Things aren’t going so well, but you and your significant other know you love one another. You’ve seemingly tried everything to mend fences, to get things back to where they once were, but you’re feeling stuck is this new (and not-so-good) place. Before you call it quits, here are a few things you can do to add fresh fuel to a dying flame.
Sometimes tensions between partners have little to do with the partnership itself and everything to do with life. Taking a time-out can help you identify the real problem in your relationship. It might seem like the last thing you want to do with your partner is visit some gorgeous place and just be sad or angry on the beach next to one another, but it might actually be what you two need.
"What do you need from me?" According to Time, this question is effective because it stops you from explaining (or more often, defending) yourself and starts you on a path towards understanding your partner's feelings instead. It's not aggressive or not angry, and it works in any context. When you're in your next round of whatever fight you've been having, simply stop and ask your partner this question and see what happens. It may start the healing process (finally).
Look, everyone has different feelings about therapy, but the truth is that it often works. Involving an impartial third party might be uncomfortable, and what that impartial third party points out to you about your behavior might be even more uncomfortable, but nothing good comes easy. With therapy, you can learn new and incredibly useful tools for working through conflict.
Not everyone exists naturally in this world, where we never get enough time to ourselves. Many of us need it to recharge our batteries, and when we build families—a live-in partner, then perhaps children—sometimes that much-needed time completely disappears. If you need alone time to be your best self, take it. Communicate to your partner that this isn't about them, but that you're much healthier when you've had some time alone. Send them this scientific explanation if they still don't understand why you want to fly solo a bit.
Relationships often come together through sex, so when the sex goes, it can feel like the relationship should go with it. Obviously, relationships rely on much more than physical intimacy to be successful, but it's the pheromones that brought you two together in the first place, so it's wise not to underestimate their power. Being intimate can reignite some of that undefinable magic that glues you to your mate. For example, unexpectedly jumping into the shower with your partner before work can go a long way toward changing the tone of your interactions for the day.
If you wouldn't say it to his or her face, don't say it at all—major conversations should take place in person. If you have trouble saying things in-person that might cause conflict, try penning a handwritten letter and give it to them to read while you're physically present. This way, you're able to express yourself in the manner that suits you best, and they're still able to respond in real time to avoid miscommunication.
Look, most people are easy. Flowers at work do work. Send them. Pick up that book that makes you think of your partner, buy it and surprise them with it. Grab tickets to that show or sporting event you know they love and don't make a big deal of presenting them. This isn't about getting thanks, it's about legitimately showing that you think about your partner, and when you think about them the thoughts are positive and personal.
Taking the high road doesn't always mean you win the race (ahem, Hilary 2016), but it does mean you won't say negative things your partner will never forget. The people who love us most know how to cut us deepest, but that doesn't mean they should; there are lines that, once crossed, will kill a relationship. Keep your angry comments clean. You can critique a person's behavior, but not who the person is at their core.
We all have it: the thing that comes up in all our relationships, the one behavioral tick that drives people around us away. Most of the time, this behavior is so firmly ingrained in who we are that it can be tough to change. But change isn't required in order for you to live in peace with your mate; all you need to do is own up to it and agree to continue working on it. Something like, "I know I have some anger management issues, but I'm trying to find healthier outlets of expression" will go a long way in diffusing recurrent conflict.
Hurt feelings are personal, and you don't get to decide whether someone else's are valid or not. Though it's painful to the ego to do so, the right thing is always to apologize for hurting someone else, even if you still don't understand how you hurt them. "I don't quite understand why you're hurt, but I love you and obviously don't want you to be hurt, so I'm sorry for my actions," is a relationship-saver if ever we heard one.
Take the question, "What do you need from me?" and ask it of yourself. What is it that you need from your partner? Is it something they can actually give you, or is it something you need to be providing for yourself or looking for in other relationships? A lot of the time, we don't know why we feel the way we do, and we don't like to take the time to dig into it because it can be painful; but it's necessary to know the answer to this question, and to communicate it to your partner. Maybe you'll realize that what you need from them is something you didn't get from your parents—communicating the origin of the wound might help your partner find empathy and compassion for you whenever the issue comes up moving forward.