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10 ways to enhance your relationship

10 ways to enhance your relationship

Relationships aren’t easy. As a longtime marriage and family therapist and life coach, I work with couples to resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. From many years of helping couples, I have seen ways partners can enhance their bond.

  1. Communicate well. This may go against what you have become used to, but don’t always say what you think. I teach couples the basics of communication such as pausing before responding to a spouse and repeating a partner’s question to clarify you understand what he is asking or saying. Doing this, rather than giving an impulsive response you regret later, can improve a relationship in measurable ways.
  2. Avoid criticism. Couples often fall into the habit of communicating through put-downs and highlighting what their partner is doing wrong. The result is that their partner becomes defensive and communication breaks down. Instead of being critical, focus on positively reinforcing what your partner is doing right, and offering constructive criticism when it comes to behaviors that could be improved.
  3. Own your statements.What you say will be more powerful, and hopefully better heard, if you own it with an “I” statement. For example,I feel sad when you (…) Taking responsibility for your feelings and perspectives empowers you to create better solutions and be heard. Even if your partner doesn’t agree with you or understand your perspective, he or she can’t fault you for how you feel.
  4. Open yourself to feedback. Communication needs to be a two-way street. If you expect your partner to hear you out, then you need to make yourself vulnerable and welcoming to feedback.
  5. Be present. Listen to your partner and give non-verbal signals that you’re truly engaged —like nodding your head and maintaining eye contact. Your partner wants to know you are engaged, so it’s important to demonstrate you are listening, by reflecting back. Validate your partner’s feelings by saying, “I’m sorry to hear that you’re so angry, or I can see why you’re so upset.” If you’re at a loss for words or have nothing to say, something as simple as “Thank you for sharing” can be incredibly effective.
  6. Give yourself time outs. Some conversations can be intense and sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all. That doesn’t mean, however, you should stop addressing the issue. Know that it’s okay to say, “Can I get back with you?” or “Can we finish this conversation later?”
  7. Be respectful. Don’t interrupt, or change the subject, be a know-it-all, or act like something that was hard to say was never said. Basically, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want your partner to do to you during a conversation. Listen to yourself in your conversations to better understand your behaviors.
  8. Keep your tone in check. During casual, everyday interactions, like a phone call, sound engaged (as in, not distracted) and glad to be making small talk. During intense conversations, avoid using domineering, hostile, or sarcastic tones. Don’t minimize or dismiss the other’s fears, worries, passions or hopes for the future.
  9. Ask for what you need. Most of us aren’t mind readers. If you need something from your partner, ask for it. Unless you make a request, your partner isn’t going to know that you need more help with the kids or the chores, that you need more affection. Put it out there and give your partner a chance to deliver.
  10. Express love. Couples often become reliant on Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and other notable dates for the excuse to express their feelings for one another. Make expressing your love verbally—and non-verbally—a regular part of your relationship maintenance. Expressing love becomes the glue when other relationship resolutions become harder to sustain, and it can make a big difference in improving relationships.