You and your partner are not speaking to one another and when you are, the answers are short and uninterested. The sex is gone. The love seems so far away that you may even be wondering what you ever saw in your partner in the first place. You are a couple in name only. You are unhappy and frustrated by the relationship. You assume your partner is either oblivious, doesn’t care or equally dissatisfied. You’ve done everything possible to make the relationship work and yet, your partner hasn’t stepped up. Why should you always be the one making the effort? Maybe, you are even compromising on your hopes and dreams. Where is the fairness in that? Maybe it’s time to pull the plug.
Maybe it is and then again, perhaps there are a few tricks left for your relationship. There is plenty of research around successful relationships and equally as much around unsuccessful ones. A key finding in John Gottman’s research is that partners in successful relationships demonstrate a lot more kindness and generosity towards one another on a daily basis than those in unsuccessful relationships. His research also revealed that people in relationships make requests for connection from their partners multiple times throughout their day. These requests are often small and seemingly trivial yet the response rate predicts the success of the relationship. In his study, the successful couples responded 87% of the time to their partners’ requests for connection. On the other hand, the couples that ended up divorced only responded 33% of the time.
Noticing and responding to your partner’s bids for connection is a choice. How you respond is as important as how frequently you respond. You can do it with kindness and generosity or you can be hostile, critical and contemptuous. Pause and think about how you responded the last time your partner tried to engage you in something of interest to him or her. It could have been something as trivial as ‘look at this silly commercial’. Did you look? If so, you were acting in kindness and generosity. You were also increasing the climate of intimacy and trust in your relationship. If you didn’t look, you rejected your partner’s request for connection. The research shows how you respond to these multiple bids throughout the day determines your relationship’s success.
Can it be as simple as being kinder and more generous to your partner? Generally speaking, yes. Kindness and generosity is all about how you think and express yourself when interacting with your partner. Do you believe your partner was well intentioned and well meaning or do you opt for the negative perspective and tone when something doesn’t go as you had hoped. Sincerity is crucial when kindness and generosity are involved. To rebuild the trust and intimacy requires commitment, effort and an honest effort to continue to be kind and generous throughout. A healthy strong relationship can result from the continual investment in kindness and generosity to yourself and to your partner.
How long you and your partner have been disconnected from one another may influence how you go about re-building the trust and intimacy. External support from a relationship counselor or psychologist who counsels couples is often a good first step. The psychologist facilitates the dialogue between the partners and helps the couple determine a path forward. If rebuilding your relationship sounds like hard work, you’re right. It is. But, a rebuilt relationship is often stronger for the experience and each partner develops critical communication, intimacy and trust building skills as a result.
Clinical Psychologist Annabelle Young has extensive experience in working with people with depression, anxiety (including panic), adjustment difficulties, stress, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, grief and loss, interpersonal difficulties, as well as alcohol and drug use issues.