Forced into another lockdown, many couples find themselves asking how they can save a struggling relationship or how to know if a relationship is worth saving.
As you might expect, there is no simple answer to such questions. We need to ask ourselves what relationships mean in our lives, how they shape our reality and experiences, and how they help us map the world in front of us.
We need to recognise the main signs of a struggling relationship – the main indicators are visible far earlier than you’d think. Finally, we must understand and be able to recognise the point where a relationship becomes too toxic to save.
Why Even a Struggling Relationship still matters
Relationships, whether struggling relationships or not, define our reality. They also influence our well-being, and as immunologists claim, even our immune system. And we all know that’s a much-needed asset these days.
Esther Sternberg, a pioneering scientist, author of “The Balance Within The Science Connecting Health and Emotions” gives a very insightful analysis of how our relationships ultimately affect who we are.
Sternberg states that we all have a relationship map that we carry within ourselves. On this map, we have all our relationship details, from our mother’s tender voice to our first love embrace.
“ A very young child will carry a physical reminder of mother’s embrace: a secure blanket, a favorite toy, something soaked with all the smells of home and love…The engagement ring and wedding band have the power in an ounce of gold to evoke the memory of the beloved…We are all tethered to our social worlds by invisible but steel strong wires”, states Sternberg.
In essence, we are our relationships, but these steel links that keep us together can also create challenges. If one party in a relationship evolves past where the other’s memory and vision left off, then conflict might arise. The partners might feel like strangers like they do not know one another. These slips usually happen because of the lack of communication and proper dialogue.
Of all the sensorial signs that attack us every day, the ones connected to our bonds affect us the hardest and trigger our emotions intensely. Poetry, music, movies, advertising, all of our creations rely heavily on the issues associated with our social connections.
Our relationships influence greatly our health. That’s why the question of whether you can save a struggling relationship, or if your relationship is worth saving is so important.
What Are the Signs of a Struggling Relationship?
The signs something is wrong in your relationship are visible a lot earlier than you’d think, much earlier than the moment you start feeling like you’re struggling.
If you …
- stop engaging in those activities that brought both of you joy
- don’t recognise yourself when you’re with your partner anymore
- feel like you no longer have personal space
- feel like you’re not good enough when you’re with your partner
- make excuses for each other and hide some truths
….then you’re developing struggling moments in your relationship, and it’s the right time to talk about it. Dialogue is key in any struggling relationship. This is why we have been helping couples with Imago Dialogue techniques in our consultations.
The lockdown has confined all of us to the tiny space of our homes which we have to share with our partners, kids, pets, and so on. You might begin to feel trapped, and it’s not your fault. It’s a natural feeling, as a result of this sudden change that comes to disrupt your normal life cycle.
You might begin to take it out on your partner. You might feel like you’re losing yourself in this process and blame them.
It’s important to know that to save your struggling relationship, you both need to start working on yourselves first. You cannot give your partner the same love, attention, and appreciation if you are not well with yourself. So, if you feel like you’ve lost some of your core values, and strength in this whirlwind of the pandemic, start by making a clean-up in your soul before proceeding to heal your relationship.
It’s important to know what you want and to love yourself so you can give your love to another and make it a fruitful union.
A Few Steps on How to Save a Struggling Relationship
1.Start from your conflicts and fights
Not all conflicts are bad. Some conflicts lead to a better understanding of where you two are standing. That doesn’t mean start shouting and judging …. By conflict, we mean an open discussion on how you make each other feel.
We’re not sure we can stress how important it is, to be honest about one another. One way to make sure you do not fall into the trap of placing blame or lashing out is to talk more about your feelings. For example, “When you don’t wash the dishes after I’ve asked you, it makes me feel like….”.
This is just a small example, we doubt the problems are just about washing the dishes. The idea here is to help your partner understand you and let yourself be understood by your partner – no blame or judgment.
Imago dialogue is one way of doing this. By encouraging and developing validation and empathy in the relationship, you learn to understand each other and walk in each other’s shoes. You also avoid blame, judgment, and any other ill-thoughts. These are all mostly the cause of misunderstandings.
2.Express appreciation and gratitude more often
Appreciation and gratitude are two important words for every couple. We talk about these two in our past articles, and Client Sessions.
Love needs reassurance. We all need to feel loved and telling each other more often will make both of you feel better. Showing gratitude for the little loving & caring behaviours that your partner does for you, and also showing appreciation for your relationship in general, is a way of reaffirming what you two have, and how special it still is.
However, don’t forget that quite often, each of us reacts best to a different love language, and that might take a little bit of discovering on both parts. Take a look here at what the appreciation languages are.
3.Make time for each other
Write it down on your calendar if it doesn’t work naturally. We usually sacrifice our time together for work, never-ending meetings, and other stuff. Now, with the office being shoved into the home, and, maybe with you both working from home, it might be even more difficult than ever to meet in the middle and have some time for each other.
So make it! You make time. Write it down on your calendars if you cannot seem to find it, and you’ll have time to be together, to talk, to have a real dialogue, discover each other again, become best friends again. Yes, it is possible. It is very possible.
4.Celebrate your little moments
Do you remember the first time you’ve met? Celebrate that date. Do you remember the first dinner together? Celebrate it. Find those milestone moments that made your relationship feel so special in the beginning and celebrate them each year.
Do not be afraid you might sound foolish or look like children in love! Your love is your own and you celebrate it the way you want.
Yes, these activities take a lot of energy, work, and commitment, but this is the way with relationships.
If you believe that a relationship should work naturally, be a self-sustained organism that doesn’t need nourishment or cleansing from time to time, you are so wrong. Relationships need work. They will hurt, yes, getting a struggling relationship back on its feet will hurt, but every cleansing hurts.
How Do You Know if a Relationship is Worth Saving?
Physical and psychological threats are usually the main flags that a struggling relationship is beyond reconciliation. If leaving the relationship is vital for your mental health, safety, and well-being, then it means it’s the right thing to do.
As far as support and shared values are concerned, these are issues that both of you can work on as long as both of you are willing to do so.
This is another sign. If one of you is not willing to make it work, then not even couples therapy can help. For all the couples we see for our therapy sessions, whether they’re face to face or via Zoom, we first make sure that both want to be present and are willing to work hard to make their struggling relationship work.
If this is your case, then yes, you can make it work!