Whether you got caught up in life’s demands and paid less attention to your relationship, or whether you overlooked little issues for too long and discovered they aren’t so little now, most people have to deal with day-to-day relationship problems eventually. All relationships, no matter how short or long, will deal with challenges. Here are a few of the biggest – and how to approach them.
Erotic intimacy is key in a sexual relationship, and yet many committed partners struggle with prioritizing sex, making time for it, and exploring together after the new relationship phase. But sex isn’t something that just happens out of nowhere – you have to make it happen together. If sex is an issue in your relationship, try the following:
- Schedule sex. Regularly. You might have to be creative and make time in the morning before work or mid-afternoon when the baby is sleeping, but a regular sex date can build anticipation and make sure you have time for physical intimacy.
- If you have a vulva, masturbate regularly. The more you get in touch with your sexual desire, the higher the chances that you’ll be able to identify and act on it with a partner.
- Write individual lists of your turn-ons. Include acts, positions, toys, and anything you love saying or hearing. Then, share them. Is there anything your partner likes that you haven’t done together lately? Is there anything you want to ask for?
- Work with a licensed sex therapist for targeted support around your sex life. All relationships need maintenance at one point or another, and a professional can help you identify and address what’s getting in between you and your sex life.
Lots of couples fight over money. Everyone has different beliefs and comfort levels about how they spend (and save). Money is also tied up in socioeconomic background, value systems, fear of judgment, shame, guilt, and a ton of other personal history and emotions that can make it hard to talk about. Here’s how to make it easier:
- Be vulnerable. Whether it’s who pays in early dating or issues with a long-shared account, talking about money requires vulnerability.
- It also requires honesty. You don’t need to discuss your salary or debt in detail on a first date, but don’t lie about them if they come up. By the time you’re in a more established relationship, the truth will rise to the surface and then you’re dealing with a much bigger problem: trust.
- Acknowledge your differences. Are different backgrounds, values, personality types, or incomes affecting how you talk to each other about money? How can you reach an understanding around them?
- Acknowledge your similarities. What are your shared short- and long-term goals and values, individually and together? How can you take action around them?
- If you share finances (or if you live together), schedule 30 minutes a week for checking in on shared goals, discussing and paying shared bills, and doing any other financial admin.
Protect your relationship with these strategies to keep resentment from building up.:
- Have a clear conversation about what you want your home together to look like. Everyone has different expectations and priorities, so make sure you’re on the same page.
- Divide chores according to who likes or cares about which tasks more. For example, if someone wants to take the trash out every night and someone wants to take the trash out weekly, the every night person should be responsible for the trash. If you have very different standards, figure out a middle ground so that you’re both contributing equitably.
- If you have the resources and perpetually fight over chores, look at where you might be able to outsource. Cleaning services, gardeners, grocery delivery, meal preparation, fluff and fold, dog walkers, and household good subscriptions – or even a Roomba – can all be ways to ease the work.
Time and Attention
It can be easy to neglect giving your relationship and your partner the time and attention they deserve. But making a commitment to each other isn’t something you do once – it’s something you do every single day. In a new relationship, it’s easy to keep everyday stress at bay. But in a longer-term one, there’s a need for more attention and nurturing, not less, because life becomes more complicated and demanding. Here’s what to do:
- What did you do together when you first started dating? Try to do some of those things now, like giving compliments, calling just to say I love you, leaving a Post-it with a loving message somewhere you know your partner will find it, sending them flowers or that book they were talking about wanting to read.
- Find something interesting about your partner’s hobby or job even if you don’t find the overall job or hobby interesting, and ask them about it regularly.
- Put date night back on the calendar.
- Always “thank you” and “please” and “I appreciate that you [fill in the blank].” Let your partner know that you notice the things you do for each other and the joy they bring into your lives.
Conflict is part of any relationship eventually. But it shouldn’t be part of the relationship on a regular basis. If it is, you need to figure out what the pattern is and how to break the cycle, both alone and together.
First, check in with yourself. Are you showing up for and taking care of yourself in a way that lets you do the same for your relationship? Do your wants and needs still match your partner’s? Are you communicating clearly, including articulating where you are and listening to what your partner is saying? Then, try out any of the following strategies that resonate:
- You can’t control anything besides how you feel and react. You are not a victim and can choose how to show up to a situation.
- The four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. If you’re acting out any of them, stop, take a deep breath, and change your approach.
- If you keep doing the same things, you’ll keep getting the same result. If you act a certain way when you argue, what happens if you do something different? The tone of an argument can shift dramatically with a small change in your behavior.
- When cycles repeat over time, it can be hard to break them alone. A dedicated couple’s therapist, in addition to your individual therapists, can be a good resource to help you to figure out what’s going on and escape the cycle.
Trust is vital in any relationship. There’s no shortcut to establishing trust, especially if you’ve broken it, but there are things you can do over time to help build it:
- Respect your partner’s boundaries and limits.
- Respect your own boundaries and limits. You can’t show up fully to a relationship without them.
- Be consistent.
- Be on time. If you’re not going to be on time, let your partner know before you’re late.
- Do what you say you’ll do.
- Be honest about your actions and feelings.
- Be fair, even when you’re arguing. Don’t drag up old fights, minimize your partner’s feelings, or lash out even when you’re feeling hurt. You can’t unsay something harmful, you can simply not say it in the first place.
- Before you react, take a deep breath.