Relationships are fragile. I like to think of a relationship as a beautiful set of hand-painted dinnerware. Each plate, each saucer, each soup bowl is distinct and lovely. Each is the product of hard work. And each is fragile.
Drop a dessert plate and your service for eight becomes service for seven. It’s not whole and perfect but it’s still serviceable.
But it doesn’t stop there. A dinner plate slips out of your hands while you’re washing dishes after a party. Soup bowls get chipped around the rim. At some point your dinnerware set isn’t complete anymore. It has suffered too much breakage to be saved.
That is exactly what happens to relationships.
Relationships are fragile because human beings are fragile. When you put two people together, things get a little messy after a while. Some of the problems are mild, easily overlooked. Other problems are too large to ignore.
One thing is for certain. When you love someone it’s always best to try to fix the problems. It’s better to look back and say, “I gave it 100 percent,” than to think, “I should have tried a little more.”
You can’t fix a relationship simply by trying harder, nor by sweeping problems under the rug. You’ve got to take action. Here are some of the steps you must take, time-tested advice on how to fix a relationship.
Figure Out the Problem
The very first step to resolving relationship issues is to figure out what the real problem is. There are many times when we imagine problems that just aren’t there or when we turn something else into an issue when the real problem is being ignored.
If you want to fix your relationship then you have to know and understand what the problems are in your relationship and you have to stop ignoring those problems.
Don’t confuse the events that make a problem surface with the true cause of the problem. If you are sick and tired of the way he walks away and leaves his dishes on the table after dinner, leaving you to carry them to the sink and wash them, it’s easy to focus on the dishes as the problem. But the real problem is that you feel you are not respected, and even that you’re being taken advantage of. The real problem is emotional.
If he could find other ways to show you that he respects you and values your time, if he began doing more so that you never felt you were being taken advantage of, you’d carry the plates to the sink every night without giving it a second thought. The plates weren’t the problem. The real problem was something deeper. It always is.
Go in Order of Importance
Not all issues are major problems. No relationship is perfect, after all, and if you make every little thing a disagreement, then you’re only increasing your problems and not resolving any of them. If you have more than one legitimate issue that’s breaking your relationship apart, then you need to make a list in order of importance.
For example, his leaving the toilet seat up probably should not be on the list. If it is, is belongs on the bottom.
Save the top items on the list for the real problems, like his expensive, boozy trips to strip clubs when you’re doing your best to save money to cover the rent.
Prioritize the issues in order of importance and work from the top of the list down.
It’s extremely common for us to let frustration and anger about the strip-club visits build up until we reach the boiling point. Then we blow up all at once over a small, unrelated annoyance like the toilet seat. He’ll be confused and defensive and you won’t get what you want. Prioritize. It’s important.
Talk to Each Other
If you want your relationship to work, you have to talk to each other. Communication is the key to a healthy relationship. Until you fix your communication, you won’t be able to fix your relationship.
Learn how to stop nagging each other and start listening to each other instead. You wouldn’t believe how many issues resolve themselves when you and your partner open up the lines of communication.
If you’re finding it difficult to talk to each other and communicate openly about your relationship problems, then you might need a little outside help to get your relationship back on the right track. One of the best things you could do is seek marriage or couples counseling.
A counselor is professionally trained to help you and your lover work through your problems when communication between the two of you is lacking. In other words, a counselor is a mediator.
A counselor helps resolve immediate problems by untying complex issues and helping each of you understand the other’s point-of-view. In the long term, counseling can teach you the skills you need to keep communication with your guy clear and open without outside help.
It’s not uncommon for couples to seek counseling, so there’s no reason to feel threatened or ashamed. In fact, an outside perspective will be beneficial to you both. Counseling is so informative and empowering I recommend it even for couples who aren’t having problems.
Discuss Your Options
Whatever it is that’s keeping your relationship broken, it’s going to have to go. Discuss your options. Decide what you and your lover can and cannot live with. Figure out what you both need to do to change things for the better.
Counseling is an option. A vacation away from each other is another. Talk about what you need to keep your relationship going and to move past the issues that are dividing you today.
Make an Effort to Change
All of the relationship talk in the world won’t do you any bit of good if you’re not making a real effort to change your ways.
You and your mate really have to want to make things work. You have to put in some effort to make things work. Saving a relationship requires commitment and action.
Change is hard, I know. On the other hand, change is an inevitable part of life and you need to embrace it. Fixing a broken relationship means going with the flow. If your relationship is to move forward, you have to be prepared to move with it.
You should not be surprised to learn that just as you have a prioritized list of things that must change about your relationship, your partner does too. He’ll have to change the behaviors that drive you crazy if the relationship is to survive, and you’ll have to be ready to change as well.
It’s impossible to fix a relationship if you’re not capable or willing to make improvements in yourself, and your partner must be willing to do the same thing.
Pick Your Battles
No relationship is perfect. No matter how much you try to keep the peace, eventually there will be something you and your guy just can’t seem to agree on. You’ll argue. Everyone does.
Do you want to know the real reason relationships have problems? It’s the little things. You can get past the big issues. It’s the everyday annoyances that make couples crazy!
For example, how many times have you asked him to put the toilet seat down? How often do you have to remind him to grab a plate instead of getting crumbs all over the sofa? Honestly, those little things are exasperating!
The reason they get under a skin isn’t the toilet seat or the crumbs. It’s the dismaying conviction that he’s not listening to you, that what you want isn’t important to him, that he would do these things if his mother or his boss asked, but he won’t do them for you.
Your argument, when it comes, won’t be productive. You’ll be arguing about crumbs on the sofa, and the truth is you don’t care about the crumbs. You want to be respected and valued. You want him to treat you with the same consideration he gives his boss or a stranger on the bus. Your argument can’t resolve those issues if you think it’s about the crumbs.
But we argue about the little things anyway. I’m sure there are little things about you that he finds annoying too. It’s an inevitable part of living together.
That’s why you need to pick your battles. Is his inability to put the cap back on the toothpaste really a deal breaker? Is it really that important to you?
Nobody’s perfect. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to make the little changes in your everyday lives, but I am telling you not to let them build up to big proportions. It’s not worth losing your lover over the small stuff.
If the little things add up to a pattern of taking you for granted or disrespecting you or not being sensitive to your emotions, then you need to work on that. Don’t waste time and emotional energy fighting about toothpaste.
Ask for Help
I’m going to let you in on a little something I learned from my ex-husband. Apparently I have a hard time asking for help.
I admit it. Playing the girl card is difficult for me because I’ve been a single mom for half of my life. I am proud of being self-sufficient and I hate admitting weakness.
He also had a hard time asking for help. He usually just did things by himself and told me about it later. Together, our inability to ask each other for help put a lot of strain on our relationship.
This wasn’t the only problem in our marriage. But this one added to the stress because we never could seem to work together to resolve our problems. We couldn’t even admit we were having problems, because we were both so committed to being strong.
Instead of thinking you’re fine doing it alone, ask your lover for help. Asking for help can be a sign of strength, not weakness.
You’re a couple. Couples love and take care of each other. They help each other. When you don’t ask for help, your partner feels isolated and left out. That makes the gulf between you bigger instead of bringing you closer. Be a couple.
Another part of being a couple is sharing the responsibilities. You can’t expect him to work all day and then come home and cook and clean. And it’s not fair for him to expect you to do that either. It is absolutely imperative that you and your partner learn to share the tasks and responsibilities around the house.
Sharing the responsibilities puts you and your guy on an equal level in the relationship. You don’t have to worry about inequality. You know that he’s there to back you up. Relationships in which people walk beside each other always last longer than those in which someone does more of the work.
How you divide the responsibilities is between you and your partner. I’m in no position to tell you what’s right and wrong for you as a couple. There have been relationships where I stayed home and cooked and cleaned, there have been some where I went to work and he took care of the house, and there have been those in which we both worked and had to figure everything at home out as best we could.
The point is, you have to be equal and work together if you’re going to make your relationship work. Unequal distribution of the workload makes one partner feel resentful while the other gradually starts to feel a mounting debt of guilt.
Bring Back the Intimacy
Many couples forget how to be intimate together. I’m not talking about s*x, I’m talking about caring. You can have s*x and still feel lonely in your relationship. What you and your guy need to do is find little ways to bring back the intimacy.
Intimacy is one of the most important things in a relationship. We all have friends. We’ve all had flings or one-night stands. A relationship is based on something deeper than either of those things.
One of the first and easiest ways to start bringing back the intimacy is to simply ask, “How was your day?” every evening. Asking him about his day shows that you’re interested in his feelings and thoughts. When he starts to tell you about his day, listen. After a while he’ll start listening to you about your day too. And before long you will find yourself confiding in each other, sharing your hopes and misgivings, your doubts and fears and triumphs. Isn’t that what you want from a relationship?
Another easy way to bring back the intimacy is to touch each other – even when you’re not in bed. Hold hands in public, cuddle on the couch, wrap your arms around each other when you’re walking together. Touching each other is one of the most intimate forms of contact you can have.
Aside from that, it’s important to discuss things. You don’t have to talk constantly. You don’t have to plumb the depths of your soul for your truest, deepest feelings every time you talk. But when you’re lying in bed at night, have a light conversation. Keeping the friendship in your relationship will keep the intimacy alive, which is a great way to begin fixing a broken relationship.
Know When to Make an Ultimatum
Sometimes you can’t fix a relationship without making an ultimatum. It isn’t always easy to lay down the law, but there are some relationships that need more work than others. If you can’t handle it anymore, and you know what the problem is, then it’s time to give your guy an ultimatum.
Maybe you’re working to support a partner who isn’t working, but still doesn’t help out around the house.
Maybe he has a drug or alcohol addiction.
Maybe another problem has become too big for you to handle.
Ultimatums are sometimes necessary to fix a broken relationship because they show your partner that you are serious and the threat of your leaving is very, very real.
An ultimatum isn’t about your relationship with your guy. It’s about your relationship with yourself. It’s where you draw the line about what you are willing to accept and what you can’t accept anymore. Issuing an ultimatum is a way of keeping your relationship with yourself healthy and honest. We are all willing to pay a price for love and to sacrifice for a relationship. But it’s important for our integrity and our health to know where the limits are and to speak up when enough is enough.
The Bottom Line
Most of all, fixing a broken relationship requires a shared willingness to work hard. That willingness can only come from appreciating and valuing the relationship. If your guy shows a willingness to work hard to fix things, and if you too are prepared to put in the hours and energy it will take, then you will almost certainly be successful.
Look him in the eye. Acknowledge that you’re having problems. And ask him, for the sake of the love that brought you together, to be your partner in fixing things.
The candor and vulnerability you bring to that discussion will almost certainly evoke a loving commitment in return. And you can begin the hard job of fixing your relationship.