Small Things Make (or Break) Relationships
by Kathy Batesel
Has Your Relationship Suffered?
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Mindless Moments Cause Problems
What did you learn from your past breakups? Chances are, your answer will reflect the arguments you had with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. Have you ever stopped to wonder what led to that unhappy point? Whether your relationship became distant or fraught with arguments, something happened between the time it was happy and the time it started going downhill. The "something" that shifted wasn't very noticeable, but it was real.
It probably looked something like this:
"Damn! Are we out of milk again?" or "Where are my keys?" These are innocent questions. We've all asked them. Besides, there is no reason in the world we should try to censor ourselves from doing so. What we *should* do, however, is to be sensitive to what takes place in the moments afterward.
When your husband or wife comes to the rescue with a "They're right here, honey," do you respond with a peck on the cheek, and "Thanks, gotta run?"
When he or she says, "Yes, I drank the last of it just a while ago," do you say, "I really wanted some for my cereal?"
It's unlikely that either of these scenarios would provoke an argument in an otherwise happy relationship, but these minor exchanges reflect ingratitude.
They are bonding opportunities that have been missed!
Attention is one of the five "As" of a healthy relationship. This book discusses attention and the other four.
Appreciation & Gratitude are not Synonyms
When disagreements do arise, it's important to consider what's best for your marriage, not just what is best for you.
Missed Bonding Opportunities Create Relationship Problems
Some people might believe that strong relationships don't need constant attention, but the exact opposite is true. Strong relationships don't require constant work, but attention is automatic and stable in them. Love erodes when it is not nurtured. People grow apart. Annual vacations don't make up for the day-to-day validation that we crave. (Some of us don't even know we crave it until we have experienced it as adults.)
As missed opportunities accumulate, we handle more serious disagreements differently. Instead of seeing our partner as someone who cares deeply about us, we see them as someone who is looking out for their own needs. This opens the doorway for blame and criticism to creep into arguments.
"It wouldn't have happened if you hadn't...." Blame is an overt attack on another person that almost always feels worse for the target than it does for the speaker. I eventually came to learn that I blamed others for their part in events under the guise of wanting each of us to accept responsibility. I thought if we both learned from our mistakes, we'd be able to avoid making them again. HA!
Instead, they became defensive. The person I hoped would "take responsibility" felt a greater need to protect themselves than to find a solution to a problem they saw as my problem. (Funny how people don't always do what we want them to, huh?)
Even though we eventually recover from an argument, over time these incidents accumulate. All those missed bonding opportunities and blaming episodes add up to partners who feel their relationship is no longer the greatest thing ever, but instead is merely "normal." It stops feeling special, irreplaceable, and joyous and turns into a dreaded chore.
If you scored below 50%, your relationship is missing many opportunities for bonding.
To regain your passion and appreciation, it may help to become sensitized to those small moments that can have a great deal of meaning. This isn't easy in a relationship that has already staled, and can take weeks or months to have a noticeable impact.
If you're not sure where to begin, grab one of these tools and dive in. After all, your relationship is worth saving*.
* If you're in an abusive relationship or one that involves chemical addiction, it may not be worth saving, but ultimately, it's up to you to decide what is worth working on and what isn't. A professional therapist can help you evaluate whether your relationship can recover from these situations.
Mindful Living Can Recreate Your Love
I recommend (and use) books because I've found that by reading a little bit each day, I get good ideas that are fresh in my mind and more likely to be used than something I learned years ago.
If you're not a reader, or if your relationship feels like it has slipped too far down that slippery slope, you can still rekindle the passion and love you once felt with your husband or wife. The solution is not easy, but it is simple: Figure out the things they are doing for you, and show appreciation in a way that makes them feel special.
Notice that was a two-step process?
Even if it's something that isn't specifically done for you, but you benefit from it (like when your boyfriend takes out the trash or your girlfriend walks the dogs so they'll be calm in the evening), seize the opportunity to bond with your partner.
To make them notice that bonding attempt, figure out which of the Five Languages of Love fit the bill best. (If you are unfamiliar with the five languages, read my hub and/or purchase the book, both of which are found at the links below.)
If your problem is staying on track, the books above will give you plenty of ideas for helping your partner understand how irreplaceable they are in your life.
(Ok, it's not JUST for Valentine's Day...)
- Five Love Languages for Valentines Day
Gary Chapman's 5 Languages of Love can help you add that extra memorable zing to your relationship on Valentines Day or anytime.