Relationships Need Maintenance

While I was thinking of what to write my blog about this week, my husband peeked into my office and just winked and smiled at me.  It is then that I realized how important all the healthy relationships in my life really are.  Very view of us are always surrounded by positive, good and strong people and by saying “strong”, I don’t mean physically strong, but more mentally strong.  We learn, adjust and grow as individuals through our relationships with others, but relationships need maintenance, especially if we are in a marriage or a long-term relationship with a partner.  This blog is focused on these types of relationships, especially with Valentine just around the corner.

Even in the happiest of relationships, little hurdles can cause conflict or disruptions and that is acceptable, depending on how you handle these conflict occurrences.  Do you give your partner the “silent treatment”, throw things, bad mouth each other or do you talk it out, compromise, learn and grow from the experience?  Yes, it can be difficult to talk about the issues straight away and sometimes it is necessary to take a bit of time to calm yourself down, gather your thoughts and put everything into perspective before talking to your partner, that is okay, just don’t allow it to simmer and fester and allow the situation to become larger and more difficult to handle while you are trying to gather your thoughts.

Think back to when you first met your partner.  You were strangers, coming from different backgrounds where each of you saw your reality from unique perspectives.  Each one of you had your own frames of reference.  It could be that one of you has an unhealthy view on something and that can cause disruptions in your relationship.

Another issue could be sexual problems.  It is estimated that up to 80% of couples that seek marital therapy have sexual difficulties.  Actually, most marriages experience a sexual problem at some stage and according to researchers, the primary issue is not necessarily a psychological problem, but possibly sexual disfunction.  Although sexual disfunction and marital problems can operate independently, they often do not, and a proper assessment needs to be done to determine which problems are primary.  Thereafter, the point of intervention can be determined and what therapy structure needs to be applied.

In non-traditional relationships, for example cohabitating partners, gay couples and people who are from different ethnic or cultural heritage, experience different challenges due to the pressures that society puts on their relationships.  Cohabitating partners can live well together and as soon as they get married and want to start a family, that is when their troubles begin.  Gay couples often do not depend so much on their family units as in traditional marriages and no real religious or legal support is given to help stabilize their marriage.  Couples who differ in ethnic or cultural heritage have more difficulties because of background cultural dimensions that differ, as in ecological settings, social class differences, religious values and values derived from particular ideologies.  Experiencing any of these problems mentioned above, can be crippling to relationships and intervention might be required if the people involved cannot overcome their hurdles.

Aging is another factor that can cause tremendous stress in relationships.  Could it be that our spirit of adventure declines when we grow old?  Is it that when we start to lose our power of youth that we get our first fright, give up and wait for death to come and get us before our partner dies?  It is a frightening period, but it is also helpful to remember that no one ever fully grows up and that elder people are fully capable of change if the motivation is there.

What if you are in a relationship with a partner who abuse alcohol or other substances?  Because this type of abuse (not addiction or dependence) often become the major focus in the life of the couple, it keeps creating a distance between partners.  The control is in the hands of the individual to control drinking and to have the self-control to stop drinking upon suggestion.  A thorough assessment needs to be done by a therapist or counsellor on when the problem started, to assess the family history and to see if a similar marital relationship is being created.  Thereafter a treatment plan can be set up to help change the marital system and to prepare the couple for possible relapses.

You are in an abusive relationship where your spouse or partner physically maltreat or abuse you.  Firstly, an explicit protection plan needs to be provided for you before any treatment can start.  Remember, the abuser alone is responsible for the violence, the victim cannot eliminate the violence and that once violence has occurred in a relationship, it is likely to continue, unless changes have been made through comprehensive treatment and intervention.

Now that I have talked about some of the issues that couples in relationships can encounter, how can you put the spark back into your stale relationship?  These are just a few examples that you can try.  If the relationship issues are more serious, please do not hesitate to contact GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching for an assessment, intervention and therapy.

  • Go on a date-night at least once every two weeks. Life is so rushed that we need to slow down, take a deep breath and create time specially dedicated to just the two of you.  I know that things are expensive and if you cannot afford to go out for dinner, you can always pack a picnic basket and have a great afternoon out by the dam or park nearby.  Get creative on what you want to do and have fun.  The whole idea is for the two of you to reconnect and to get away from the rushing-around at home and work.  Create a special time where you will not be interrupted and where you can both have fun and learn to talk to one another again.  What about hiring a canoe and going for a row around the dam or finding a nice hiking trail that you can do together?  If both of you love to cook, try taking a cooking class or if you are arty, what about a painting class?  Anything basically where you can spend quality time together and communicate openly and freely and have a good laugh in the process.
  • Remember the first time that you met? Remember what drew you to each other?  What made your stomach turn from excitement and you could not wait for the next time that you would see that other person again.  Try to recreate that feeling.  Remember what caused that spark.  Sometimes we get so drowned by other things in our lives that we forget to appreciate our significant others for who they really are.  See them again as that person who challenged you, made you feel safe, who made you laugh uncontrollably by just being goofy and remember who you were when you met and how you changed for the best by just having them in your life.
  • Be honest, show respect and give your time. It is true that time is the most precious commodity that you could possibly give to somebody else.  Switch off the television, pour a glass of something, grab a snack and sit and talk.  Share how your day was, how certain experiences throughout your day made you feel and what your plans are for tomorrow.  Listen attentively to the other person and what they experienced.  Listen to their highs and lows of the day and help with solutions to problems.  Ask questions and show true interest.  Make plans, dream together and laugh a bit while you are at it.  Appreciate your surroundings, appreciate your partner and share something special that you only want to share with that person.
  • Put a guard on your thoughts and mouth. Sometimes partners will do something that really irritates you and you just want them to stop doing what you don’t like.  Will harsh words really solve the problem, and will your hurtful words deteriorate the situation and make things worse?  Be kind with your words, but still be honest (both with yourself and with your partner).  Search your own thoughts and make sure that you are not on a fault-finding mission because you are having another stress factor in your life.  Is the irritating behaviour of your partner really your partner’s fault or is there another reason?  A bit of mind-searching is required here, but it is worth it.
  • Do something special for your partner. It could be putting a chocolate or flower on the pillow, writing a short love-note and sneak it into the lunchbox or filling the car with petrol when you know that your partner is struggling with extra expenses through the month.  You can even just pack the little pillbox of their medication for the week should they need it.  Basically, anything that you can do that will show your partner that you are thinking of them when they are not around and that you want to make their life easier, is a positive step into the right direction.

Now you have tried these tips and many more, but things are still not how it should be and the little tears in your relationship are fast becoming huge valleys that separates you.  What now?  Maybe now it is time for therapy, but your partner doesn’t want to attend therapy because they may not believe in therapy or they might have a fear of losing control.  It is often the case that partners have different levels of commitment to the relationship, whereas one partner wants to safe the relationship, the other might want the relationship to end.  Relationship violence may create resistance, or they might find that affairs and betrayals may be difficult to discuss and that the “blame-game” will be done and whoever might be listening will be judgemental.  Although marriage or relationship counselling can be of great benefit, it can be difficult to convince a partner to become motivated enough to attend therapy.  Here an outside, neutral third-party can give you constructive suggestions on how to deal with conflict, how to heal from hurt, how to build on the relationship strengths and what is working, and how to prepare your relationship for future hurdles.  Treatment plans need to be tailored to fit the personality of the couple and resistance to therapy needs to be assessed and addressed according to the circumstances and concerns of the couple.  Please also remember that the therapist or counsellor must remain impartial and that all matters discussed are confidential, unless a threat to life is evident.

GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching offers services in Pre-Marital Therapy, Marriage Therapy, Divorce Recovery and all other Relationship Issues.

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to and remember to have a look out for a new blog every week.

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