You're constantly fighting with your significant other and just can't take it anymore. Your spouse continually ignores you, and you feel so alone in your marriage. There's a piece of you that wants to make it work, but you're also exhausted emotionally, mentally and physically. What do you do?
A quick Google search will provide familiar answers from well-known publications and celebrities.
"If your needs aren't being met, the relationship is probably dead."
"If you're tired of feeling like the only one trying in your marriage, it's time to call it quits."
"If you argue often, it's time to move out and move on."
The problem with those answers is that all romantic relationships go through seasons of tension, stress, conflict and disconnect. According to Dr. Dana McNeil, a licensed marriage and family therapist certified in evidence-based methods from The Gottman Institute, all couples experience rough patches. "The bright side is all couples who experience these rough patches also have the potential to work through the issues and come out stronger and more 'in love' than ever before," she says.
Staying in a mentally, physically or emotionally abusive relationship is never the answer. In fact, if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, get help now by contacting the National Domestic Abuse Hotline by visiting thehotline.org or calling 1-800-799-SAFE.
It doesn't mean your relationship is failing if you find yourself in disagreements regularly, feeling disconnected or even stuck in a negative rut with your spouse or significant other. These seasons may not provide enough fuel to burn your relationship to the ground. In fact, the fuel they provide could ignite a deeper, more intimate flame than you've ever experienced together.
"There is no sugarcoating the situation," says Dr. McNeil. "You will have to make the decision that the relationship is worth being in and working on ... you must commit to rolling up your sleeves and doing your part."
Once you make that decision, here are the next steps, according to Dr. McNeil:
1. Notice your role in the disconnect. There's the "we stuff" that impacts a relationship, and then there's the "me stuff." Take inventory of your attitude, mindset and any internal work you may need to do. While couples therapy is a good option, individual therapy can also clarify your role in your relationship.
2. Focus on fun. Positive experiences lead to positive emotions. Getting stuck in a pattern of negative thinking about your significant other and your relationship is easy. Create moments and experiences that boost intimacy and affection. Remembering what your relationship felt like when things were good may be all you need to stay motivated and work through this rough patch.
3. Ask for what you need, and drop the blame. Have you openly voiced your needs? It's common to assume our significant other or spouse knows us so well we shouldn't have to tell them what we want or need. In fact, it's easy to think that if they really loved you, you wouldn't have to ask them to clean up the kitchen after you cook, make time for a regular 30-minute conversation with you in the evenings or acknowledge your interests. But the truth is, no amount of love, care and commitment can transform someone into a mind reader. That's why it's important to voice your needs and desires with no assumptions or blame placed on the other person.
Decades of research and personal experiences have shown that romantic relationships can enhance your life, lower your stress levels and increase your overall happiness. If it feels like your relationship or marriage is doing the opposite at the moment, I hope trying these three steps provides some momentum to turn your situation around.
If you'd like to talk to someone about your relationship or marriage, or if you'd like to receive some deeper insights, reach out to First Things First today. You'll be connected with a relationship coach who can help you identify barriers and obstacles that are keeping you from having the relationship or marriage you desire. Get connected now by going to FirstThings.org/coaching or emailing us at Coaching@FirstThings.org.