What Makes a Relationship Work?

By Emma Johnson, MFTC

A relationship comes with expectations; expectations of yourself, your partner, and the relationship. So, what happens when the expectations you have of the relationship suddenly change? What do you do when the relationship begins to shift into something other than what you want?

As human beings, our natural tendency is to shut down. Perhaps our expectations were being met previously and the shift seems to have come out of the blue, or, maybe, we conclude that this relationship was never meeting those expectations and never will.

When your relationship turns sour, it’s an opportunity to employ the well-known phrase “make lemonade out of lemons”. But what does this actually mean?

You cannot simply turn a sour solid fruit into a sweet liquid, can you? Turning lemons into lemonade is the act of approaching unexpected challenges with a positive and optimistic mindset instead of letting the negative thoughts encompass you.

However, making lemonade out of lemons is far more simply said than done because to do so, one must follow some sort of recipe, right? Yet not everyone always has the right ingredients or tools to complete a recipe and simply shift their thoughts from negative to positive.

So, if you feel like your relationship is changing from what you thought it was or want it to be, buckle down as I lay out the ingredients and instructions so those lemons you’ve been tossed can be blended into a sweet, delicious liquid instead.

Recipe for The Relationship You Want

Ingredients:
• You
• Your partner
• Optimism
• Motivation

Directions (Steps do not need to be followed chronologically)

Happiness & Self-Work

Your partner cannot grant your happiness. To be happy in a relationship, one must first be happy by themselves. If you are not currently feeling happy in your relationship, it may be time to do some self-work and begin surrounding yourself with people, things, and activities outside of the relationship that will contribute to your personal happiness and confidence. Neglecting your happiness outside of the relationship and continuing to rely on only your partner or relationship to create this feeling will continue to disappoint.

Honest Communication

This is the time to tell your partner the truth. Let them know that the relationship is not meeting your expectations and you are contemplating whether the relationship will even last. Oftentimes, a relationship can begin to falter if one or both partners’ needs are being neglected.

Open and honest communication about your emotional, physical, and sexual needs is crucial to a healthy and mutually enjoyable relationship. Without these things being out in the open, your partner may not even know your desires, and worse, may be unaware that they are falling short of your expectations.

Reminisce & Reflect

Instead of continuing to focus on the “bad” of the relationship, take some time to reflect on the “good.” Reminiscing on the positive attributes of your partner and the positive memories you have shared can help to (re)identify what it is you like about one another and what initially drew you to one another. Regularly expressing appreciation of your partner is important in making them feel noticed and cared for. Spending time reflecting and reminiscing on the good of your partner and the relationship reminds you that at one point things were good and that with some work they could be good again, or even better.

Balance

When things go south, it is natural to become caught up with only your own emotions and unintentionally dismiss those of your partners. Being in a relationship is a two-way street and therefore, if things in the relationship feel like they have shifted negatively for you, chances are, your partner is experiencing the same thing. Simply put, you’re not the only one hurting.

When a relationship gets to this point it often feels like you are on opposing teams fighting against one another, however, the key thing to remember is that you are fighting together on the same team for the relationship to survive. Unequal distribution or focus of one’s pain and suffering can be even more detrimental to the relationship, thus finding a balance to pay attention to both you and your partner’s emotions at this time is crucial.

This is also the time to recognize your own contribution to whatever is going on and remove some of the blame placed on your partner. While it is very easy to know what it is that your partner is doing wrong, it is far more difficult to see how you yourself are negatively impacting the dynamic between the two of you and requires some self-reflection.

Practice Forgiveness

Holding onto grudges not only impacts your personal well-being, but also the well-being of your relationship. Being able to forgive is healing to both your mental and physical health and shows your partner that you are willing to work through the problem. Being able to forgive in your relationship is crucial to maintaining balance.

Everybody makes mistakes, including yourself and extending that forgiveness and acknowledgment is important to help the relationship grow. Forgiving someone is an indirect way to release your feelings of resentment and allows the opportunity for you, your partner, and the relationship to move forward.

Sex

Sex is an essential element to many intimate relationships. However, it is also usually one of the first acts to become neglected when you and or your partner are overly preoccupied, and the connection is declining. Sex is something that typically follows a stereotype of needing to be spontaneous and unexpected for it to be good. But waiting for spontaneous and unexpected sex is not always as realistic as it is made out to be in the movies.

If you and your partner are not having sex and you want to have sex, you may need to start planning for it. This type of scheduling does not need to be rigid to the extent that every Friday at 9pm it is time to have sex, but more casual in the sense that if you wake up wanting to have sex, express the idea of doing so later in the evening to your partner.

What if you’re still having sex but it has become stale? Try breaking out of your comfort zone a bit. Breach the conversation of watching porn together or creating a fantasy jar to try new and adventurous acts in the bedroom (or wherever you want them to take place).

Couples Therapy & Outside Support

Having a support system outside of your partner is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Outside support can oftentimes provide a fresh perspective on what is happening between you and your partner without being too close to the problem. Just because you have additional support, does not mean you will feel comfortable reaching out to them about something so intimate and personal between you and your partner.

In that case, professional couples counseling can be utilized. While couples counseling can be intimidating and feel as if it is a sign of failure, it is actually the opposite. Seeking professional couples counseling shows the motivation to avoid failure and defeat and continue to work on the issue at hand. Sometimes, what is needed most is an impartial expert to listen in who has experience in this area of work.

Not All Relationships are Worth Saving

There becomes a point when you have to say goodbye. Despite the rifts and hurdles that commonly come with a relationship, there are times when people simply are not compatible. In this instance, there is someone else for both you and your partner who will be able to better support your needs.

While sometimes it is a mutually agreed upon departure from the relationship, there are times when things become dangerous. If at any point you feel trapped or that you are unsafe in your relationship due to the presence of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, it is time to reach out for professional help.

Quick resources for those in a dangerous relationship:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
LoveIsRespect.org
The Northwest Network
StrongHearts Native Helpline
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

See My Reading Recommendations

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