“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new.”
When going through a rough patch in a relationship (often occasioned by a health scare), a dry spell may occur or become the prevailing climate. The desert may begin to seem too vast to cross. What can be done to end the drought?
Rejection may be the overall concern in the relationship. Suspending sex may not be all that uncommon for a couple. Addressing the fears or grudges that are keeping intimacy at bay are essential. Slowly introducing physical contact will be one of the strategies.
Step by step methods …
- Make contact – hold hands when having discussions. You’ll find physical connection calming. It forges a bond that mere words cannot. Eye contact is essential. Eyes are the window to the soul.
- Take it easy – Start the conversation with kind and loving language. Say how much you love your partner, how attractive she or he is, how much you’re looking forward to touching (and being touched by) him or her. Explain that you would like to start with cuddling and then progress gradually (once cuddling has been established comfortably) to massage. A little snuggling should make an easy first step for both parties.
- Try nonsexual massage – Experiment with ‘sensate focus’ – A Masters and Johnson technique in which one partner gently strokes the other’s naked body, back and front, each person learning how to touch and be touched in return. Obtain feedback on what feels good. However, there is to be no attempt to arouse the other person with genital touching. Instead, the goal is a sensual experience that builds trust (and comfort with physical interaction). Do as many sessions as you need to feel comfortable – and find yourself craving more.
“Trust is the glue of life.
It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication.
It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
- Courting – Flirt with each other during the day or at dinner out. Say nice, positive things about the sensate-focus exercises. Put on music. Dress up. Drink a glass of something festive. Set a positive mood.
- HEAL – Loving relationships are one of the greatest sources of happiness and meaning for couples, and for human beings generally. It takes two to keep love and caring alive for the long distance. Melanie Greenberg developed the HEAL technique to repair damaged relationships by replacing defensive self-protection with compassionate presence and loving connection
- Hear – Make an effort to stay mentally present and to listen to your partner.Open your heart and take down your defenses. It’s about understanding your partner and learning to fulfil each other’s needs. Listening is beyond words, it is also about nonverbal signs of emotions. The best way to soothe an angry partner is to let him/her know that you hear and accept their unmet needs and are willing to make changes to help meet them.
- Empathize – Allow your partner’s experience to deeply affect you. Check in on your and his/her emotions. Search beneath the surface for the softer, tender feelings. For example, expressed anger often has an underlying level of feeling stuck, sad, or lonely. Staying emotionally engaged rather than ‘trying to fix it’ and expressing compassion can provide healing comfort and connection. So often this is what we all need.
- Act – Take action to address concerns and show willingness to change.Commit to intentional action to address your partner’s needs and concerns. These actions may be hands on like washing dishes, calling your partner during the day to let him/her know you are thinking of them, spending less money because it makes the other anxious. Create a positive cycle in which appreciation, being valued and respected are reinforced. It’s not about being perfect, but more the fact that you care and are trying to change so that validation of the person/relationship occurs.
- Love – Feel and express unconditional love. Make space in your life to deliberately reconnect with the loving feelings you have for your partner. Think of what brought you two together, the feelings that the other aroused in you on all levels, ie psychologically, emotionally, physically. Perhaps look at old photos or visualize special times in your relationship and the hopes and dreams you had together. Can you find a way to forgive yourself and your partner for the mistakes you have both made that got you off track? What do these feelings of love motivate you to do? Maybe you want to reach out and express your love and affection with action, and this may not initially be sexually, but rather doing something generous like preparing a meal or writing a note. Love is defined as a concern for another’s wellbeing and a warm feeling you have towards another. Do not make your expressions of love contingent on what your partner does/should do. Rather, reach out and express unconditional caring, support, understanding and forgiveness.
- Reinvigorate your relationship connection – Boredom or endless routine plays an important role in declining marital satisfaction, as it is often a precursor to dissatisfaction. It’s not just conflict that you need to pay attention to but levels of engagement. Remember how you felt when you first met your partner, the joy of discovering what he/she was like. Day to day distractions, and stresses often stop us from enjoying the simple pleasures of conversation that bring us closer. Personal disclosure is the basis for connecting in the first place, so don’t abandon or forget that there are still so many dimensions to your partner that you are not aware of.
- Stop relational patterns in their tracks. “The same old same old” is what one man brought up dismissively of the concerns his partner raised in conversation. This interaction is often referred to as “demand/withdrawal” and is a relationship killer of the highest order, and often leads to the end of a relationship. It is time to recognize the pattern and work at stopping it, ideally in a moment of calm, not agitation.
3 part process for reducing the spiral downwards and reducing hostility:
- Stop the spiral before it starts. Recognise the predictable triggers… stop and take a break, remain calm, aim for a compromise.
- Work on expressing yourself in ways that won’t lead to escalation. Substitute less inflammatory words and do not launch into personal attacks. Address the behaviour instead. For example “I’m bothered by this decision, can we discuss it, and why you feel that it is the only solution? Maybe together, if needed, we could explore other possibilities?”
- It is important for both partners to ‘get a handle’ on negative emotions, distortions in automatic thoughts, and how to regain self control so that conflict can be reduced. Use the ‘sandwich method’ of communication. The two layers of bread are the positives and the filling the major concern. Always end on a positive note. “It’s been a difficult road for you over the past few months, and being able to talk about it has been too painful. I just want you to know that I’m here for you, and I love you. Together we can share the pain and work at finding a better path.”
“Do what you did in the beginning of the relationship, and there won’t be an end.” – Nelson Mandela
- Acknowledge your differences – Talk about your differences in a spirit of reconciliation. Find ‘the glory’ in your relationship, derive strength and meaning in your differences.
- Increase commitment – Try and consciously cut down on the behaviours that diminish your sense of commitment to the relationship. Touch, forgiveness, tolerance, trust, enjoyment, laughter and love must be practiced to ensure that the quality of the relationship is maintained.
- Gratitude – Expressing gratitude enhances not only relationships, but also expands the person’s concept of what makes for a nurturing, and positive relationship. The expression of gratitude is both a communication with the other and the self; it reduces dissonance and cements our feelings about the good parts of our connection.
- Home is where the heart is – Home is to be your sanctuary. It is a place where the worries and dramas of the day are left at the door. Enter into a world of love, peace and harmony. This may seem a tall order, but by being focused on calmness it is achievable. Children also benefit from this understanding. Practice tolerance, mindfulness and feeling at ease. Relationships have enough pressures from daily life without coming home to a battle ground. All will benefit from this resolution, to make life less demanding and complicated and where home remains ‘off limits’ to the ceaseless demands of daily life and perceived expectations.
“In the end we always run back to the ones that feel like home.
The ones who provide our hearts with sanctuary, the ones that make us feel.”