Adding the Positives
Too often in relationships, people will become stuck on “changing the bad”. They create fantasies like “If only he took out the trash, everything would be okay” or “If only she was tidier, I would be happy”.
Working to reduce the unwanted actions of the other person only serves to make them feel inferior and useless. Additionally, it can make you look like a bully or nag. Instead, focus on adding good experiences and feelings into the relationship. Here’s how:
- Be kind. This may seem obvious or overly simple, but its power cannot be overstated. When relationships go bad, people get mean to each other. When someone is being mean to you, you want to be mean back to them. No one is interested in improving the relationship as you each try to “win”. When you are trying to win, everyone loses. Kindness means being patient, understanding and seeing your partner in a positive, hopeful way. Kindness means addressing issues as a team working to find solutions together. Kindness means biting your tongue rather saying something hurtful and substituting a compliment in its place. If you can speak and behave kindly to your partner, your thoughts will follow.
- Be assertive. Finger-pointing and blaming have no place in a healthy relationship. Being assertive is the decision to value the perspective of the other person while politely voicing your own point-of-view. The best way to practice assertive communication is with “I messages”. An “I message” begins with you stating your feelings, why you feel that way and what your spouse can do to help you. “I feel upset when you look at the TV when I’m speaking to you. I would appreciate your attention in the future”. Listening is the other half of assertive communication gives your partner your full attention when they are speaking. Repeat what they say and seek clarification when needed. Remember, being assertive does not force the other person to do the same but it really increases the likelihood of a productive conversation.
- Have fun together. Don’t wait until the relationship is improved to make plans together. It could be a lack of plans that is making the relationship poor. Find activities that you are both interested in completing. Work hard to go beneath the surface to more options – giving up and claiming that there is no common ground hurts you both. At the same time, make an effort to expand your comfort zone to include more activities your partner enjoys and encourage them to return the favor. Depression may make you feel that no activity sounds enjoyable or nothing will help the relationship. Acknowledge the source of the negativity. If depression encourages you to do something, do the opposite. It will be a better choice most of the time.