5 Steps To Enhance Your Relationship

Written by Julie Walder, LPC

It’s happened, your relationship has officially gone from HOT, to NOT. It happens… to everyone. Relationships take work, especially the longer you are in one. For some, you don’t see the decline for years but for others you see the decline 6 months in. Relationships are different from person to person, culture to culture but one thing is the same, they all have their ups and downs. Once you are officially out of the “pink cloud” phase of the relationship, reality sets in and the real work starts. Don’t be scared, I’ve got a few tips to help you out.

Step 1: GET TO KNOW THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU

How well do you really know the person in front of you? When we are in the “pink cloud” phase, we have tons of happy chemicals in our brain that sometimes cloud everything else around us. All we can think about is how happy and in-love we are. We don’t want anything to ruin those feelings… why would we?! But the reality is that often those feelings of joy and excitement blur the rest of the relationship. You need to understand your partner’s inner world to really understand the person in front of you. Learning about your partner’s inner world will make your partner feel like you are truly interested in who they are which can be a great way to enhance feelings of connection.

Questions to ask your partner can be anything personal such as: “Hey Honey, what music group/artist are you into right now?”; “Babe, what is your favorite childhood memory?”; “Love, what are your hopes and dreams?” “What are your top 5 favorite movies?” “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?” WARNING! If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, don’t be surprised if your partner’s answers have changed. Over time our preferences, likes and dislikes change. That is why is it so important to ask personal questions like the ones above. Try to make it a point to get to know your partner again and again. You can ask these questions every few months, to once a year, but don’t wait too long. If you are having a difficult time thinking of questions to ask, I suggest downloading the Gottman Card Decks from the Gottman Institute onto your phone. The app is free and has every question you can think of!

Step 2: USE THE INFORMATION TO THE BENEFIT OF YOU AND YOUR PARTNER

Okay, now that you know the person in front of you, the next step is to take action! Your partner just told you personal information that you can use to plan for future dates, gifts, and trips. Using the questions in Step 1 as an example: plan a date night with the new information. Play your partner’s favorite music group during a meal together. Make a meal (take out is fine) based on the part of the world your partner would love to live. Plan a date where all you do is watch your partner’s favorite movies. The point here is that you are making an effort! Not only did you make an effort to understand who your partner is, but you listened to them and put their words into action. Imagine how your partner must feel now. 😊

Step 3: BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORDS

So your partner works 50 hours a week and you work 60 hours a week. Or, you and your partner work, have 2 kids, and a dog. In today’s society, we are busy every minute of the day. This often leads to relationships having decreased communication. One day, you might get an hour of time with your partner, another day you get 5 minutes. Or you might feel like two ships passing in the night. However long you get to communicate, talk with your partner… MAKE IT COUNT! Take advice from Don Miguel Ruiz’s ‘4 agreements’,  “Be impeccable with your words.”

Whether the only mode of communicating at that moment is through text, or just sitting on the couch, make every word count. Make sure you convey honesty and integrity. It is a difficult concept to consider on a daily basis, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes. And don’t get down on yourself if you slip up, you’re only human.

Step 4: COMPLIMENT, COMPLIMENT, COMPLIMENT

When was the last time you gave your partner a compliment? When was the last time you told your partner you appreciated something they did? This step goes hand in hand with Step #3. Find time to compliment or praise your partner. Over time and as our schedules get busier, compliments start go out the window. Giving a compliment takes 5 seconds. “Your hair looks great today!”; “Dinner was delicious!”; “You have a beautiful smile." You can even take it one step forward and tell your partner something you appreciate. “I really appreciate it when you watched the kids this morning so I can sleep in." It feels good to receive compliments and appreciations. You are acknowledging something personal and/or something positive they did. It helps boosts self-esteem in your partner and the relationship.

Step 5:  THE COUPLE THAT PLAYS TOGETHER, STAYS TOGETHER

Couples need to have play time. It is so important to have fun, be silly, have adventure, and play. It keeps the relationship alive and helps you connect with your partner even more. If you followed the steps above, you should have a really good idea what your partner considers fun. Now that you know your partner’s interest, match it up with an interest of yours because if you plan an outing to a heavy metal concert when your partner likes classical music, chances are he/she is not going to have fun. If you are having a hard time thinking of something, look to the past… reenact your first date, replicate a day trip you took to wine country. What ever it may be, make sure you do it as often as you feel is necessary to keep the relationship fun and playful.

I'd love to hear what happens when you try one or all of these steps. Please share! 

Warmly, 

Julie 

 

Signs Your Teen May Be Struggling

As a parent, I can't imagine how hard it is to always recognize when your teen is struggling. The parents I work with often shame themselves for "not catching it sooner." They say, "I had no idea she/he was having a hard time until she asked me to take her to see someone." My response usually is, "I'm so glad she asked and I'm so glad you listened."

The truth is you aren't always going to know. You will do the best you can and you will do what you can. Our job is to be curious, to ask questions and to believe them. 

There are signs you can look out for (see below) that will help guide you to dig deeper into possible changes within your teen. 

They flat out tell you they are struggling. 

Nobody knows us better than we know ourselves. Most teens find it difficult to reach out for help and they find it even more difficult to admit that they are not feeling well emotionally. A big reason why this happens is because there are so many outside forces that make it difficult for them to trust others and vulnerability can feel more excruciating than suffering in silence. So, when they finally muster up the courage to share, we should listen, empathize and believe them. 

They keep declining outings with friends and family. 

Teens can find it difficult to be around others when they are not feeling emotionally well. They avoid their friends and family because they are anxious that others will pick up on their sadness and "ask too many questions." This can look like hiding out in their room all night and weekend, not wanting to join the family for dinner, choosing to do homework instead of socializing or connecting with friends and they may even spend most of their free time sleeping. 

They start to miss a lot of school and the reasons are unexplained such as, "I'm tired. My head hurts. I feel sick. I just need a day off, I'll go tomorrow." 

Now, your teen may legitimately be sick in which case they should be seen by a physician. However, if they are finding reasons why they can't go to school more often than not, it is likely that something else is going on. The reasons why teens avoid school can vary greatly from avoiding a test because they haven't studied, feeling too stressed and overwhelmed because of academic pressure, maybe they are being bullied, difficulty in romantic relationships and/or friendships, etc. 

There are clear changes in eating and sleeping habits. 

Some teens may suddenly exhibit insomnia and have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. It's also true that some teens may sleep far more than usual. If there are sudden changes in their activity level then this may also be a sign that something else is going on. Some examples include; they are slow to move, they are feeling lethargic and are expressing being tired frequently even though they are sleeping a whole lot.

Their plans for the future have changed dramatically in a short amount of time. 

This tends to happen with older teens who are getting close to graduation. If your teen has been talking a lot about their plans after high school and they have expressed excitement, hope and motivation but then all of a sudden have no desire to do anything after high school and "just want to take a break," this can be concerning. Decreased motivation, a loss of hope over the future and a low sense of agency are all red flags to be aware of. 

They are expressing irritability, anger or hostility more frequently. 

Teens tend to feel very discouraged and they can develop an unusually negative attitude when there is a decline in their emotional health. This is usually because they are feeling guilty, worthless or hopeless. It often happens that they become very moody, agitated and irritable over the littlest things. Maybe you ask them a simple question like, "how was your day?" and they respond by either shutting down or yelling at you for simply asking the question in the first place. 

If you suspect any of these signs and/or others you are aware of, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. It is possible that you're unsure if depression is the issue and even so, the signs you are seeing are troublesome and should be addressed.

Start by opening up a dialogue with your teen and let them know what specific symptoms you are noticing in them and why they worry you. Be sure to ask your teen to share what he or she is going through if they feel safe enough to do so. Be ready to listen. It can be tough to sit and listen knowing there isn't anything you can do to fix it right away. These things take time. Do your best and hold back from asking a lot of questions if they are not ready to divulge information. Do make it clear that you are ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.

Lastly, please know that there are a variety of mental health professionals in your local communities that are available to help. Some great resources for finding support are Psychology Today, the Integral Care 24/7 Crisis Hotline, 2-1-1 Texas and you can even contact us here at Colors of Austin Counseling for more resources and support. 

You are not alone. We are here to help.