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Stop saying ‘sorry,’ and start listening.
You know the honeymoon phase is long gone if you find yourself googling the best ways to patch up a relationship.
Whether you’re struggling with long-distance, stuck in a constant loop of fighting, or spiraling from past resentments, relationships can fall apart for a million different reasons. While it’s important to recognize the signs of a bad relationship and know when it should end, sometimes you and your partner just need some extra TLC (read: better communication) to keep it together.
According to Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford, about 70 percent of heterosexual unmarried couples break up within the first year. That number is even higher for same-sex couples. Rosenfeld tracked about 3,000 people since 2009 to figure out what the fate of relationships over time and found the breakup rate steeply decreases after couples meet their one-year anniversary. Rosenfeld notes in a 2014 study that the longer a couple stays together, the more hurdles they face, creating a stronger bond.
If you’re facing the realization your relationship needs more than a few “I’m sorry”s (which can only work for so long until you sound like a broken record), there are a few more practical things you can do to keep your bond strong. We spoke with a dating coach about how to best resolve long-term conflicts and rekindle the feelings you felt the moment you met. Here’s what you should know about how to save your relationship.
How to save your relationship
1) Think about what the relationship needs
Identifying patterns of discord and what you both feel is lacking are great first steps to working on a failing relationship. Think about what you and your partner can do to better understand each other and meet in the middle—also, make sure you both are on the same page about wanting to make this work.
According to Elizabeth Golembiewski, a professional dating coach based in Austin, Texas, it’s imperative to take a moment to reflect with your partner. Talk about the first times when you started to feel like your needs weren’t being met. Set intentional goals like being mindful, letting go of a past grudge, remembering to send that “good morning” text, or FaceTiming more often if you’re in a long-distance relationship.
“The first step couples can take is knowing that if both of them are willing to work on their relationship, there are ways to save it,” Golembiewski told the Daily Dot. “Understand that no relationship is perfect. Every couple goes through the wonderful romance stage then the hard work stage.”
2) Work on communication
Bad communication is one of the primary factors in a failed relationship. If conversations quickly turn into arguments or you feel as if you and your partner can’t get your point across respectfully, try shifting your style of communication to a place of listening and understanding. Oftentimes, according to Golembiewski, it’s all about framing.
“When you come from an ‘I feel like’ point of view rather than a ‘you make me feel like’ point of view, it makes communicating easier,” Golembiewski told the Daily Dot. “It’s called ‘reflective listening,’ where you take responsibility for yourself and don’t blame the other person.”
When communicating with your partner about what you’ve been thinking or feeling, try not to put all the blame on them—especially if the relationship is on the rocks. Reflective listening shifts the focus to how a situation makes you feel, instead of putting the weight of the relationship on your partner.
It’s also important to be specific about behaviors and situations that bother you. For instance, saying, “You always make me feel like I’m not important,” sends a message filled with blame, whereas “I feel like I’m not important to you when you don’t call me back” sends a message that could lead to productive conversation.
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3) Loosen up
We (humans) are pretty selfish by nature. Naturally, relationships can be difficult to manage when you have to go out of your way to concern yourself with the happiness and well-being of another person rather than just your own.
Golembiewski suggests letting go of any control you’re trying to hold on to and being open to making some sacrifices. This isn’t to say you should just let your partner run hog-wild into the night if that’s not what you want. Meeting in the middle is important, especially when it comes to spending quality time together or making sacrifices in your independent life. A sacrifice could be as simple as going to that local baseball game you loathe because it matters to your partner. They should do the same for you.
“At a deeper level, couples need to understand what the expectations are in the relationship,” said Golembiewski. “A lot of people expect that if they aren’t wildly passionate or agreeing with everything, then there’s something wrong, but not necessarily.”
Relationships are bound to go through tough times, Golembiewski says, because they aren’t stagnant. If your relationship sat as still as an abandoned pool of water, you’d probably run the other way before you felt excited about diving in.
4) Be honest with yourself and your partner
Relationships are made up of people who are growing and changing each day—whether that’s together or apart is sometimes hard to admit to.
If you feel like a lull in the relationship is the result of things left unsaid, be honest with yourself and ask the difficult questions. Answers to questions about the future or marriage aspirations can be relationship dealbreakers. It might be important to discuss these topics sooner rather than later.
In the end, own your feelings, your desires, and, well, some of your baggage.
“Blaming things on your partner is not the way to fix or solve a relationship,” Golembiewski told the Daily Dot. “It all starts with coming back and looking at your own issues.”
According to Golembiewski (and various psychological studies), past conflicts could be causing issues in your relationship. Whether it’s your parents’ divorce or a previous relationship that left you scarred, it’s worth it to assess your past and how it may have stained your views of relationships. Talk things out with yourself, your partner, and possibly a therapist so you can heal and move on.
If you believe you need to seek some third-party help, consider visiting a couples therapist or dating coach. Having a mediated space where you both feel comfortable laying your feelings out on the table can begin a healing process.
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5) Rekindle the flame
Do you remember the first time you made eye contact with your partner in a crowd? Or the strange moment you realized you loved this person while eating Chinese takeout on your living room floor? It’s cheesy, but Golembiewski says it’s important to hold on to those memories and channel that feeling.
“Sometimes we get into a relationship and we forget that our partner needs to be appreciated,” Golembiewski told the Daily Dot. “If you can show appreciation, attention, and affection, those are three big ways to rekindle a relationship.”
Go to a show! Get a couples massage! Have sex! There are so many ways couples can show affection through little gestures like cooking dinner one night or sending them a gooey pizookie. Light the match and keep the flame burning—you’ll be glad you did.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.