The divorce rate has grown in China, which writers postulate to be down to the time people have spent together in quarantine. While for many an enforced “pause button” on our routine is an opportunity to reconnect with your family, for others, that routine may have been the final plaster over cracks.
The toughest part about relationships is that your behaviour, thoughts and emotions are affected by and have an impact on someone else...and with no other outlet but each other, those effects may be magnified. Yet, it is only your behaviour, thoughts and emotions which you can adapt, alter or assert.
If you are struggling, try and take this time to assess your current relationship status through asking yourself the following Five Questions – and then discussing them with your partner. The answers may in fact bring you the reassurance that you are both exactly where you would like to be, and if not, then there is time right now to rationally consider your next steps.
a. Am I happy right here right now?
First think about what being happy means to you. Is it feelings of contentment? Is it laughing a lot? Is it comfort? Forget all the “expert advice” – what makes you happy is unique to you. With so much access to information, it is very easy to forget what you truly connect with, mindful reflection on this question alone can help bring about some clarity.
Once you know how you define happiness, ask yourself if you are feeling that within your relationship.
If you are happy then move on to the next question.
If not, ask yourself what can you do to make the change you need? Discuss this with your partner, ideally at a time and place when you are both able to talk openly.
The only way to tackle relationship question marks if you want the relationship to work is as a team, and both of you need to be on the same page. If you have serious concerns, don’t make assumptions - it is only fair to let your partner know kindly but directly…and together you are then best placed to solve them.
b. Are you and your partner both heading in the direction you both want?
Have an open discussion about how you hope the relationship will progress. While this may result in an unpleasant realisation that you are not on the same page, it is always better to find out early so you can perhaps find a means of returning to or heading towards the same path. If not, you may end up allowing expectation and disappointment sour the good and then breaking up on unpleasant terms.
c. Do you and your partner express love in a way that suits you both?
Dr Gary Chapman identified the “5 languages of love” (there may be others unique to your relationship too):
- Acts of service
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
Often we enjoy giving and receiving love in all these ways, but we often have a preference for one or two in particular. If you enjoy being told you are loved, but your partner prefers to give gifts, then it may feel like they do not “love” you. All that may be happening is that you are expressing your feelings differently. Perhaps your partner does not really enjoy the expensive meals you want to give (gifting), but really appreciates it when you take the time to cook beans on toast instead (acts of service). Maybe you want to spend time together, but they like to be told you love them and then be able to have some time alone.
Discuss your preferences with your partner and see how you can both work with your preferred means of expression.
d. Are you able to forgive?
Every relationship has ups and downs, but when you hold a grudge, it can be like carrying a hot coals and waiting to throw them at someone. Practicing forgiveness is about acknowledging you were hurt by the behaviour, reflecting on what you have learned about yourself from it, and recognising that the event occurred often because of an askewed belief or choice of reaction from yourself and/or the other person – both of which have reasons.
It is not emotion that will help understanding, but listening, talking, and then finding a way forward where you both feel you can collaborate.
You do not need to forget, but forgiveness releases the control that negative energy has on you. (…and you really don’t need that right now!)
e. Do you appreciate your partner? (in a way they know it)
Being in a relationship means being part of a team. Being mindful of your language can be helpful here. Rather than seeing someone as “your other half” and so completing what was not “whole” before, see yourself as a perfectly fully functioning “whole” and your partner as bringing something extra. Then with your two whole two hearts and two whole minds it may be possible to achieve greater things that you might have alone.
The practice of gratitude reminds us that we are affected by – and in turn affect – those around us. It also helps us focus on the present in a positive frame rather than on what could/should/might be or have been.
When your partner does something nice, however small, try to acknowledge it and thank them there and then – if nothing else, the mechanics of conditioning mean that behaviour is more likely to happen again!
Finally, remember, solving relationship issues is not just about talking
Talking helps – you need that awareness that there is something that needs to be worked on. However, just saying “X is wrong” is more likely to lead to frustration and upset. Having an idea of what you would like as the solution then allows you to offer a means of moving forward. Of course, be flexible and prepared to listen and work with suggestions from your partner too.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist, author and wellbeing expert (TV/publications). Find out more www.draudreyt.com or follow her on Twitter/Insta @draudreyt