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Health of Relationships

Published on: January 3rd, 2014

6 Tips to Improve Your Relationship

Let me put you at ease right away. Boulder couples therapist Jeff Pincus: “One of the maxims used by the person that trained me was: everyone’s a pain in the ass.’ ” There. You’re not crazy, your partner really is annoying. Of course the bad news is so are you.
The good news is, whether it’s tension, fighting, or just day-to-day irritation, none of that prevents you from having a healthy relationship. It’s tempting to think that smooth relationships are a matter of finding the right person, but in the words of our other doctor, Boulder Psychotherapist Casey Burnett, when you’re picking anyone, “you’re kind of choosing a set of problems.”
There are however, concrete things we can all do to have more harmonious and healthier relationships. Actual therapy is going to be most helpful for any couple, but here are a few tips that you can start practicing on your own.

#1: Fix Your Relationship With You
“A lot of people carry a self-condemning view that they’re somehow fundamentally broken or flawed, and they unconsciously keep finding ways to believe that story.” – Casey Burnett

Regardless of your relationship status, work on yourself. Your habits and patterns are going to affect the course of any relationship you’re in; you don’t drop your junk at the door. That includes wounds from past relationships.

#2: Deal with Past Trauma
Your current relationship is colored by every relationship you’ve been in previously. From romantic relationships to childhood ones with caregivers, these things shape what makes us feel good and bad.
This is particularly important because old wounds can make us perceive danger that doesn’t exist in a relationship. Pincus puts it this way: “Certain things are going to appear to us, and they’re reminding us of a previous hurt. We either want to run away, or we want to fight it. We actually bring that into romantic relationships, and it makes a mess.”

#3: Take Responsibility For Yourself
“Couples counseling is about learning to own our responsibility in the recipe that is this relationship. Not saying that all the wrong ingredients are in my partner.” – Casey Burnett

Once you’ve figured yourself out and patched up past wounds, things will still going to go wrong occasionally. When they do, remember you are entirely in control of how you respond. Will you blow up or let it go?  Forgive or hold a grudge? How you choose to respond could be the difference between ruining your evening and having a great night.

#4: Always Be Updating
“We all keep a folder of our friends, our bosses, and we put down little stories about how they behave. Yet we don’t always update them. Often conflict is saying, “please update your file on me, it’s out of date.” – Casey Burnett

Do they still like their job? Do they still not want kids? How are things going for them? Don’t assume you always know the answer, find out. People are always changing. Pincus puts it this way: “Actually know what’s going on with the other person. What are they thinking, what are they feeling. You don’t have to do it perfectly, but you have to do it enough of the time or it’s going to feel dangerous.”

#5: Learn How to End Fights
Last of all, there are the fights. Both professionals agreed that fighting is not bad. Struggle is not a sign it’s not going to work out. It’s easy to get into a fight, but Jeff Pincus’ advice is to learn how to get out of them once they start.
“Know how to initiate repair when there has been a breach in the relationship. So if a couple has a fight, how do you move from fight to connection, from fight to play, and how do you do that quickly. A healthy relationship is not without conflict. But it’s knowing how to clean it up quickly.”

#6: Enjoy It
If this all sounds like too much work, consider this before you throw in the towel: Research says you’ll live longer, be happier, be more satisfied in your life and more successful in your endeavors. We are inherently social creatures, and relationships make such a difference for well-being. So don’t give up on it. Talk. Listen. Understand. Update what you know, and hang on for the ride.

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