We all like to think we know what's best when it comes to navigating our relationships. But sometimes it's necessary to call in the help of a professional — such as a couples therapist or relationship coach — who can share some ways to solve relationship issues, drop a few pearl drops of wisdom, and impart knowledge you and your partner likely would have never figured out on your own.
While it may be bit pricy, nerve-racking, and time-consuming, many couples find it beneficial to seek out this kind of professional help. "Couples therapy is a good choice for a couple whenever they feel like they are stuck and can't figure out a realistic solution," Racine R. Henry, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Going to therapy does not mean that your relationship is failing or that something is inherently wrong. We all get stuck sometimes and just having a neutral person involved can work wonders."
But the good news is, it's not always necessary to march into an office. You can still snag expert advice, and put it to use in your relationship, simply by doing some research. Here are a few tips from couples therapists for fighting fairly, keeping that spark alive, and working together to create the healthiest relationship possible.
1. Remind Yourselves Why You're Together
After you've been together for a minute, it can be easy to forget what initially brought you two together, and even easier to take each other for granted.
That's why therapists often suggest couples make an effort to keep things fresh, with a few simple tricks.. "It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web Radio Show, tells Bustle. "Your partner will not always seem new, novel, and steal your heart automatically, which is why telling yourself why you love them — and then telling them — will keep the love spark front and center."
Add in spicing up your date nights, having more sex, and being more affectionate, and you should be feelin' that spark again in no time.
2. Embrace The Fact You're Both So Different
If you and your partner are total opposites, you might start to wonder why the heck you're together. And you might even think your differences are the source of all your problems. But therapists are often quick to point out that opposites attract for a reason.
"Partners often seem perplexed how they could have possibly ended up with a spouse or partner who is so opposite from them," licensed psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, tells Bustle. "I explain that their choice is due to evolution, whose main purpose is to keep us alive and procreating. In evolutionary terms, a child has more probability surviving and thriving if its parents have complementary strengths."
So the fact you're opposites can be quite beneficial — especially if you learn to embrace it. "In an unhealthy relationship, we seek, find, then dislike an opposing trait in our partner," Koenig says. "In a healthy relationship, we value it because we have something to learn from it."
3. Remember, Your Relationship "Template" Was Set In Childhood
The way you two interact likely has very little to do with each other, but more so to do with what you learned about relationships when you were a kid. "The template for relationships (love, caring, belonging, etc.) is set in childhood," Koenig says. "Most couples have no idea that most of how they relate to a partner is due to this template. They also don’t recognize that they get unconsciously triggered when upsetting or unhappy childhood memories automatically resurface in similar current situations."
But this knowledge really can change how you interact. As Koenig says, "Pointing out their sore spots from childhood and how easily they get triggered helps couples to become less reactive and more compassionate toward each other."
4. If You Need To, It's OK To Go To Bed Angry
It's often suggested that couples never "go to bed angry," but instead make up right away, so they don't stew in their fury the whole night through. But not every therapist agrees with this advice.
"People are often surprised to hear [that it's OK to go to bed angry] from a couples counselor," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center tells Bustle. "What I teach them — which is really quite obvious if you think about it — is that you can't solve anything while you're angry."
Sometimes, you just need to part ways for a few hours. (Or go to bed.) "Only once you've cooled down can you really address an issue in the relationship positively and productively," Bilek says. "So if you're mad and it's bedtime, you can either argue, fight, and yell until the wee hours of the morning, or you can accept that the problem is what it is right now, go to sleep, and wake up in a much better place to handle it."
5. Relationship Issues Are Never One Person's Fault
While it may be tempting to blame each other for the problems in your relationship, therapists want you to know it's hardly ever one person's fault. Instead, "the problem is in the interaction, the dynamic that the two have developed and honed over time," Laura Petiford PMHNP, LMFT tells Bustle.
Instead, you'll want to look at the "life cycle" or your arguing pattern. "There is usually a trigger, not the same thing every time but rather a feeling that is elicited in one partner," she says. "What follows is a cascade of action that, if examined carefully, can reveal what trap the couple falls into. The beauty is both partners have the ability to interrupt this dance at any point in time. The struggle is forcing yourself to do something new so you don’t stay gripped in the power of the pattern."
6. The Sooner You Stop Assuming, The Better
Many couples therapists points out that, nine times out of 10, when we assume we know what our partners are thinking, we are usually 100 percent wrong.
And that's because "a lot of couples view a situation solely from only their perception of a situation," coach Andi LaBrune, relationship expert and mentor, tells Bustle. "Without complete communication with each other, assumptions can start to creep in about what the other person is thinking, feeling, or doing. Some couples will then act on their own perception without fully getting the whole truth."
Instead of jumping to conclusions, it's much better to ask questions. "Ask questions based on what you know and confirm the truth or complete understanding of it," LaBrune says. "Nearly 100 percent of the time you were wrong, and that’s not such a bad thing — because more than likely you assumed the worst. It’s less stressful and you cultivate a deeper connection with your partner since you both understand each other’s point of view."
7. It's Not Helpful To Talk In Absolutes
When arguing with your partner, or discussing things they do or don't do, try to avoid words like "always" and "never." As LaBrune says, "If you think about it, every time you hear someone telling you that you never, or you always, subconsciously you’ll go into ‘defense’ mode. Your intelligent mind knows that it’s not the absolute truth and your partner will want to defend themselves instead of listen and consider your point of view."
So allow each other some wiggle room. "Just don’t say it, unless of course you’re absolutely sure it’s 100 percent truth," LaBrune says."They’ll be more open to listening and dialoguing back and forth instead of waiting for their turn to prove you wrong."
8. Use "I" Statements For Healthier Arguments
The best course of action, whilst having a disagreement, is to state your case using "I" statements, which essentially means talking to your partner without pointing fingers.
"Don’t tell another person how to feel, who they are, or lecture them," Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and co-founder of Double Trust Dating and Relationships, tells Bustle. "Instead, use 'I' statements to describe your thoughts and feelings about a situation. 'You' statements will put your partner on the defensive. Honestly sharing your own thoughts and experiences through 'I' statements opens up dialogue and allows your partner to engage you with empathy."
9. Keep In Mind, It's A Good Sign If You're Arguing
While you obviously don't want to be in a never-ending fight with your partner, couples therapists point out that arguing can actually be a good thing. "Saying nothing and brushing everything to the side is a recipe for resentment and contempt," Dr. Klapow says. In a healthy relationship, "you will disagree, you will be angry, and you will then hash things out."
So don't be afraid of a little back and forth. "But do it in a controlled manner," he says. "Keep your emotions in check, watch your words, think before you actually speak, don’t claim to know what they are thinking — because you don’t. Remind yourself that arguing doesn’t mean they are the enemy and above all else, argue to solve a problem; not to win the argument."
10. It's Important For Relationships To Grow & Change
While you might want your relationship to stay exactly "how it used to be," getting stuck in the past can actually be detrimental. "Understand that you, your partner, and your relationship are dynamic and always changing," Dr. Klapow says. "The moment you find yourself in the 'it used to be like this' mode, you are trying to work backwards in time. What can you do, what can they do, what can you do together to make the relationship work well now, today?" Figure it out, because, "getting stuck in the past will kill your relationship."
11. It Really Is All About The Little Things
While you might think that grand gestures of love are the keys to success, counselors tend to point out that it's more about the little things — like bringing your partner a cup of coffee, or sticking a cute love note in their pocket — that add up to a healthy relationship.
"A good relationship consists of doing small things consistently and checking in with each other," therapist Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW tells Bustle. "Huge gestures are nice but what really builds emotional connection is listening to each other and becoming intimately aware of each others dreams and aspirations."
12. Schedule In Time For Sex
In the early days of a relationship, sex tends to happen easily and often, because you're still so excited about dating and spending time together. But as you get further into the relationship, and your busy lives start to get in the way, sex can start to take a back seat.
This can be a sign of a problem in a relationship, but it can also be the cause. "Our sex lives are like a barometer that can be used to gauge how things are going in the relationship," Daniel Sher, a sex educator and registered clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Often, when the relationship is suffering, so too does the sex life."
If you want to fix a few relationship woes, or at least stay connected while you weather a problem, scheduling in sex really can help. "One relationship hack that is incredibly simple but incredibly powerful at the same time, is to agree to schedule-in time for sex," Sher says. "In the business of our day-to-day lives, this is sometimes easier said than done. However, it’s incredibly important for couples to be able to tap into that level of intimacy in order to remind them of the strength of their connection, whilst working on whatever else has come up between them." Of course make sure you are both comfortable with the time you choose, and in the moment, but this hack can help when it's been a while.
13. Compliment Each Other More Often
So many relationship problems can crop up when one or both partners feel neglected or unappreciated, which is why compliments really can go a long way in improving a relationship.
Not only do compliments show that you love your partner, but they can also help encourage positive change. "Learning to catch the positives can be your most powerful tool if you want to help your partner move forward [with you]," licensed psychotherapist Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA tells Bustle.
14. Be Mindful When You're Together
Couples tend to ignore each other when they're together; again due to the fact it's easy to take your partner for granted. Add in the fact we all have our phones in our faces, and it just compounds the issue.
"We live in an age when distractions are everywhere," Bennett says. "This can be overworking, hobbies, smartphones, and more. It’s easy to find yourself so distracted in a relationship that you never truly spend quality time with your partner. So, put away the phone, turn off the TV, and spend mindful time with your partner on a regular basis, whether it’s going for a walk or simply cuddling." And you should see your relationship improve, as a result.
15. Give Each Other The Benefit Of The Doubt
"When you’re angry, it’s easy to dig in your heels, act stubborn, and see your partner as your enemy," Bennett says. "You start by assuming the worst and go from there. However, the best way forward in relationships is to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, then have a conversation about issues that are bothering you."
Relationships are tough, and are often fraught with disagreements and assumptions — all of which can make for an incredibly unhealthy situation. So do like the therapists do, and take a step back, see your relationship for what it really is, make an effort, and you should be able to smooth over almost any issue, with ease.