We all want a thriving, high functioning and happy relationship. We want a relationship that makes us feel nourished, supported and loved. Easier said than done right? In real life when there are so many individual demands to manage, such as family dynamics, career development, financial growth and mental health, making time for our relationship and our partner can often get left behind or put on the bottom of the list.
What we know about relationships is that when they are positive and fulfilling our individual mental health is better and personal resilience is high. So how do we ensure our relationships are thriving? The simple answer is by making them a priority and nurturing them through regular positive habits. Habits are about practice and repeat, making something so frequent in our lives that it becomes a part of the everyday. So with that in mind, its time to set some new healthy and regular habits for your relationships, ensuring that you continue to thrive as a couple and individually.
Below are five habits that you should practice to keep your relationship healthy:
- Get to know your partner again and build a friendship: Life experiences change us as individuals and therefore it is likely that our needs and wants have changed over the years. Its time to start ‘re-learning’ about each other, from the simple interests to the more intimate thoughts/ideas. This activity can strengthen your friendship as a couple and allow you to explore shared interests.
- Celebrate your mutual wins: In the busy nature of life we often forget to celebrate our wins as a couple or to remind each other what we mutually set out to achieve together. For example, did you eventually buy that dream house that you were both working for? Did your eldest child achieve academic success? Did you survive that first family road trip? Recognizing the achievements you have had as a team can create a sense of satisfaction and reassurance for your relationship.
- Understand each other’s values and create mutual respect: Core values drive our decisions and direction in life. In a partnership it is important to understand if our values are shared or different, as a misunderstanding of your partner’s values can often cause relationship conflict. Take time to explore each other’s ‘set of values’, gaining an understanding of what you each expect in family life, career goals, marriage, spirituality etc., so that this knowledge can shape your future decisions in life.
- Book a date night: It’s a cliché but dedicated date nights (or days) actually work! Date nights give significance to making time for each other so that you can engage in deeper conversations, share interests and can encourage an element of fun in your relationship.
- Have the “tough” conversations and don’t leave ‘elephants’ in the room: Communication is vital to relationship well-being so when we stop talking, we stop investing in our relationship development. Leaving important issues ‘unsaid’ can lead to resentment, anxiety and mistrust. If you find it hard to start a conversation about a tough issue, use other ways of communicating such as emails, letters or creative approaches to open up to each other. Make sure you approach these conversations calmly and with honesty, knowing that you may not solve the issue immediately but that small steps towards resolution is a positive win for your relationship.
People who are socially anxious tend to avoid social gatherings, places where they may feel judged by other people.
When they do have to attend a gathering they may try to avoid speaking to other people. Maybe you are introverted but have no trouble speaking to people on a one to one basis. Why? One of the reasons suggested by researchers is that it is easy to look them in the eye.
In a group situation paying attention to people is necessary so that you can know what is going right. When we are anxious we feel quite vulnerable and self-conscious however facing this fear being perfectly aware of how you might be hurt is an important step to overcoming your fear.
As you face this fear again and again you don’t necessarily get less afraid; you get braver. This approach of the uncertain is a tonic for self-esteem. You are able to view yourself as courageous and this is a comfort for you at times when you are feeling challenged.
Strategies to assist in overcoming social anxiety
Describe what it is you are afraid of.
- Relaxation and slow breathing to reduce the symptoms of anxiety such as rapid breathing, sweating and sometimes feeling sick.
What is your belief about the situation?
Anxiety is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self statements which become a habit such as the following.
Jumping to conclusions.
- We assume we know what someone else is thinking and a. we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future.
- When we blow things out of proportion and we regard the situation b. as terrible, awful even though in reality the situation is relatively minor.
- This way of thinking means that we ﬁlter in the negative parts of the c. picture and ﬁlter out the positive parts
- We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on d. our behaviour in speciﬁc situations.
Challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts.
Approaching the situation that you fear rather than avoiding.
Being kind to yourself. Understand that this will take time.
Are you a yes person? A people pleaser?
Are you the one who always listens to other people?
Do you seem to miss your turn receiving support? Do you take on more than you can manage?
Boundaries help us maintain relationships, and maintain our authenticity – or our connection to ourselves.
Agreeableness is a scale that we all fall on somewhere. Being agreeable, or self-sacrificing can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness. You may be really good at listening but have a hard time expressing your own needs and desires.
Why is it a strength? You have a lot of empathy, you are attuned to the feelings of others and you know how to make them happy. People like you. You may also achieve a lot by virtue of taking on a lot.
However – A strength overdone can become a weakness!
How is it a weakness? People who can’t say No may build up anger and resentment towards themselves and others. You may not even realise this, but it can manifest as depression, burnout, emotional numbness, headaches or other bodily pain. Pleasing everyone else can leave you feeling stressed and unfulfilled.
Patterns of agreeableness often have their origins in our childhood. We may learn to suppress our authenticity, our true feelings and needs, to maintain a close relationship with our family members. This is a very adaptable coping strategy for a little person, however, it can lead to having unhealthy boundaries as an adult.
How can you develop healthier boundaries?
- Tune into your body – what is it telling you? What is your gut feeling about being asked to do x y z?
- Tune into your needs and desires. Write them down. What is it that you really want in your life?
- Turn your compassion for others’ needs to express and be heard, inward. Start listening to yourself as well as you listen to others.
- Identify what it is your inner critic has to say – probably something that makes you feel guilty for saying No. Write a rebuttal and practice delivering it regularly.
- Identify the areas and people you find it most difficult to say No to. Maybe it’s your boss, or a parent. Delay your response. Don’t say yes straight away. A line such as ‘I’ll get back to you’, gives you some time to prepare to say NO.
- Practice expressing your needs and desires with people you trust. What is the outcome for you, for them, for your relationship?
- Support – have someone who understands you, encourages you, validates you, and helps hold you accountable for practicing these things.
Developing healthier boundaries doesn’t mean you have to give up your strength. You can develop more flexibility and control of this attribute, and having healthy boundaries can become your new strength. Our therapists can help you understand your patterns of interaction and how to break free from stressful and unfulfilling relationships.
Limit the ‘Noise’
In today’s busy world it’s easy to get caught up in all the distractions. It can be a novel exercise to start to really notice what you are letting into your psyche, your consciousness – and to make an active choice as to whether it’s good for you or not. Are you controlled, at least in part by social media? How many times a day do you check the myriad of notifications your devices throw at you? Do you actually enjoy and value your time spent on Facebook, Instagram or checking emails? Are these behaviours driven by a compulsion to do so or do they actually bring you joy or add value to your life? Asking yourself these questions can get you thinking about what you value and what’s really important to you.
If these checking impulses are contributing to your feelings of stress and overwhelm, then maybe it’s time to set yourself some helpful and thoughtful boundaries. Thinking more about how, when and why you engage in the technological world could be a good place to start. When these wonders of the modern world start to take away more than they add to your life, then you know something’s out of whack and you need to make different decisions about how you spend your precious time.
Seek out the Joy
Did you realise that sometimes you actually have to seek out and schedule in the joy to maintain your mental and physical well-being? Psychologists refer to this as Pleasant Event Scheduling, and it involves deliberating making time for the things you enjoy doing and those that boost positive emotions. Sometimes people have the mindset that doing this is ‘selfish’, ‘indulgent’ or a ‘waste of time’. However, these beliefs often stem from your inner critic and are linked to having unrelenting standards for yourself and others (including a high level of ‘perfectionism’ which gets in the way of allowing yourself relaxation and down-time).
If you are feeling low or if you’re suffering from depression, it’s even more important to deliberately factor in both pleasant events and activities which make you feel good about yourself. Also, a focus on increasing pleasant sensory experiences is important for people with low or depressed mood. Think about your 5 senses and how you can boost feelings of sensory comfort, security and pleasure. Doing these activities mindfully is also important. Examples might include – taking a warm relaxing bath, swimming in the ocean, using heat packs, getting a massage or some reflexology, tasting your favourite foods and drink, using aromatherapy, getting more hugs from friends and family, listening to soothing, joyful or upbeat music.
Prioritise Restoration and Listen to your Body
Life is not a race. There are no prizes given out for reaching a point of ‘burnout’. Do you deliberately make time and room for slowing down? Everyone needs time for emotional and physical restoration and we all need to take refuge on a regular basis. If you don’t listen to your body and give it what it needs, it usually starts screaming at you in the form of headaches, fatigue, stomach upsets and other physical manifestations of chronic stress. Instead of racing through the day and crashing from exhaustion at the end, you could factor in ‘mini breaks’ and brief periods of mindfulness when you stop and notice.
You don’t always have to multi-task. Try doing one thing with full attention rather than 5 things with minimal or scattered attention. You can take your time to practice pauses during the day when you stop, breathe, rest and reflect mindfully on the day and how you are feeling. Checking in with or coming to your ‘senses’ regularly throughout the day, means that you can notice when you need to slow down and take a break. It’s when you don’t even notice what you need, that problems start to arise.
Stop the Comparisons
Comparing yourself to others is often a futile activity which can lead to an extra sense of pressure and stress that you don’t need. It’s a life-trap which can fuel the ‘inner critic’ and make you vulnerable to feeling like an ‘imposter’ and even a failure – especially if you’re rating yourself against your peers on measures of performance and achievement.
It’s often more useful to compare yourself with yourself! This practice encourages you to see the progress or the positive changes you have made over time, which is a more realistic and kinder approach. For example, you may have conquered a particular fear, achieved a life goal, or reached a realistic target that you have set for yourself. Maybe you have come a long way in healing yourself after an abusive or difficult childhood. Make time to congratulate yourself for having moved forward and changed for the better. Focusing on you and your positive and healthy progress, rather than how you measure up against others, is much better for your mental health.
When we compare ourselves with others, it’s usually not a realistic or fair comparison. We can never really know what’s happening with the other person, what motivates them, their personal history or what goes on behind closed doors for them.
Value what you have
Deep down, we all know the value of appreciation and gratitude. It’s easy to forget and get swept away with daily hassles and worries – this is normal. As humans, fortunately and unfortunately we have a very sophisticated brain that is prone to get caught up with too much thinking and anxious rumination (e.g., future forecasting, worrying, ruminating and ‘catastrophizing’ about what is going to happen). We don’t have to blame ourselves for this, this is how our brains have evolved over-time. We are human and therefore we worry and get stressed out!
There are many antidotes to this, but one is to make more room for thoughts which are thankful and appreciative. Our minds tend to naturally focus upon what is missing, what is wrong and what is not there. It’s due to an inbuilt survival mechanism which has gone haywire. We have a ‘fault-finding’ mind which keeps us alert and keeps the threat system of the brain overly activated. When we deliberately think about the things we are happy with, thankful for and working well in our lives, our brains calm down a little (ie, we can down-regulate our anxious nervous system). Thankfulness helps us foster a sense of greater relaxation and therefore positive emotional states are much easier to access.
Try and make room for moments of gratitude and being thankful for the things or life conditions that you have and want and don’t have and don’t want, rather than the life conditions that you want but don’t have.