In this third of a 4-part series on Men’s Health for Movember 2017, I’m writing about a topic that many men might consider but not talk about, or not know how to talk about - how to save their relationship when it’s on the rocks.
For the most part of this year, my relationship with Holly, my partner, has been strained. It’s been a very stressful year. It reached it’s peak in September when Holly told me she didn’t want to be with me anymore and wanted to break up. I was heartbroken. I was shattered. I couldn’t believe it and it felt like my life was falling apart. I could give up and walk away or I could fight.
[My first question to you is] do you still want to be with her? Secondly, will you do anything to save your relationship?
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I chose to fight. Luckily I have some very good friends who I can go to for anything. I feel grateful that I can pick from about five or six very good mates. I can go to any of them about anything but in this case, I thought to myself, who would be the best person to speak to? I reached out to two of them. I went out to the pub with one of them and that was great. But it didn’t really solve my problem. The other I spoke to over the phone and he asked me one important question. After hearing me spill my guts about the whole situation he asked, “Do you still want to be with her?” My answer was an instant and definitive yes!
I realised in that moment that that was an important question. And if you’re going through this same situation, I’m going to ask you the same thing. Do you still want to be with her? Secondly to that is, will you do anything to save your relationship?
How to Save Your Relationship
- Get over yourself
First of all, get the fuck over yourself. This is more me talking to myself than anyone else but it’s an important early step in the process and one you can’t skip over. You might hold a very strong sense of self but you can’t let your ego get in the way of leading a happy life. I know I’m a confident person and that confidence can boil over into arrogance at times, but if you’re like me, you have to put your ego to the side and just get over yourself. What’s more important at the end of the day?
Secondly; shut up and listen. I struggle with this almost more than anyone. I like to have my say and I like to be right. Who doesn’t? But you have to bite your lip and just listen. Give her an opportunity to say what’s on her mind, go away and process that, and then with a clear mind, respond (if necessary). This will take time and I personally hate that. I just want to resolve any issue right now and move on. But building good relationships doesn’t work like that. They take time. If you listen to what she is saying, and really listen, you will hear more than just the words coming out of her mouth.
- Stop saying ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements
As I was processing the whole situation and coming to terms with the possibility of moving out, finding somewhere new to stay, not seeing my kids every morning; heck, even not being able to have sex with the person I love having sex with ever again, I realised a lot of my self talk revolved around ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements. Once I realised this, I was embarrassed. I was quite literally shocked. But this was probably one of the most liberating experiences for me, and it had flow on effects for many other areas of my life too. Catching myself and changing my language when I use ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements has had a profound impact on my life.
- Express your appreciation
I’ve long known that if you want something, you need to give it. And when I remembered this, I realised I hadn’t expressed my appreciation for a very long time, or no where near consistently enough. I’d started taking things for granted. And that’s the fuel for any relationship-break-down fire. I love challenges and I respond to them well. I set myself a challenge to send Holly 90 appreciation messages in 90 days. After about a week of doing this, I had a shift. Initially I was doing it to receive more appreciation for what I was doing. But after about a week, it suddenly hit me that I had a lot to be appreciative of. I realised just how much Holly did. I started sending her the messages because I was truly appreciative of what she did — not to receive appreciation in return.
- Consider how it will make her feel
I started taking on more responsibilities. We both have designated jobs around the house and in my head, I was doing my half of the jobs. I was holding up my end of the bargain. I didn’t think it was fair that I should have to take on more. But I started to do some of the chores that she normally did and this had a huge impact on our relationship. In my opinion, this made the biggest difference. I believe she started to perceive me differently and it really broke the ice between us. It also gave me a greater appreciation of just how much she did, which fed into my appreciation messages.
- Know each others languages of love
The five love languages have become quite famous now following the book by Garry Chapman. Kristel Gittens wrote a guest blog for me on this topic, which you can read here. Everyone has a main language of love, which they use to express and receive love. They also have one or two, maybe even three, supporting languages. If you want to know what they are, go to that blog article by Kristel. Even after nine years together and a knowledge of what each others main love language was, we weren’t clear on what the supporting love languages were. We were also failing to consider how the other person might be receiving our love — although we weren’t putting much effort into that either. It was a big reminder for me that Holly’s main love language is “acts of service”, hence why taking on those chores had such a big impact.
- Put in the effort
I’ve heard people say that if you love someone, it shouldn’t take effort. I think those people are completely deranged. I come from a family, who for the most part, are all married or have lived out their wedding vows. The one thing I’ve learned from them is that a long-term relationship takes effort. You have to work on it. No matter how much you love each other in the beginning, there are going to be days, weeks, months and sometimes even years when you drift apart. You must build a solid foundation of communication and respect, and it’s in these times of adversity that you have to draw upon that foundation. Anyone can make a relationship work when everything is going well. But you must make the effort to make it work when things aren’t.
- Change it up with role play
And finally, role play. We used to role play all the times and it was fun! That was good for us because role playing in this situation just became second nature. We pretended that we had just met again and started talking to each other like we would back in the day. Sometimes it got a bit weird because the role playing started becoming too real. But we started asking one another on dates again and talking as though we’d just met. It actually felt nice to be back in that honeymoon phase. We would pretend that I was a new guy and she was herself, with “her” four kids. The kids thought we were crazy at times but it was funny and that’s just what we needed to lighten the mood.
Since implementing these strategies, life has become so much better. There’s still been rocky times and we’ve had moments where it feels like all the good work has been undone, but we’ve moved through it and come out the other side. We’re in a much better place now and even though I know there’s more work to do, and undoubtedly more hard times to overcome, I truly believe we will get through this and come out the other side for the better. Life is great right now! I’m happy with my relationship, my family, and importantly, the person who I am.
What little things do you do to keep your relationship alive and well?
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