If you and your partner are going through tough times, you might find that, on top of everything else, it also feels like you're drifting apart. It can, after all, be difficult to maintain a connection when your thoughts are elsewhere, when you're stressed, or when life is going awry. And yet, whether it's a problem within your relationship, or something external, it is possible to stay connected through it all.
Instead of turning away from each other, as many people naturally do when they're feeling overwhelmed, "it is extremely important for [you both] to make the extra effort during such times to prevent drifting apart or allowing the challenge to cause a break up in the relationship," Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle.
This might mean increasing the time you spend together, as well as adding things that are relationship-reinforcing, such as setting aside time to listen to each other, or talking about how you're both feeling. "Staying connected will make your relationship feel secure and give you the confidence to get through anything," Diana Venckunaite, a relationship coach, tells Bustle. Read on below for a few expert tips for staying connected, even when times are tough.
Approach The Problem Together
"Many couples fall into the trap of pitting themselves against each other in times of adversity," Ball says. "When both parties become invested in their own stuff, they can turn into enemies. This approach doesn’t solve the problem — and it certainly doesn’t build connection."
So the moment you feel yourselves getting upset or shutting down, decide to lean into each other instead. "Together, you can combine your strengths to resolve whatever lies ahead of you," Ball says. "If you can keep this mentality at the forefront of your relationship, you can learn to collaborate in managing difficult issues."
Stay Mindful Of What's Going On
"When things are tough it often puts a strain on your time together, your relationship, how you feel, etc.," Jackson says. And yet, however bad it gets, being mindful of that tendency can help prevent these negative emotions from taking over.
"Being mindful of the situation and its possible impact on the relationship will help couples be proactive to think about when they can carve out time for each other to reengage in or continue to do some of the things they typically do together," Jackson says.
You can keep this issue from upsetting your lives by making an effort to notice when things are feeling unbalanced, and deliberately bringing back some sense of normalcy.
Communicate More Than You Feel Is Necessary
Even if you're talking about the problem seemingly all the time, chances are you can talk about it more. In fact, you'll always want to "over-communicate rather than under communicate," Lynn Berger, a licensed mental health counselor and coach, tells Bustle. "If your tendency is to retreat during tough times it can create greater distance and a sense of feeling disconnected. This is the time to try to hang in together and go out of your way to communicate."
Set Aside Time To Talk
That said, you won't necessarily want to talk about the problem 24/7, or bombard each other with information at odd moments of the day, as this can lead to burnout and frustration, and make you feel less connected.
Instead, "agree to pre-set time on the calendar when it's mutually convenient to talk about what's going on," Helena Plater-Zyberk, co-founder of the emotional support network Supportiv, tells Bustle. "Center the talk-time around a simple activity that you can both look forward to — a stroll in the park, or a visit to an ice cream shop. With pre-planning, you'll bring the tension down and reduce friction in talking about tough circumstances."
Come Up With A Plan
If you and your partner are faced with a tricky situation in your relationship — maybe one of you lost a job — or something rough is going on externally — such as a family issue — it can help to come up with a game plan that breaks the issue down into smaller chunks, so you can figure out how to resolve it. Or at least manage it.
"Breaking something huge into small pieces will seem more manageable and less overwhelming," Venckunaite says. "Facing a challenge together and coming together to build a plan to get through the tough times will provide you with a closer connection between you and your partner."
Use Differences To Your Advantage
Everyone approaches tough times differently, and reacts to stress in their own way. So instead of becoming frustrated with each other, use your differences to your advantage.
After all, "at least one of you has to be strong while the other one is weak to pull each other up and out from the rock bottom," Venckunaite says. "The alternating strength between one another will bring about the confidence that together, you can get through anything."
Instead of picking on your differences, build each other up. You may feel closer if you know that "when you need a rock, your partner will be right there, offering a helping hand," Venckunaite says. And vice versa.
Talk About Your Needs
It's easier to drift apart if you aren't helping to meet each other's needs, whether that be listening more effectively, spending more time together, or coming up with a game plan. So go ahead and say what you need out loud more often.
"In any relationship, you have to understand what your partner actually needs from you," Venckunaite says. "When you know or can at least clearly articulate what you need when it's tough, it will provide your relationship with a needed intimate clarity and connection."
Carve Out Time To Have Fun
In order to lighten the mood, and remember why you're together, you may want to have a good time, even if it means scheduling it in. "Play and fun are important components of healthy relationships," Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist at A Better Life Therapy, tells Bustle, so make it a priority.
"It might mean finding one night a week to go out or it might mean spending an hour here or there having fun at home — playing board games, watching a movie, eating a meal together," Earnshaw says. "When life is hard it does not mean that every moment needs to be hard. Protect the good."
Maintain A Friendship Mindset
Similarly, it can help to keep things light by maintaining a friendship mindset, Earnshaw says, which means reminding yourself over and over again that your partner is your friend and treating them in the way you would treat a friend.
Would you snap at your friend? Or assume they have bad intentions? Or that they don't want to help? Probably not. "Try not to move into enemy status," Earnshaw says, and you'll have a better shot at remaining close.
If you notice that your partner is down, or if you sense some tension between you, offer up a way to show you care. "Offer repair, frequently," Earnshaw says. "Give a hug, make each other laugh, say 'I am sorry, I went too far.' Do anything you can to show the person you want to stay connected, you don't want to fight, and you are still there."
By doing these things, no matter what negatives are swirling around your lives, you and your partner should be able to stay connected. And possibly even come out the other side feeling closer than ever.