Like most aspects of life, relationships go through highs and lows, which often correlate to how contented we feel about them at the time. Because no one is perfect, it is normal to experience gripes and complaints about people we are in relationships with. It can be easy to fall into a problem-focused mentality when we feel that our needs are not being met in the ways that we seek them to be. This pattern of negative thinking can create distance, tension, and toxicity, which ultimately promote low levels of relationship satisfaction.
Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected which means when we are able to alter one of these parts of ourselves, the other parts will be influenced. Therefore if we find ourselves ruminating and focusing on all of the things we do not like about our partner, we will experience negative feelings and behave in ways that exhibit our disdain. On the other hand, by redirecting our perspectives and thoughts to focus on the positive aspects of people we are in relationships with, the degree of satisfaction and type of interactions we experience will improve, even in difficult and challenging circumstances.
One challenge I give clients who are experiencing low levels of relationship satisfaction is to offset each complaint they have about his or his partner by identifying a strength or positive aspect of the relationship. For example, one client complained about her husband’s tendency to work all of the time, causing her to feel lonely however this client was then able to challenge this grievance by acknowledging her husband’s loyalty and commitment to provide for her and their children.
Here are some of the prompts I often use with clients to help redirect their problem-focused mindset about his or her relationship:
- What is it about my partner that initially drew me to him or her?
- If I was no longer with my partner, what would my life be lacking?
- What are some exceptions to my complaints of my partner? In other words, identify specific times or instances of when I am feeling happy with my partner.
- How does my partner express care or concern for me?
- What traits or characteristics does my partner have that I find admirable or that I feel balances me out?
- What are the strengths of my relationship?
- How does my partner show me that we are a team?
- What sacrifices has my partner made for me?
- What values or goals do I share with my partner?
- In what ways has my partner and I grown together?
The next time you are feeling like your relationship is in a rut or you feel like nothing is going right, challenge yourself to think about and answer the above questions. Oftentimes shifting our perspective allows us to reestablish positive affect and feelings for our partners.