After being with my gorgeous husband for over 15 years now, I can honestly say that we have had our share of ups and downs which has taught me a thing or two about how to have a successful relationship.
Especially after we had children, the dynamic of our relationship changed dramatically and we needed to find a new alignment, a new way to connect with each other, and this is not unlike other relationships too.
Contrary to the hollywood romantic films and TV shows portraying dreamy 'happily ever after' scenes that we all wish to have, relationships are nowhere near like this. And although we all know that in theory, it doesn't stop us from being conditioned at some level that relationships should be all warm and fuzziness.
But the reality is relationships will go through their highs and lows. When you look at anything we experience in life, there is a cycle we go through. It is full of great parts, not so great parts, lessons that we learn, personal growth and finally, CHANGE.
As individuals we are constantly changing. We are experiencing life and through this experience we are learning more and changing how we view life and what we want for our lives. As we age we form different perception of events than we did when we were, say 20 years old.
This is happening for you and your husband, so it stands to reason that the way you used to interact with your partner when you first got together, may not be the same way that works for you both now. Neither of you are thinking the same way you used to, so you certainly aren't going to want exactly the same things from your relationship than you may have at the beginning.
If there is one thing that I have learnt it is that there needs to be constant realignment of our relationship and an awareness of what is working and what is not.
If something is not working, it simply means that some of your dynamics need to be changed. It simply means the way things were working perhaps needs to be realigned and changed.
How do you do this?
Through two key areas of relationship alignment - Communication and Negotiation
Now some of you may argue that communication is not a strong point in your relationship, however communication is paramount to getting through those rough times, so learning how to communicate needs to become the forefront of priorities if you want a healthy longterm relationship.
But there is an art to communication. It's not just about 'listen to what is going wrong and what I want' or 'you do this wrong all the time'. So here are some valuable tips for communicating with your partner:
1. Set an intention before you start. Think about what you want to get out of the conversation before you start talking. For example, 'I want to create a new and fair agreement about who does what around the house'. When you've set an intention then find yourself moving into an argument, you can remind yourself of your intention and realign with that goal through the conversation.
2. Listen to your partner's perspective. He has wants and needs and stuff going on for him too. Listen with interest at how he is experiencing your relationship. Don't get defensive, just listen objectively. This is how he is genuinely experiencing the situation. You need this information in order to create a new and happy medium between you. There is no point going over and over what is wrong in the relationship, you need to know what is not working in order to negotiate how you want it to work (I'm going to talk about negotiation in a minute).
3. Avoid criticisms and stick to how you feel. Talk about what sort of life you want (not how you want him to be, but how you want life to be). Stick to your vision of your ideal life and don't dwell on what he isn't doing. This is in the past. All you have is now. So stick to what your vision of what you want and don't deviate into what you aren't getting. This is very important.
4. What's equally important is to ask him what he wants too. The best way to get a new alignment is to respect what both parties want and why they want it that way and then work out the best way that will get you there.
5. Treat your partner with respect. If your argument is that he doesn't speak to you with respect then where does it end? Someone has to stop the cycle of hurting each other and speaking nasty to each other. You cannot fight with someone who does not fight back. If you are barking or putting each other down all the time, stop it. You be the one to stop that cycle. Stay firm in your commitment to treat him with respect and compassion.
6. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Be the person that you want him to be in your relationship. Do random things for him that show your love for him. Treat him with the love and respect that you would like to be treated with. Even though he may not reciprocate this immediately, his attitude will change with time, because you have stopped the cycle and treated him differently.
The trick to negotiation is to get what you want while the other person gets what they want. It's a win/win situation. In order to make this happen you need to know two things:
1. What do you want?
2. What does he want?
Without this information all you have is a one sided conversation that will often end in someone feeling hard done by. Once you know what each other wants, respect it and discuss ways that you can make both of you happy.
Realise that you are in a relationship. This means that it's not all about you and it can't be all about him. If it is one sided than also realise that this dynamic was set up in the past by both of you and this is something that needs to be changed.
Start by negotiating about something small that doesn't carry a lot of emotional baggage with it and work on how you can come to a happy medium.
Step out of the 'world of me' and look at your partner as an individual, just like you. Just like you he is seeking happiness in his life. Just like you he is looking for happiness and contenment. Just like you he is seeking love, kindness and peace in his life. Just like you he is learning about life. Just like you he is a parent of young children who has transitioned from a selfish, 'I can do anything I want life' into the demands of being a parent.
You are both two individuals that have come together as one united couple. This doesn't just work by itself. The reality of relationships is that these two individuals that you are, are learning, growing and changing, so the unity, too must learn, grow and change. It cannot stay the same as it was in the past. Everything changes.
When we can stop seeing our partner as the enemy and instead see them as individuals just like ourselves that we can align with, then you will start to communicate differently with them, because it's not just about you and what is going wrong for you or what you are missing out on.
It starts to become about what he wants too and how you can both get your needs met. One of you needs to break the cycle of the problems in your relationship and that will only come from change. Ask yourself, how is this current dynamic working for us right now? Then, be the one who does something different.
I'm not saying that any of this is easy, but just realising that being parents is a new experience for both of you and that some major life changes have occurred for both of you can help you to see that some major changes may need to happen in your relationship too.
For a more detailed plan for how to create an ideal relationship, then The Happy Mum Handbook also has the chapter on relationships that will help you to realign your relationship, break those vicious cycles, teach you how to communicate and negotiate and start treating each other like the loving couple you would like to be.