Alexa von Oertzen, LMFT
7 Steps Men Can Take to Enhance Their Relationships
Yes. I am speaking to you, the man in the relationship.
Have you been wondering what happened to the passion and connection you used to have with your partner? You knew her thoughts at the beginning of your relationship, had plenty of affection between you, and had so much fun together. Lately, you don't understand why she is so irritable and guarded.
Everything you say seems wrong, so you try your best to stay away and keep conversation to a minimum to make sure there are no arguments. You both haven't been intimate in a while, and when you have, it has been mechanical and awkward. The new norm is lonely and unsatisfying. You spend half your time wondering if she has someone else in her life and the other half wondering if you should even stay in this relationship.
You are not alone!
Many couples feel their connection is so good in the beginning that they think they don't need to continue to put as much effort to keep it fresh through time. Communication is the essential part of maintaining the bond between couples. Unfortunately, outside sources, misunderstandings, resentments, and unmet expectations can create a rift over time that feels as lonely as single life.
What if you could turn things around to know that you had your partner back? She would look at you with admiring eyes again, laugh at your jokes, do little thoughtful things for you, and hold you tight at night. You would get back to the same wavelength and regain that sense of belonging. Maybe there is that special thing that she used to do that made you feel special.
You have a lot more control over your relationship than you think.
You might think it is hopeless to try to do this alone. It might not be easy at first, but if you take the below actions, you can fundamentally impact your relationship for the better. Some of the tips might seem counterintuitive, but this is why they are so vital to have in your relationship toolbox.
Whether you have a misunderstanding or an actual offense committed by either of you, there is no resolution without purposeful conversation. Going to sleep without offering some solution, ignoring your partner's pleas, or creating a continuous pattern of withdrawing behavior, will raise the level of resentment in your partner and compound the problem.
Stonewalling, a term utilized by The Gottman Institute is the emotional and physical withdrawal of a partner when confronted by criticism. It is one of the leading causes of divorce. Interestingly, studies show that "85% of Dr. Gottman's stonewallers are males". The key here is to address the situation as soon as possible by listening and stating your stance with honesty and respect.
Take some time to regain your calm.
On the other side of the spectrum, you could be someone who needs to solve everything right away, causing you to become very intense and even intimidating. The more your partner complains or opposes your views, the louder you feel you need to go to win the argument. You end up saying things you don't mean and make her concur even if this goes against her true feelings.
How long can a partner pretend to agree with you before they get tired of not being true to themselves? If you know you are getting frustrated or angry, a walk around the block would be a good solution. After taking a few breaths and walking off your anger, think of how resolving this issue will bring you all back to a peaceful place.
Take responsibility and self-reflect.
A heartfelt "I'm sorry" and taking responsibility for your part in a disagreement can go a long way with your partner. I don't mean you have to be sorry for everything. It takes two people to cause an argument. You can feel sorry for how she feels, even if it was not your intention to hurt her. You can show her you understand her side by making changes in your behavior.
Take a moment to look at the issue from her perspective. Step into her shoes and try to notice how you would feel if you were in her situation. Taking inventory of yourself, your thoughts, and your behaviors can help ensure that you live up to your values and the most genuine you.
Show your feelings.
Few are comfortable with showing vulnerability. What if our partner will use it to hurt us even more? We tend to protect our ego by appearing strong and in control. The issue is that when we don't allow our partners into our inner emotions, we cut off the possibility of them being there for us, and we destroy any opportunity for meaningful connection.
When you become brave enough to open up emotionally, that gives your partner the safety to share her deeper parts. The result is more connection and joy.
Avoid blaming and fixing.
We have to stop looking at disagreements as "it's their fault." This type of thinking is like quarreling about what came first, the egg or the chicken. Relationships are not about 'good or bad,' 'should or shouldn't.' The fact is that nobody is perfect. We all have done something that annoyed our partner.
An example can be: the more you demand intimacy with your partner, the more she will feel pressured and avoid being close. The more she avoids contact, the more you complain or insult her for not wanting to be intimate with you, and around the circle you go. The way out of the blame cycle is to gain a broader perspective and shift the negative pattern by starting with yourself.
Create positive and meaningful times together.
When you get to the point that your memories are mostly negative, it is essential to start building a good number of positive ones to help tip the scales. Agree not to discuss the issues you currently have and plan a 'date' with your partner. Spend time doing something you both enjoy.
Talk about a happy memory you have from when you first met. Tell her one thing you admire or love about her. Make it a consistent practice to add fun to your times together, to surprise each other with a thoughtful gesture. Have her follow your lead. She will be proud that you are championing your relationship.
Know when you need additional help.
Based on information gained from the Gottman Institute, "only "19% of couples seek help". This statistic points to missed opportunities and could be related to the country's high percentages of divorce. Consider this when thinking about hiring professional help for your relationship.
You can also seek individual counseling if you want a better understanding of your relationship's condition. Why should you seek individual therapy in connection with your work in couple's therapy? Because your relationship's health and growth are directly related to your personal development.