Tina and Michael take you on a comprehensive walk through the 10 Secrets to a loving relationship that can last. With each secret they give you an overview followed by specific tips you and your partner can use in your daily life.
Which Secrets do you and your partner already know and practice?
Which Secrets do you need to work on?
Read to find out!
Secret #10: Better Yourself First | Secret #9: Have Realistic Expectations | Secret #8: Have Clear Relationship Rules and Organize Your Daily Lives Secret #7: Talk About Sex | Secret #6: Setting Goals and Dreaming Together | Secret #5: Respect Each Other | Secret #4: Prioritize Your Relationship | Secret #3: Understand Your Fights | Secret #2: Always Repair | Secret #1: Talk Openly and Tune In
The Beatles sang that there is ‘Something’ about love that is hard to put your finger on.
Beyonce sings about being ‘Crazy in Love’ and how it’s a funny thing to try to explain.
No doubt – love can be complex. It can be a mystery. But one thing is for sure – it’s so powerful that once we find it, we want to hold onto it!
In this article we are going to go deep into the parts of love that has lead us to a happy marriage of 17 years. We share the things we have figured out along the way as we worked hard to grow our love in spite of the multiple life stressors we’ve encountered through the years.
We share what helped us come out stronger through the ups & downs.
And we also incorporate the depth of knowledge we have gained helping hundreds of couples in our therapy office. Working with couples on the brink of separating has taught us how to get to the heart of an issue and to notice patterns that get in the way of a healthy relationship.
We’ve had to learn to take that ‘Something’ that the Beatles wrote about and turn it into practical, actionable direction so couples can make progress and improve their relationships. And we want to share these ideas and strategies with you.
We also bring some levity and joy into this article so we organized it in a David Letterman Top 10 style.
Before we get to the 10 Secrets
If you and your partner plan on using these ideas and strategies to improve your relationship, it might be helpful to know that we also have a more comprehensive video version of this article.
The video version can help solidify your thoughts and feelings, and you will also get access to our personal stories connected to each Secret. Below is an introduction to the 10 Secrets. If you want to go straight to the full video click here: 10 Secrets to Lasting Love
And plan to make some time for a good discussion to happen after you are done reading or watching. Otherwise, it’s just good information that you have that is not being used. What’s the point of that?
One last thing before we get started. Underneath everything, to be happy and fulfilled long term in a relationship, you have to genuinely love and admire the person you’re with. That’s where the spark and connection starts. It doesn’t mean you think they are perfect. But you must have a great appreciation for them.
Ask yourself: “Do I feel that way about my partner?” Maybe it got lost over time with some relationship challenges and trust issues, but if it was there in the beginning, it normally can be found again when both partners are REALLY willing to put the work into it.
If you’ve found that right partner for you – then odds you are reading this article because some things have crept up to get in the way. Life stressors you faced as a couple might have taken a bit of a toll on your relationship and you need a little help. These tips and strategies we will be discussing will certainly be helpful.
And if you are questioning if maybe you got into your relationship for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t mean you are doomed. Not at all. You can still apply these tips – but you may not necessarily get the same degree of fulfillment, and it may feel like a bit more of a challenge in your relationship. You probably will have to work harder and get more help. But that’s okay.
You’re here now, so that means this relationship is important to you and worth fighting for. If you work on applying these secrets, overtime you’ll notice that your relationship has been greatly improved.
So let’s get started!
Simply put, Better Yourself First refers to how stronger individuals lead to a stronger couple. A healthy relationship needs two healthy individuals. This is a core belief for us here at BetterYourself365. Our whole philosophy as a company is based on this.
Why is this important? Because when you are well, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you can better deal with the stressors of life and be more able to show-up for your partner and your kids, if you have them. It’s really that simple!
Each person in a relationship must first focus on their own health if they want a healthy relationship. That doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect and constantly healthy, but we have to consistently be focusing on our own growth as an individual. Then we bring this strength and clear sense of SELF into the relationship.
Tips on How to Better Yourself first
If you can only change one thing, this is it. Listen inside to what has been too hard to face. Your partner may have been complaining about it. Perhaps these things to change seem too overwhelming for you to start working on so whenever your partner talks to you about it you shut down. Maybe you’re feeling helpless and you don’t know where to start. Nothing will ever change unless you decide you want to better yourself first. Your partner can’t make you change anything. It has to be your decision.
Is it the fact that you put in too many hours at work? Is it the drinking? The anger? The irritability or mood swings that are hard to predict and control? Fear of being vulnerable? Is it the depression? Unresolved grief? Or past trauma of some sort?
Bottom line, you are responsible for your own happiness. You can’t rely on your partner for your changes. A partner can accept and tolerate a lack of effort to work on your own ‘stuff’ for a while, but this will most likely just lead to resentment in the long run.
So DO something. Try something different. If you are having trouble getting started, share that with your partner. Let them know that you want to work on it, but don’t know where to start. When we know that our partner is aware of their ‘stuff’ we can be more patient and are more willing to wait to see progress, and we become actually open to helping them. So your partner needs to know that DOING your self-growth work is important to you too.
If you are struggling to do it on your own, decide to get help today. Make an appointment with a doctor, therapist, nutritionist, or coach. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Thinking that a relationship means being totally ‘head over heels’ with each other all the time is unrealistic. This feeling might last for a few years, but then life happens and lots of ups and downs come along.
So, expecting things to be easy and always happy can lead to difficulties. A lot less divorces would take place if people had two different expectations instead: That love is a constant commitment to your partner, and that love is constantly evolving and changing.
Accept that successful relationships require a constant commitment to your partner regardless of life circumstances. Life throws curve balls, and we need to ensure we don’t let them get in the way of our relationship. Troubles could come along in the form of the loss of a job, a health issue, the loss of a loved one, or long-held relationship fears your partner has. This is a much harder part of love that involves tears, anger, arguments and hurt at times. But if you keep focused on your partner and your bond, a deeper and stronger love has a chance to develop through these tough times, just like it did for Michael and me.
Get okay with riding the waves of a relationship – the ebbs and flows that are natural in our lives. Remember that a love that is alive is constantly evolving. People face challenges and they change and grow. They need their partner to grow with them. They can’t be pegged into a way of being that you knew when you met. They need to be able to grow.
There’s a book we read together when we first met that we both love. It’s a Shel Silverstein book called “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O”.
It’s about learning to become yourself in the comfort of a relationship that allows you the space. Check it out. It’s beautifully written.
The more you learn how to do this with your partner, you’ll notice that the ‘downs’ don’t last as long and the ‘ups’ are much more satisfying.
As Antoine Saint-Exupery wrote, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
Tips on How to Have Realistic Expectations
If you are one of those people who gets a thrill from high emotions, or you’re instinct is to bail when things get too hard, you need to seriously take a look at that and ask yourself where this is coming from. Learning how to stick it out through the hard times actually makes your love stronger. So perhaps you need to get the help to process this further to investigate where this habit was born so you can makes some changes.
But right now, think about your partner. You chose this person as your partner for a reason. Deep down you care for them and want what’s best for them. Be grateful to have someone who’s willing to be by your side through the ups and downs of life. That helps strengthen the bond between you.
One tip to help you focus on the positives is to keep a Gratitude Journal or Gratitude Jar. Every day write something about your partner that you are grateful for. Gratitude journalling has been shown to be very effective in increasing our joy. And the journals can be used for the purpose of increasing our appreciation of our partners.
And remember that enduring difficult times makes you stronger. If you stick with focusing on the positives and get the help you need when it gets too hard it’s totally worth it on the other side. Give yourself that chance to get to that stronger, deeper bond.
Life with a partner is going to be filled with messiness, stress and miscommunication!
We need to expect this as there is so much to juggle in the course of a day and you are dealing with two human beings that are not perfect. However, the amount of confusion, chaos and upset can be limited the more couples come together to identify clear rules and get on the same page with certain values around key topics.
So this is probably the most practical tip of all our secrets, but so many couples don’t do this part thoroughly enough.
The more you take time to talk about the day-to-day life at your house and organize yourselves, the more this will prevent fights and help you and your partner feel more like a team.
Three of the most important topics to be clear on and organize are: Finances, Household Chores, and Parenting.
Tips on How to Have Clear Rules and Organize Your Daily Lives
Take some time with your partner to get practical here. Start from scratch if you need to, but sit together and really take a look at your daily life and how things are going in each of the three categories. What’s going well and what can be improved?
Try to stay away from a 50/50 mentality. We have to be pragmatic if we are going to make progress so neither partners feels like they forced into agreeing to something that they don’t want. At times one partner does take on more than the other in one of the areas. It’s part of going with the flow that life offers. But resentment can build up if they get stuck doing something they feel is unfair or too much.
Start by making a list of what needs to get done and organized in each of the three areas. Discuss who would be interested and better at doing each task. There will be tasks that neither of you like or are good at doing. So you might want to get help on those. These can include things like hiring a house cleaner, working with a financial planner, or hiring a tutor for one of your kids.
Where is your energy, time and dollars best spent so things can run as smoothly as possible and where each partner feels like things are fair?
Whatever you decide together, you now need to organize yourselves. Again, if this is not your strong suit, find a friend or family member that has strong organizational skills and get help. Fridge calendars or syncing Google Calendars or iCal’s is a great way for both of you to be aware of what’s going on. But this doesn’t replace talking about your schedule and plans on a daily or weekly basis. Get in line with each other so both of you know what is going on.
The longer you wait to do this pragmatic step, the more likely that conflicts will arise and resentment will take hold. Get help if you can’t have these conversations on your own – it might indicate a bigger problem (see Secret #3).
Sex is very important in a healthy relationship. It’s the one thing that separates romantic relationships from other attachment relationships. It makes us feel bonded and special to our partner.
It doesn’t look the same between couples. Some like to experiment more, some swear by frequency, some are into fantasy, and others are okay with less sex. But the important thing is that it works for both partners.
A consistent observation we have when working with couples is that when couples are going through a rough patch in the relationship, they seem to have less sex. This makes sense as sex and emotions are connected.
So often, as they work on the other emotional dimensions of the relationship, a couple’s sex life automatically gets better. And the opposite can be true in some relationships, too! Some couples have a pack to make sure to have sex more regularly when they start to feel themselves slide into disconnect.
It is well understood that having sex is important, but we also know that it can be a very difficult and sensitive subject for many couples. This is why our secret is that we need to ‘Talk’ about sex. Sex can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss for some couples. If sex becomes a taboo topic this will just put more pressure on both partners and make sex complicated.
There are other complicating factors that can get in the way of a healthy sexual relationship. Sexual disfunctions are more common that people suspect. Things like low libido, vaginal dryness, and erectile disfunction are some factors in many relationships and dealing with them can be challenging for couples.
Tips on How to Talk About Sex
Sex can be a complicated and sensitive topic at times. A couple can do things to make sure that their sex life is kept healthy in their relationship.
First and foremost, don’t wait until sex is a big elephant in the room before you talk about it. Talk about it at a different time than in the ‘moment’ when emotions or pressure is high.
When you do talk about it, focus on these two things in your conversation:
1. Why sex is important to you.
2. What you want out of your sexual relationship with your partner.
Be sensitive to the challenges your partner might face with sex and don’t put all the pressure on your partner to resolve your sexual issues. Check in to see how your partner is feeling about it and try to understand their feelings.
Try to problem-solve together and make a plan of things to try, accepting that there will be learning from trial and error (sound fun!). Experiment with solutions instead of taking things personally.
Seek medical or counselling help for sexual issues. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and making progress can really show your partner that you are committed to resolving this issue.
Sometimes you need to let go of the ‘intercourse’ part for a little while so you can resolve some sexual issues while taking the pressure off ‘performance’. Just pretend you are back to the beginning of your relationship before you were having sex and be playful with each other. It’s amazing what can happen sometimes with a couple once the pressure of intercourse is reduced.
Nothing connects a couple more as a team than when they can have deep conversations about their hopes and dreams for their own or their family’s future. It bonds them as a team, it gives them hope and a feeling that they are moving in the same direction as a couple.
However, they also need to create space for individual needs and aspirations. Part of being in a strong relationship is to also have room as an individual in the relationship and have your own interests, hobbies, friends and support network. It is a sign of respect to see your partner as an individual separate from you. It actually increases the trust and connection in the relationship when each individual is also able to have space from each other when it doesn’t result in insecurities.
Bottom line, it’s important to have our individual goals and dreams and our couples goals and dreams. And it is so important to be able to talk openly about both and support both.
Tips on How to Set Goals and Dream Together
Sharing our thoughts with our partners on bigger issues of life usually doesn’t just happen on its own. You have to make room for it. If you and your partner only talk about the daily grind, then you might not let yourself share at this deeper level.
Go ahead and book these conversations into your schedule. Once a year have a goals and dreams talk. Discuss how you feel about where you are personally & as a couple. Where do you want to be next year? In five years? Discuss you, your partner, and your family and see how you can make it all fit together and support one another.
And then schedule something more regular – weekly or monthly. These will be shorter conversations. Check-in on those dreams and goals you and your partner set and see how things are progressing. Celebrate successes & trouble shoot challenges. Support each other.
Did we mention how support is key?
Remember this important piece of information: When we commit to someone we have no idea who they are going to be in 5 years, 10 years or 20 years. But one thing for sure is that they won’t be the same person they are today. And if you haven’t taken the time to grow with them on their journey it might be shocking and even destroy you to someday realize you don’t recognize your partner.
Our work is to keep falling in love with the new parts of our partner as they keep changing and growing. If you succeed in doing this, it again deepens the bond.
What we mean by respect here is deep. It’s not just showing respect to your partner, but it’s feeling respect for them at a deeper level. Aim to really appreciate and want to know your partner’s opinions even if you don’t agree with them. Do this because they and their opinion matters to you. It’s believing in one another and trusting that your partner is doing the best they can with what they have.
Respect has two levels: Respect for yourself & Respect for your partner.
If you only respect your partner but don’t respect yourself, you will have a hard time taking in any of your partner’s gestures of respect towards you and might even undermine it. Or even worse, you may not recognize if your partner is actually treating you disrespectfully… If you’re convinced you don’t deserve respect you may spend too much energy compensating in order to prove your worthiness of being loved. That usually backfires and provides less respect from your partner.
Alternatively, if you only respect yourself but not your partner, they will feel and see that every day and be hesitant to show you their true self and won’t be able to trust you to have their back.
Without respect at the core of your relationship, you will doubt each other’s intentions, judge each other and not let each other in the same way. You might even start hiding things from your partner. Patience, understanding and trust will be impacted and this will taint all your interactions and likely create fights that may get nasty.
If respect is not present there is a greater chance of the escalation in fights, which can lead to name calling and hurt. See more about this at Secret #3- Understanding your Fights.
Tips on How to Respect Each Other
You can’t fake respect. You have to feel it. But if you feel it, it doesn’t mean you always show it as much as you could. Be aware of behaviours that may start to cross the line and show a lack of respect that can without a doubt snowball to a larger negative impact on your relationship.
Can you let your partner’s opinions influence you at times? Reserve some time to tell your partner what you respect about them. It feels good to know this and to say this.
How do you talk about your partner to others? Do you give them the benefit of the doubt and be their cheerleader? Or do you talk badly about them and put them down? If it’s the latter, this will just continue eroding your respect for them. This needs to stop.
Can you respect that your partner may have different interests, skills and needs than you? It’s not better or worse, just different. Show interest in knowing more about their interests instead of putting them down. You’ll be surprised to see what happens when you start learning about what gets them passionate. You very likely will start to respect them more and they will feel more respected.
Are you sometimes trying to ‘take over’ one aspect of the relationship as the ‘expert’? If you respect each other it means that you are a team everywhere, even if one knows more about something than the other. You still need to consult and approach the decision as a team.
No Secrets, Period! If you are afraid of speaking your truth, you’re not even giving the relationship a chance to gain more trust. Secrets are lies by omission and act as slow poison in your relationship.
So if you want complete trust in your relationship, focus on respect. Take an honest look at your own respect and the respect you have for your partner.
And if this is hard for you, get some help. Do it for yourself first.
Prioritizing your relationship means that you often put your relationship in front of everything else. Not all the time, but most of the time. It comes from a belief that a healthy relationship is the cornerstone of every healthy family. It’s important to stay connected as a couple through life’s ups and downs, so you have to make time for your relationship on a regular basis.
If you don’t plan to regularly to go out for lunch, meet up for a walk or got to dinner and a movie once in a while, you basically end up being more of like roommates. This is especially important if you decide to have kids because often this is when couples stop prioritizing their relationship. It is easy to get consumed by caring for and thinking about the kids. But guess what, the kids will be out of the house at some point, and you don’t want to be roommates with a stranger.
Prioritizing the relationship also means that we need to pay attention to our partner in small ways as well. The small things add up to big things. Daily attention through your morning kiss and good night kiss for example. Helping your partner with something important to them. Making sure to say ‘I love you’. This all adds up and does wonders to help us stay connected. It builds up the ‘integrity account’ couples have which can act as a buffer when the struggles come.
Tips on How to Prioritize Your Relationship
It’s important to be careful that it’s not one person doing all of this prioritizing. It takes conscious effort and energy to keep prioritizing the relationship in these big and small ways. If only one person focuses on this, it will likely take a toll on them and resentment will creep up. There needs to be a commitment from both partners that the relationship requires attention. Both partners need to initiate time together.
We’ve also seen couples where neither partner is good at prioritizing the relationship and they spiral down quickly into withdraw and disconnect. Often neither of them know how to prioritize each other or have the energy to do it. These couples are usually excellent at the parenting part and tackle this as a team, but neither of them take charge with prioritizing each other. It’s almost as though they feel they had to pick either parenting or their relationship, so they pick parenting.
Remember that a good marriage makes good kids – not the other way around. This ‘Secret’ is here for a reason. It needs to be on both people’s minds for it to work. And this is a big part of what creates lasting love. The relationship constantly has to be nurtured, 365 days a year. We’re going to say this again so take note: The relationship constantly has to be nurtured, 365 days a year!
We invite you to do two things right now:
1. Reflect on your own ability to ‘pay attention to the relationship’ in those small ways and identify one or two things you can improve on.
Consider things like being more present and noticing your partner, doing something nice for them, commenting on what they are wearing, noting how great they look, kissing them on the cheek in passing or stopping them for a hug. Try texting or calling to check-in through the day, visiting them at work with a coffee or to scoop them up for lunch, or ensuring to tell them you love them every day of their life. And don’t forget that you can simply ask your partner what they would like to see from you to make sure you put your efforts where it truly counts in their eyes. When in doubt, check with your partner to see how they prefer to be loved.
2. Chat together as a couple to figure out how to prioritize your relationship in bigger ways as well.
Decide who’s going to plan for it by using each other’s likes and skills to make it more likely to happen. When can you plan for regular date nights? Where are the times where you can get away somewhere for a night or a weekend and who’s going to take care of the kids when you do that? When are the best times to chat to see how you’re both doing as we discussed in Secret #6 (Goal setting and dreaming together)?
Food for thought… Remember that it becomes much easier for partners to support and respect each person’s individual time and space when there’s also time and space for the relationship. J
First things first, we want to specify that the next 3 secrets are absolutely PIVOTAL for a long lasting and satisfying relationship. At the same time, they are the most complex to make progress without additional support. We expect that if you have troubles in these areas you will need more help than reading this article or watching the corresponding video.
So we will do our best to give you some important tips and strategies here, but if you need extra help for these we offer weekend retreats for couples.
And for couples who want to work at their own pace we have an upcoming digital course for couples called ‘Taking Charge of Your Relationship: https://www.betteryourself365.com/online-courses/
Notice that the secret is not ‘learn how to communicate so you don’t fight’. Not fighting is not realistic. Part of the overused relationship concept of ‘communicate better’ is simply not ignoring things! It’s critical to agree to bring up the difficult topics in the first place. And if you bring up difficult topics, at times emotions will run high and you will fight. There’s no way to get around that. Some research studies show what makes people ‘stick together’ in the long run is not how often they fight, it’s HOW they fight. And more importantly, how they REPAIR – which we cover in Secret #2.
According to world renowned therapist and psychology researcher Sue Johnson, there are 3 main patterns that couples get into when they get emotionally triggered (which we’ll call fighting or arguing) : Attack-Attack, Demand-Defend (or Pursue-Withdraw), and Withdraw-Withdraw. It’s important that couples understand their own pattern and the steps each partner takes within their ‘fight’ pattern, and try to understand what’s behind their step or part.
Something triggers us when we fight and unfortunately in those moments all our partner sees is our reaction. It’s hard for them to see the underlying and softer feeling, or the fear that triggered the reaction in the first place. This can loop us into a spiral of attack-attack where partners go head to head.
Alternatively one could be pushing and the other defending in the demand-defend cycle. Or both partners could just pull away from each other and go into the withdraw-withdraw cycle trying desperately to avoid any conflict.
These patterns or cycles only lead to more pain because nothing gets resolved. Sometimes in the attack-attack or demand-defend cycles things escalate to higher levels of anger, screaming, and even ‘contempt’. When things get heated sometimes couples start belittling and demeaning their partner in an attempt to try to ‘win’ the fight or regain a sense of control. This is BAD! Another important researcher, John Gottman, has found that the #1 predictor of divorce is when contempt is present in couples’ fights.
Tips on How to Understand Your Fights
If you are going to hurt each other less through your fights, you need to first understand how you fight. Reflect on how you react when you feel upset, hurt or disconnected from your partner. Think of how your partner actually receives your reaction. Is there another way you can come in to express yourself instead of taking that typical action step?
Understanding how you fight takes practice, but nothing will change unless you both talk about your cycle together and agree to stop the fight and take a breather as soon as one of you notices that you are caught in your cycle. It’s like waving a ‘white-flag’ at your partner saying: ‘Hey, we are caught in this thing we do again and this won’t get us anywhere’. Some couples even have a funny code-word they use to diffuse the fight to help them remember that they are not enemies – they are on the same team trying to break through their cycle.
Remember that if you want to change the ‘fight’ cycle you have with your partner, you have to focus on your own end of the cycle – the step YOU take – because you can’t change your partner. The magic happens when you both focus on your own step and work on changing it.
Last thing. Don’t beat yourself up if this is too hard to do on your own. The longer this cycle has been around and the deeper it is entrenched in your relationship, the more difficult it can be to change it. It can be even more diffuclt if you are having challenges in many of the other areas we discussed in this article or if your trust in your partner or the relationship has been impacted.
Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it. Don’t wait for the cycle to take a stronger hold on you. We’ll cover more about the different types of help for this at the end of this article
We have covered the importance of understanding your fights and catching your cycle. And also about taking a breather so you don’t continue getting swept up by the emotions of the fight.
Now we now need to talk about ‘repairing’. The fact that you fight is not what’s problematic in a relationship. The ‘non-repair’ is what causes the most damage. While you may not be able to resolve all of your problems with your repair, if you follow the tips we give you here, you’ll get much better at truly understanding where your partner is coming from at a deeper level. That in itself can shift your perspective on the issue, even if it’s not fully resolved. It makes it more tolerable and is less heavy to carry.
For many couples repairing is hard. Sometimes people don’t know how to get grounded from their emotions. Getting grounded is especially hard when they have felt disrespected or when they don’t believe their partner is on their side. In order to repair we need to have respect and an understanding that you are two human beings who got caught in a vicious cycle that most couples get caught in when they love.
When we love, we are at our most vulnerable. And when we feel vulnerable, we feel small. And when we feel small and vulnerable it can be hard to show this to our partner, especially if we’ve learned in our life that it is not safe to show vulnerability. Repairing can be made more difficult when we have not learned how to repair, or how to apologize and forgive others for hurting us.
Shame can also get in the way. Perhaps one or both partners have a sense of shame that keeps them from taking responsibility for their actions. Whatever the reason, the lack of repair makes the pain bigger the next time disappointment happens in the relationship, then resentment builds and trust gets eroded.
Think of a non-repair producing a brick. This brick gets placed between the couple. It’s made from hurt and fear and disappointment and is attached to their fight. The next time the couple fights one might grab the brick and throw it at their partner – using it to support their points and cause pain. If this fight doesn’t get repaired, then there are two bricks. If enough fights go unrepaired a wall starts to form. This wall keeps couples apart and can be used as fodder for future fights.
Our goal is the ensure that after each fight a repair happens, and no brick forms. When there are no bricks, the couple has a much greater chance of focusing on the current issue and not bringing the past into the current discussion.
Tips on How To Repair a Fight
Of course, the first tip is to make a pact to always try to repair. Our suggestion is that you make an explicit agreement in your relationship that after each fight you will come together, when you are calm, to repair. This agreement helps to soften the other partner and encourages both partners to take responsibility in the repair process.
The first step in the repair is to reconnect before starting to talk in order to ease some of the tension. Do things like taking your partner’s hand or giving them a hug. Or just saying, “I don’t like it when we fight.” That statement in itself lets them know that you are open to working on it.
Take ownership of your step in the cycle and how you reacted. Acknowledge the impact that your reaction might have had on your partner. Recognizing and naming your part is key at this moment. This will likely soften your partner and give them a path to return the gift. If both partners take ownership and acknowledge their impact on each other it builds a bridge that where they can meet in the middle.
Next try to express the softer feelings that were underneath your heated reaction in the moment. It might be hurt, fear, rejection or abandonment that you might have been feeling. The quicker you can tune into that, the easier it is for your partner to understand your reaction and to empathize with you. It helps tremendously if you’ve already reflected on this PRIOR to trying to repair from the argument.
When things are calm try to talk about what you will do or say next time something like this gets triggered. Prepare when you are calm and you will see the benefits when you are not. It doesn’t mean it will work every time, but it’s important to trouble shoot together.
In loving relationships there’s no such thing as ‘winning’ an argument. Both people end up losing if this is the approach to a repair. This is an outcome goal that is not a helpful goal to have in a relationship. The goal should be to focus on understanding each other more. If you aim to win the argument, think about the impact on your partner. Where does it leave them? But if you aim to understand your partner, think about where that leaves them. It will leave them heard and understood. That goes a long way to repairing.
The respect rule applies here as well. If your partner messed up, you have to separate the intention from the behaviour. If you chose to be with this person it’s highly likely it’s because you think they are a good person. So try and remember that they didn’t mess up because they are a bad person, or because they don’t love you, or because they don’t care about you. It’s simply because they are human and made a mistake. And actually they were likely still trying their best. We are all just doing our best with what we have.
Talking openly and tuning in means that if something is really bothering you, respectfully say something about it! Even if it might hurt your partner, even if they may not react well initially.
The pattern of initiating the conversation matters. When you know how to repair, you can be more confident in initiating conversations about things that are bothering you. And if you respect your partner, you’ll trust more that whatever it is they said or did they had good intentions. If it’s said with that in mind it will likely come out in a way where they will want to hear how you feel. All the other ‘secrets’ are tied into this one, which is why we put it as #1!
The bottom line is that holding on to something has a negative impact in the end and often leads to resentment or mistrust. Losing trust in your partner or them losing trust in you, because you chose to hold back, is a slippery road that can be extremely hard to navigate.
The key here, after you’ve decided to share what’s upsetting you, is to do it in a way that will increase your partner’s chances of being able to respond to you. This is where ‘understanding your fights’ from Secret #3 comes in again. The more you understand your fights, the more you can be conscious of how to bring things up with your partner without creating an argument.
The more you tune into your own feelings and express them, and focus less on your partner’s behaviour, the greater chance of success and re-connection.
At the beginning of a relationship, couple’s usually don’t have to practice this ‘secret’ too much. Talking openly and tuning in just seems to happen naturally because there’s not been many experiences in the relationship that created fear or scars yet. And when they do, the issues may not be so big. But then as you add years of stressful life events, pain and disappointments, Secret #1 becomes pivotal. If we don’t talk openly and learn how to tune-in with each other, we simply won’t last.
Tips on How to Talk Openly and Tune In
Remember that if you want to be trusted by your partner you need to trust them, too. And the most important way to show trust is to take the risk to share your true feelings with your partner and give them the benefit of the doubt that they will try their best to hear you. Why is this so difficult for us to do? Because emotions make us feel so vulnerable, and most of us are uncomfortable being vulnerable.
But remember, if you don’t take this risk to show vulnerability, you will never achieve that deeper level of connection and trust with your partner. It just can’t be accomplished any other way. If you can’t be vulnerable with your partner, with whom can you be vulnerable? It has to start with your partner. Do this for you and do this for your relationship. If this is too hard to do on your own, get help from a therapist. Our weekend retreat is an option for those who don’t want traditional therapy.
When you are taking this risk to open up, remember to think of how you do this. Tune in deeply to your own softer feelings first. Ask yourself, “What am I most afraid of?” The answer is usually around a fear of rejection or abandonment for most people. It’s a common fear. And on the flip side of that, ask yourself “What am I longing for?” Are you longing for support? Connection? Understanding? Growth? To be seen?
Sometimes our past insecurities show up here. If so, it’s important to recognize, acknowledge and be okay with this. Tuning in will help you express yourself in a more authentic way, and you will become more accessible and real to your partner. Then they will be able to tune into you more and offer you the reassurance you need.
It’s beautiful when this happens and witnessing this level of connection is the very best part of working with couples! Hopefully we have helped you on your journey to get there, too.
We hope you found these 10 Secrets helpful and you feel excited about implementing some of the tips and strategies in your own relationship.
Remember to set aside some time to further discuss these with your partner. This is part of prioritizing your relationship that we covered in Secret #4.
If any of these tips are too challenging, remember that you don’t have to do this on your own. Most couples need additional help to get their relationship to the level of closeness they want.