For some couples the last year & Christmas in particular, was undoubtedly more challenging then most —without many of the usual distractions & with additional worries about the year to come. At the best of times, despite Christmas being the season of “goodwill and peace to all men”, January is notoriously a period when many couples split up.
So, if your relationship is feeling the strain what can you do?
This is important at any time but particularly now. In any situation the thing we have most influence over is ourselves: how we manage our own emotions and behaviour.
Effective people focus on things within their own control (circle of influence) & because relationships are dynamic, changing our own behaviour can be a good place to initiate change.
Neuroscientist Joseph Le Doux has shown that stress & anxiety closes down access to the neocortex locking us in our emotions (that is why stressed people say ‘I cant think straight’ -— they really can’t).
Becoming calm opens up the higher parts of our brain & can help us to get a sense of perspective about our situation & to think more clearly.
Don’t underestimate the impact of little things on your mood—for example, putting on some music, or a walk outside,which provides fresh air, exercise, a change of scenery & contact with the natural world—can help many people to become calm.
Some other suggestions of things that may help during these difficult times, can be found here.
2) Ask yourself, what am I really unhappy about? Is it really my partner that is the problem? Sometimes, when we are struggling, it is easy (human nature?) to take our frustrations out on those closest to us, rather than recognizing what we are really frustrated about. In fact there is some evidence that how we handle difficult emotions can have a big influence on important life outcomes.
An Emotional Needs Audit may help you to identify what is missing from your own life ( & your partner’s) so you can focus on getting any missing essential needs met.
An exercise called Face The Facts can also sometimes help. What you do is divide a sheet of paper into three sections & label them: Feelings,Thoughts & Facts. Then you fill the sections in accordingly.
Sometimes it is hard to divide things in this way- but I have used this exercise myself on many occasions & it can be very helpful in bringing greater clarity & understanding to a situation or dilemma.
If, when you are certain about what is frustrating you, you find that you have something you need to complain about, here is an article about how to do that in a way that is more likely to be helpful than harmful (easier said then done!).
3) Consider getting professional help. You may feel like that would be ‘an admission of defeat’— that you should be able to sort out your problems yourselves but often it is a lot easier to ‘nip things in the bud‘ with professional help & it can be easier to do this before problems become entrenched.
About the Author
Ann Marie Taylor is a Human Givens Psychotherapist specializing in relationships & the author of 5 Steps to Lasting Love: an evidence-based guide. She has a background in psychology & is based just outside Greystones, in County Wicklow, Ireland (sessions now available online & by phone). To book an appointment you can text or call me on: 0863549969 or, if you prefer, email me through the contact form on my website here.