified Therapists Faith Drew and George Bitar as they present at the upcoming Art and Science of Love virtual workshop. You will learn effective methods designed to make your relationship work. Register today!

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