Having said that, I always recommend that if you and/or your partner are having serious struggles with mental health, you consult a professional.
The tips that follow may not be enough to resolve your and your partner’s concerns, but they are a good place to start. They can also be used to supplement what you and your partner are working on in couples counseling as well.
- Talk to each other. Duh, right? Keeping secrets and not discussing what is going on with you is a great way for trouble to brew. One of my client’s ideas of having a weekly Questions/Comments/Concerns session with her partner addresses issues before they become sticking points.
- Make a commitment to your relationship. Are you and your partner just roommates? When was the last time you had a “date night” or did something else together just for fun? I am already hearing all the excuses…get over it, and be creative. Relationships are like plants: they require maintenance, nutrition, and water in order to grow. If money is an issue, find activities to enjoy together that are free. If childcare is a problem, think creatively about how to resolve that (Family? Friends? Trading childcare with others who have kids?). If time is the hitch, schedule it on the calendar and make it non-negotiable
- Stretch your limits. Are you growing as an individual? Do you regularly challenge yourself to be a better person, whether that’s through professional pursuits, athletic challenges, or hobbies and passions? If you are sitting home, doing nothing, or constantly complaining about a job you hate, you are likely dragging your partner down, or at least making yourself fairly unattractive to them.
- Learn the art of compromise. No one gets their way all the time. Are you and your partner constantly coming up against the same problems because you want one thing and they want another? Shift from thinking about “me” to thinking about “we.” Dr. Jane Greer’s book What about Me?: Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship can help.
- Figure out how to fight constructively. If you are in a relationship, disagreements are inevitable. There’s actually some research that says we argue because we care about the other person. But there are differences in arguments that end well and those that don’t. This link goes into more detail about what that looks like.
- Exercise. Releasing pent-up tension and flooding your body with feel-good hormones can only do positive things for your outlook on life. That also translates into improving your relationship as well. I know several people who have said that they do their best thinking while exercising, which can result in your thinking through problems and coming up with solutions that may not have otherwise come to mind.
- Give back to your community. You and your partner can do this as a couple, or individually. Either way, it takes the focus off you and puts it on others, where you can do some good and help yourself feel better as well.
- Take time for yourself. As I’ve said in many previous posts, caregiving is hard. Self-care is essential. Only when you are at your best can you help others, and that means taking time to pursue things that are interesting, fun, and rejuvenating for you.
- Let go of resentment. Holding on to old hurts is not healthy or productive. Bringing them up during arguments is even less effective. Radically accepting that something isn’t the way you want—whether it is from your past or in the present—can bring peace and allow you the freedom to keep moving forward. Forgiving does not necessarily mean forgetting, nor does it mean you condone or endorse whatever happened. It just means you are choosing to not let the resentment dictate your feelings.
- Look for the positive. Optimists are happier. You may not be able to look on the bright side 100% of the time, but even a small increase in looking for the positive, versus dwelling on the negative, can make a difference. When was the last time you complimented or thanked your partner?