by Liberty Stembridge, Relationships Columnist
Published in Relationships on 11th April, 2019
Almost half of all marriages end in divorce before they've even reached the seventh anniversary, and yet experts say that the majority of these relationships could have been saved.
It's easy to become complacent in our relationships and assume they'll last forever - but this isn't the case. Without putting in the work to keep them going, most relationships will start to suffer, but you can put and end to this cycle of neglect with these expert tips.
Conflict exists in every part of life - in your family, your workplace, your education, your friendships, even with yourself. It would be incredibly naive therefore to think that you can create a relationship without any conflict. In fact, when you hear couples say that they "never fight" it's much more likely that they're just very good at communicating and dealing with conflict.
Media representation of conflict in relationships can be very overly-dramatised, and doesn't often highlight the healthy ways we can deal with disagreements, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.
Oftentime, couples who are struggling will find that a large part of their struggle is not wanting to fight anymore, but seeming unable to agree on anything.
Rather than aiming to put an end to the fighting, try instead to accept that it exists, and deal with it in a more productive way that keeps you both calm and happy. If you're struggling to do this, don't worry - conflict resolution is a skill that needs to be learnt, and there are plenty of resources available to help you, whether it be a relationship counsellor, books or another couple.
Change is difficult to deal with at the best of times, and sometimes when we see ourselves changing we start to panic and want to revert back to our old selves. Relationships are supposed to be a catalyst for growth however, you're supposed to influence each other and work together, which is why it's so important to be with the right person.
Partnership requires compromise from both sides. If you find yourself going out with friends less because you're spending more time with your partner, or prioritising a family over your career - this isn't necessarily a bad thing just because it's different from what you're life was like before. So long as you can embrace positive change, you're relationship will start to thrive.
Boundaries are important, but so many of us neglect our own, or never really think about them. They are important structures that help to guide us through the world and keep our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing intact. Without them we can become prone to burnout, low self-esteem and manipulation.
Each individual will have their own specific set of boundaries, it tends to vary based on your upbringing and experiences in life. It is important to set your boundaries however, and stick to them. If you loosen up on them and let people break your boundaries with no consequences, you're showing the world that you don't respect yourself.
Common relationship boundaries include: committed monogamy, honesty and respect for personal space and individual needs.
It's easy to get complacent while in a relationship, especially if it's new. You're happy and too absorbed with this new cornerstone of your life to really check in with yourself and see if there's anything you need to work on.
Slowly, as you repress feelings or experiences, bad habits or negative thought patterns can form that end up manifesting themselves as problems in your relationship, that could have been avoided if you'd looked after yourself in the first place.
There's no shame in having problems or behaviours that cause problems in your life - we all have them, but often we're just too afraid to face up to them and talk about it. Even just admitting where you have issues and asking for help and support from your partner can do the world of good for your relationship.
Space is important in any relationship, especially if you're married or live together. Having space from your partner gives you a moment to breath without being held accountable to another person. As much as we love our significant others, time away to be by ourselves, be independent and have our own lives is equally as important as creating a good life together.
This looks different for everyone, it could be that you prioritise an hour a day for you each to have alone time, or you travel solo every once in a while to a new place, for some people, a more extended separation may even be required. The idea of "separating" is very daunting and scary for some people, but in a healthy relationship it can be useful if you need to spend some time alone without the influence of your partner.
It could be just a week of no contact, no checking up on one another - just time to reflect, think and do your own thing. Oftentimes you'll find you have a renewed appreciation for your partner by the end of it.
You're responsible for creating a good life for yourself, and in order to do that, you need to believe that you can. Learning to be independent and confident is a key skill that can sometimes become diminished in a long-term relationship as you slowly start to rely more and more on your partner for emotional and situational structure and wellbeing.
Your happiness is down to you, so you need to be able to rely on yourself and cultivate your own joy, positivity and confidence. By knowing deep down that you'd be just as capable, happy and confident as a single person as when you're in a relationship means that you are actively choosing to be with your partner out of love and appreciation rather than comfort or because it's the easier option.
Many a relationship has ended prematurely simply because neither party knew how to communicate properly. Lack of communication spells the death of a relationship, so it's important to prioritise it. No matter how well you start out or how good you think you are, new situations, evolving personalities and everyday stress can change the way you communicate, making it difficult further down the road.
Everyone communicates differently, and learning your partner's communication style is the key to understanding how to communicate effectively with them.
Some people will like to get everything out in the open right away, without anything holding them back. Some are more reserved, and find it a bit nerve wracking to express themselves and so prefer written or visual methods.
Many people find themselves feeling unloved or unappreciated, simply because they expect one form of communication (e.g: verbal words of appreciation) but receive another (e.g: physical signs of appreciation such as a hug).
If you're struggling a lot with communicating and resolving issues with your partner, couples counselling or therapy is a great resource to tap into if you can - having a third party present can prevent any foul play and give you some fresh perspective.
The minute you let go of your own self-respect, whether it be by tolerating broken boundaries or going against your own instincts to please another, you essentially invite other people to disrespect you too. Maintaining your own integrity in a relationship isn't often talked about, but it's a key part of remaining confident, independent and thereby creating a better relationship.
A common sign that you've let go of some of your self-respect is if you are rewarding others unwanted behaviour. Many people respond to their significant other behaving in a way that upsets or insults them by trying to "be better" or "do more", thinking that by making their partner happy, they will stop disrespecting them.
These attempts to "be better" are rooted in the idea that you are somehow responsible for your partner not treating you with respect and subconsciously implies that you do not respect yourself. Sometimes this comes from a fear of losing your partner, or simply being insecure.
Whatever it is though, it's ultimately unhelpful. Rather than desperately trying to get your partner to treat you well by waiting on them hand and foot, discuss the issue with them face to face and ask them to apologise. This allows both of you to air your problems and asserts that you won't tolerate being treated in a way that makes you feel lesser than.
Truth be told, you can make almost any relationship "work"- the real question is not whether you can make it work, but whether you should. Chances are if you've read this far, you're dead-set on making your relationship work, and that's great - but it's always helpful and sometimes very illuminating to think about why you want to make it work. What is it about your relationship that makes it worth working on, and can you even work on it?
Figuring out whether your relationship is worth saving is up to you, but there are two major factors that need to be taken into account if you do decide to work on it. These are: mutual commitment and safety. Mutual communication means that in order make a relationship work, you need to both be equally committed to doing so - you both need to want to. If either one of you isn't, you'll be fighting a losing battle. More important than mutual communication however, is safety.
It's easy to get caught up in the cycle of an abusive or toxic relationship while trying to make it better. If you're unhappy in your relationship because of abuse, emotional or physical - it's not worth trying, so keep that in mind.