Let’s face it: Relationships require work. Sometimes, really hard work. All too often, the longer you and your partner have been together, the more work your relationship requires. That seems kind of counter-intuitive, right? After all, the longer you’ve been with someone, the better you should know them. And the better you know someone, the less conflict you should have, right? If only it were that easy! As relationships go on, other stressors and factors enter the picture that may not have been there when the relationship was just starting to blossom. Busy careers, bills, kids, kids’ activities...all of these can cause couples to drift apart. Sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry! There are ways you and your partner can reconnect, bicker less, and grow stronger in your relationship.
Every couple bickers from time to time. Occasionally, that bickering morphs into full-fledged arguments, complete with yelling and exasperated sighs, and migraines. Bickering can actually be really healthy for relationships, as long as it is done respectfully. “Huh?” I’m sure you’re saying. Stay with me!
Bickering and arguing can be healthy when you’re not just waiting for your turn to speak but when you just shut up and listen to what your partner is saying. Often, the causes of arguments are small things that have built up over a period of time, but which have never been expressly communicated. So, the next time your spouse gets on your case about not cleaning the toilet, listen to what they’re saying. They may not be mad about the toilet; perhaps you’re not taking initiative on cleaning in general.
In the heat of the moment, people can say things they don’t mean or that they instantly regret. Avoid this if possible! The best way to do this is to hit pause. When you recognize that the argument is not yielding anything productive, put it on hold. Whether you both need to walk away and get some fresh air, or (contrary to popular belief) go to bed angry, just give each other some space. These moments of reflection help calm emotions and allow our more rational sides to come back to us. When sufficient time has passed, talk about your argument calmly with one another. Chances are you’ll both find a little humor in what you were arguing about, too.
Sometimes, couples that argue are in healthier relationships than those who don’t bicker at all, because those who aren’t bickering about anything have (sometimes) given up on the relationship without knowing it. When people aren’t bickering and aren’t blissfully in love with their partner, they’re like ships passing in the night. They know the other is there, but they’re not seeing them.
When this happens, what can you do? Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is just talk. Let your partner know what you are feeling, and see if they feel the same way, too. Go into this conversation with an open mind and open heart, and really listen to what your partner has to say. This type of dialogue is essential to growing together as a couple. If you are uncomfortable having this type of conversation or you feel like it has gone beyond the point where simply talking one-on-one with your spouse will work, seek professional guidance from a therapist or marriage counselor.
Relationships are breeding grounds for stress. There is constant pressure from your career; you want to make sure you’re providing the best life you can for your kids; and the result of this is that your relationship with your partner can unintentionally take a backseat. When this happens, it is easier to justify disagreements or, worse, accepting and living in a situation that seems stagnant and doomed.
One way some couples can reconnect and reignite the spark is to either get away or spend some quality Adult Time together. Whether this is a relaxing vacation with just the two of you or sending the kids to the grandparents’ or summer camp for a bit, these moments together can work wonders on a relationship.
Vacations are a great way to hit “reset” and forget about the worries of the real world (just make sure you’re not checking your work email incessantly!). Sitting on a beach with a fruity drink and a trashy novel (followed by some passionate love making in the room) can be just what the doctor ordered. Vacations also get us out of our normal routines and inspire spontaneity that is absent in our day-to-day.
For couples who have the means to do so, sending your kids to summer camp can be an incredible way to fall in love with your partner all over again. This is a great option, because camp offers kids a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and grow into themselves, so you don’t have the same type of guilt that may accompany a parents-only vacation! On top of that, you and your partner can still do your normal career things, but you can enjoy extended happy hours or more frequent date nights without having to worry about getting back in time for the baby sitter.
No matter how long you’ve been with your partner, there is always a way to grow and mature in your love for one another. Sometimes, the monotony of everyday life can grate on us, and our relationships are the first to suffer. Be proactive when you can. But if you find yourself bickering or looking across the dinner table wondering, “Who is this person I’m living with?”, give each other a chance. Talk, communicate, hold one another tightly, and ask for help if you need it!