You’ve heard it a million times but it bears repeating: even the strongest relationships face challenges.
Building a happy, healthy partnership takes work and may not always be easy, especially when there’s been a breach of trust. “Issues are a part of life and a part of being in a relationship,” says clinical psychologist Stone Kraushaar. “And the goal is to not fixate on the past, but work to create together in a meaningful way.”
So, you do you go about that? Here are some tips to get you started, whether you’re dealing with the fallout from a betrayal or trying to keep a long-distance relationship going.
When there’s been a breach of trust
Anytime trust is broken, there’s going to be a rift in the relationship. It might be painful to face, but leaving these issues unaddressed won’t help anyone in the long run.
Take full responsibility if you’re at fault
If there has been infidelity or trust has been broken, it’s important to take full responsibility for what happened and be understanding of how your behavior hurt your partner.
Avoid becoming defensive or sidestepping your mistake, but don’t fall into self-loathing either. “You should own it in a loving way that creates the space to start to rebuild trust,” says Kraushaar.
In a nutshell: Take responsibility, but don’t attempt to justify your actions or blame them on someone or something else.
Give your partner the opportunity to win your trust back
While you have every right to feel hurt and angry, there should be a desire to work on the relationship.
“Trust can never be restored until the person whose trust was broken allows their partner a chance to earn it back,” Kraushaar affirms.
Not sure where to start? Our guide to rebuilding trust can help.
Practice radical transparency
Instead of bottling up emotions, Kraushaar encourages couples to be “radically transparent” with each other about what has hurt them. This involves truly getting it all out there, even if you feel a bit silly or self-conscious admitting certain things.
If you’re the one who broke the trust, this also involves being radically transparent with yourself about what motivated you to do so. Was it simply a lapse in judgement? Or was it an attempt to sabotage a situation you didn’t know how to get out of?
In order to be honest with each other, you’ll have to start by being brutally honest to yourselves.
Seek professional help
Broken trust can take a toll on everyone in the relationship.
If there’s been a significant breach, consider working together with a qualified therapist who specializes in relationships and can provide guidance for healing.
Extend compassion and care to the person you hurt
If you’ve hurt your partner, it’s easy to fall into a spiral of shame and disappointment in yourself. But that’s not going to help either of you.
Rather than spend all your time beating yourself up over what you did wrong, try shifting that energy toward showing care and compassion to your partner.
When you’re in a long-distance relationship
Being physically apart more often than not can be rough on a relationship. Keeping the romance alive takes extra effort on everyone’s part.
Have a discussion with your partner and set ground rules that take into account your exclusiveness and commitment to each other.
Being honest and upfront about your expectations from the beginning can prevent things from going wrong down the road.
Have regularly scheduled visits
“It’s so important that couples know and have scheduled visits and can look forward to those times and plan to make them special,” notes Kraushaar. In fact, research has shown that long-distance relationships where partners have a reunion planned are less stressful and more satisfying.
Set aside time for online dates
If you’re not able to organize scheduled time together due to significant distance or finances, Kraushaar recommends setting up regular online dates with a theme or specific focus.
Don’t just go for your usual conversation topics. Cook a meal together, watch a movie while you keep the video chat open, play a virtual game, or even read a short story aloud, taking turns.
Don’t let your world revolve around your partner
While it’s important to pay attention to fostering closeness in a long-distance relationship, that aspect shouldn’t consume you.
No matter how much you miss the other person, don’t forget about other important areas of your life. Keep up with your hobbies and interests — a happy and healthy relationship partly involves you being each partner being their own person.
When you live together
No matter how you dice it, going through a rough patch when you live together is stressful.
Plan a weekly ‘couples meeting’
Kraushaar recommends setting up a specific time each week that allows you both to talk about more difficult topics, such as money, sex, and trust so that these don’t bleed over into all of your interactions.
Learn to compromise
All relationships require give and take. When you’re living in close quarters, being accommodating of the other person’s needs and preferences without sacrificing your own can help foster more happiness and fulfillment.
Consider working out some kind of temporary agreement that allows each of you to unwind at home alone. For example, maybe you stay a little later the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while they hang out with a friend on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Spend time with friends outside of your relationship
Spending time with friends can have a powerful effect on your personal emotional health and can help strengthen your personal identity.
Remember, staying connected to your partner means having a life outside of your relationship.
Engage in affectionate physical contact
Kraushaar encourages couples to regularly hug each other in a fully present and connected way. Holding hands or hugging releases oxytocin which can reduce stress and boost your mood.
If you’re not on great terms right now, this might be easier said than done. Try starting slow — simply putting your hand on theirs can help to show that you still care.
Don’t be hooked on romance
Deep-level intimacy is about creating a satisfying and meaningful relationship that isn’t always based on romantic expression.
Sure, everyone wants to be swept off their feet from time to time, but it’s important to genuinely respect and enjoy your partner for who they are outside of what they can give you.
When you’ve just had a big fight
Picking up the pieces after a big fight can feel like an impossible task. Try these techniques to help you both move forward.
Use skilled communication
Once tempers have calmed down, it’s important to make sure you both have a chance to get your points across. Try to give each person space to communicate their point of view.
Speak from your heart
In order for you partner to truly hear you, it’s important to communicate what you’re really feeling below all the tension.
For example, avoid accusatory phrases, such as, “You did this to me!” Instead, aim for something along the lines of, “When X happens I feel Y and I think it would be helpful if you could do Z to reassure me or prevent that from happening in the future.”
If you catch yourself forming a rebuttal in your head as your significant other is talking, you’re not really listening. “You’re getting ready to defend yourself or go to battle,” says Czajkowska.
“Winning” an argument is never truly winning, she adds. “If your partner feels that they lost, it will likely contribute to more distance, tension, and resentment, so in the long run, you lose too.”
Break the pattern
When rebuilding the relationship, Czajkowska advises to consider it a new one, rather than saving an old one.
“Seeing it this way creates an opportunity for defining rules and boundaries from the beginning.” This means striving to understand and work through underlying issues as well as letting go of past resentments you’ve been holding onto.
When you just aren’t feeling it
A lack of passion or case of the “mehs” doesn’t automatically mean your relationship is beyond repair.
Look at the upside of your relationship
Spend a week noticing or writing down all the things your partner does “right.”
Researchers have found that we tend to see what we are looking for. If you’re looking for reasons to be mad or upset with your partner, you’ll probably find them. But this works in reverse, too. Keep your eyes peeled for the good things.”
Say ‘thank you’ for the small things
Similarly, don’t just silently observe your partner’s right-doings. When they do something that’s kind of helpful, even if it’s just tidying up the kitchen after a meal, verbally thank them.
Have fun together
Sometimes, you just fall into a rut. It might sound cliche, but setting aside some time, even just a few hours, to go do something out of the ordinary can make a big difference.
Psychological research shows that partners who play together experience more positive emotions and report greater happiness.
Try taking a break from the same old routine and spend time participating in novel, uplifting experiences.
KEEP THE SPARK
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Take a one-time class together.
Grab a deck of cards or a board game you both used to love and head to the park.
Scan your local weekly paper for unusual events. Even if you’re not totally sure what the event entails, make a plant to go check it out together, whether it’s a craft fair or a car show.
Maintain intimacy and communication
Establish how to take care of each other emotionally, advises Czajkowska.
What does this actually mean? For starters, commit to giving each other a heads up when it feels like you’re drifting apart. Sit down together and look at what might be causing that. Have you both been wrapped up in work? Has it been too long since you spent the day just enjoying each other’s company?
“Commitment to working on the relationship is just as important as commitment to the partner,” she emphasizes.
Is it worth it?
There’s no easy answer here. Ultimately, you’ll need to evaluate whether the relationship is worth the work that’s required to save it from a low point.
It’s also wise to make sure everyone involved is committed to saving the relationship. If you’re the only one willing to put in the work, reconciliation probably isn’t likely.
That said, abuse of any kind, whether it’s physical, verbal, or emotional, is a red flag. Keep in mind that signs of toxicity can be quite subtle. Are you walking on eggshells around your partner? Have you lost your confidence or sense of self?