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Improving Relationships: Enhancing Intimacy

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Teddy Bears In Bed, Improve Relationship

True Love: It Really Is The Little Things

If Your Partner Does This One Thing, They Just May Love You

There are common signs that a couple will go the distance, but they are often underestimated. Typically, there is one thing that a partner will do when they are in a relationship that means they are committed to you, and that is to proactively listen and respond to what you are saying.

This sounds simple, perhaps even expected, but the truth is that to truly listen to someone means that you put your agenda aside and take in what someone is saying. Many people often listen, waiting to get their chance to talk rather than sincerely taking in what someone is expressing.

Going beyond listening and doing things that show their support of what you have said typically means they want to express their love to you by honoring those important things to you. 

Small Gestures Often

There is nothing more important than the type of respect that one shows when they are protective of your interests, needs, and desires and make gestures to show it. It can be something as romantic as taking you to your favorite restaurant for dinner or giving you a massage as a special treat. However, it can be even more mundane such as helping you be happier through the little things.

Avoid Conflicts Regarding Division Of Labor

The division of labor is often a significant source of resentment and conflict in a relationship. It is not uncommon for one partner to do most household tasks regardless of whether both partners work. Seemly helpful partners who do not do as much may offer to help if they are given a list or told what to do. In addition, they may indicate that they will get around to the tasks and indicate that their partner simply gets to them before they can.

The problem with these excuses is that a partner should not have to be told what to do; they are not a child that needs direction; rather, they are a partner who should already know what needs to be done in their own home. Furthermore, partners who claim that their partner does things before they can often fail to do them no matter how long they are given to do those tasks, which means they were never really going to get around to them.

Healthy partners step up to do family and household tasks without being asked and do them as soon as possible. It is reasonable to communicate to coordinate and come to agreements about tasks; however, no partner should not be put into the role of a parent to get the other to do what they are responsible for in a relationship. 


The Division Of Mental Load

Everyone knows that sharing the workload of a relationship is important; however, most people simply think of the tasks themselves when it comes to this. The truth is that there is something that is just as important that is often overlooked which is the mental load.

Cognitive labor, also known as the mental load, is the focus and organization it takes to run a household. Taking on the mental load means looking for tasks that need to be done and then taking the initiative to ensure they can be done. For example, if you are taking a trip together, the mental load would be planning the trip, making the reservations, thinking about what to bring, what luggage will be needed to pack it in, etc.

Another example is grocery shopping. The mental load is thinking about the meals to make during the week, determining what is needed to make them (referencing recipes), and then organizing that into a list to go grocery shopping. The tasks are to go grocery shopping, come home, put the groceries away, and prepare the meals.

Simply being available to help with tasks is not enough. This puts all the mental load on your partner. Being part of the planning and organization of getting tasks done is essential for a partnership to be balanced.

For example, imagine how well things would go if your boss assigned you a big project a week in advance and then you showed up on the day it was to be implemented, and asked what needed to be done.

Or imagine how it would feel to have a teammate at work who needs to be reminded of how to do a task repeatedly, who is always late to meetings or comes unprepared every single time.

If not sharing the mental load wouldn't be tolerated at work, why should it be tolerated at home with your partner? Mental labor is domestic labor that partners should share.

Couples that do not share tasks and the mental load of managing those tasks creates inequality, causing one person to do most or all of the mental work it takes to address life's requirements.

Not having equality in tasks and the mental load will cause serious resentments and long-term damage. It will also reduce sex drive in the partner carrying the weight of tasks and orchestrating them because it creates a parent-child relationship rather than that of partners. It is one of the biggest killers of relationships.

Relationship Rules

What is the wrong thing to do?

Anything that harms your partner. This includes behaviors such as physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of any kind. Examples can include harassment, invasion of privacy, intimidation, manipulation, neglect, gaslighting, coercion, weaponized incompetence.


What do you have the right to do?

Anything that does not harm your partner. Your rights end where someone else's rights begin. This means you do not have the right to violate someone else's safety and well-being through intentional or unintentional behaviors.


How should you treat your partner?

You should treat people in ways that you would want to be treated. It is the basic golden rule.


What do you have the right to do when your partner harms you?

You have the right to defend yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically depending on the harm being done to you. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to remove yourself from an abusive situation.


When you see your partner being harmed what should you do?

It is vital to defend your partner from harm. Removing them from a harmful situation, offering them support and assistance, and protecting them from damage being done to them are important. This can mean protecting your partner from a toxic family member, friend, or even yourself.


Who is in control of your actions?

You are, and no matter how upset your partner may make you, the responsibility for your behavior is always yours. Your partner is responsible for theirs.

Avoid The One Thing That Always End Relationships

Many things can make a relationship thrive or contribute to its demise, but there is typically one thing that is a sure predictor that will end a relationship. It is a lack of accountability.

When one or both partners cannot self-reflect and take responsibility for their behavior, not just through acknowledgment but also a change in their behavior to avoid repetition of mistakes, the relationship will not grow and evolve into what it needs to be to go the distance.

Accountability for our behavior is critical for any relationship, contributing to our growth and building a solid foundation of trust. Without it, no relationship will last.

Vulnerability

We all experience vulnerability, but what is it? Vulnerability is when we confront uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. We can experience it intentionally, or it will happen to us, consciously or unconsciously, but we all undergo it in one way or another.

When choosing to be vulnerable with someone, it should be with someone trustworthy and who deserves it. It should be noted that if someone has caused us harm, we do not owe that person our vulnerability, and we are not required to provide that to them for us to heal from the trauma they may have caused.

When we decide to be vulnerable with someone honestly and respectfully, regardless of the outcome, we can embrace the satisfaction of knowing we were brave for doing it.

However, when people experience vulnerability unconsciously, they often take their pain and work it out on others because it is much easier to cause pain than risk feeling pain.

When we avoid our own pain, we can become defensive. This can show up in a variety of ways. Here are some common ways people avoid being vulnerable.

Common Defense Mechanisms

  • Avoid (through not interacting or repressing or denying)
  • Delegitimize (discredit someone's concerns)
  • Limit Impact (rationalize, displace or project issues onto something or someone else)

When you don't acknowledge your vulnerability, you will most likely take out your pain on other people in one form or another. Regardless of your own pain, it is your responsibility not to inflict pain on others.

You are in control of owning and working through your pain while being conscientious in expressing your vulnerability. Doing this is to have courage. After all, courageous acts are always accompanied by vulnerability.

Only when we dare to be conscientiously vulnerable can we experience true intimacy. Without it, we will never feel truly loved and never fully love another.

Three Phrases You Can Use To Lower Defense Mechanisms In Your Partner

I Agree

Start your sentence off with the words "I agree." This does not mean you have to agree with what they are saying; it can be more macro such as "I agree this is a subject worth talking about," or "I agree that we should talk about this." As long as you use the words I agree, you automatically bring down defenses.

I Have Learned

Tell them what you have learned from them using the phrase "I have learned." For example, you could say, "I've learned that this topic is really important to you." As long as they hear the phrase I have learned, it makes them feel like they're being understood and can make them less defensive.

That's Helpful To Know

Use the phrase "That's helpful to know." Using this helps them feel that you are invested in what they say. It can make them feel invested in mutual understanding.


10 Things Not To Say To Your Partner When You Have Upset Them

The following are things someone may say that could cause a partner to feel that their feelings are being minimized and are phrases you should avoid as it can cause your partner to become more upset. 

  • Well, you did the same thing to me.
  • You're not remembering anything correctly.
  • Stop complaining about it.
  • When are you going to respond rationally?
  • That was so long ago.
  • I need you to relax first.
  • Tell me exactly what I said.
  • You're crazy.
  • Things could be a lot worse.

5 Healthy Things Couples Say

How can I support you?

This is a loving and caring thing to say, and it allows your partner to tell you how you can show up for them.


I am feeling triggered.

This is a nonjudgemental way of indicating that you are vulnerable to indicate your challenging emotions without blaming, being scared, or defensive.


We are in this together.

This does not attempt to fix or solve anything; rather, it lets your partner know that you are with them no matter what they decide.


I was wrong and want to be accountable.

Nothing is more important than a partner who can be responsible and accountable for their behavior. Beyond an apology, changing the offensive behavior shows they are trustworthy and mean what they are saying. An apology without a change of behavior is a form of manipulation.


I want to, but I can't.

Setting a boundary to respect one's own needs while letting your partner know that you would like to support them is a good way of assuring you care even when you can't do something they desire.

If You Apologize Too Much

Sometimes people apologize too much in relationships out of things such as low self-esteem, insecurity, anxiety, conflict avoidance, and trauma responses. If you have not hurt someone, try showing gratitude instead of apologizing.

Instead of saying, "I'm sorry for being late," try saying, "Thank you for your patience with me." Rather than apologizing for having your partner address issues with you, say, "Thanks for working this out with me."

This approach encourages you to expect goodwill from others rather than believing that you don't deserve kindness. It can help you to build faith in your partner and appreciate yourself more.

Tips for a Strong Relationship

Monitor Yourself

When we are tired, stressed, hurt or angry, all of us can say hurtful things to another person. When we do, they are often things we wish we had not said. Couples who avoid saying every angry thought when discussing sensitive topics are consistently the happiest.

Soften your approach and remember that the more careless you are in your comments, the more conflict there can be. Critical or contemptuous remarks in a confrontational tone will never get you what you ultimately want.


Accept Compromise

The key is for BOTH partners to offer solutions to meet their spouse's needs. If one partner compromises much more often, you will find trouble down the road. There needs to be common respect from each partner and a willingness to bend when needed.


Have High Standards

The most successful couples are those who refuse to exhibit or accept hurtful behavior from one another. The lower the tolerance level for bad behavior at the beginning of a relationship, the happier the couple is down the road.


Learn to Successfully Heal & End An Argument

Successful couples know how to exit an argument and how to repair the situation before an argument gets completely out of control.

Successful repair attempts include:

  • Changing the topic to something completely unrelated.
  • Using humor without sarcasm, criticisms or underlying hostility.
  • Stroking your partner with a caring remark: "I understand that this is hard for you."
  • Making it clear you're on common ground: "This is our problem."
  • Backing down: offering signs of appreciation for your partner and their feelings along the way: "I appreciate and want to thank you for..."

If an argument gets too heated, take a 20-minute break, and agree to approach the topic again when you are both calm.


Focus On The Positive

In a happy marriage, couples make at least five times as many positive statements to and about each other and their relationship ("We laugh a lot") as opposed to negative ones ("We never have fun"). A good marriage must have a rich climate of positive feelings, statements, and beliefs.

This also means putting time toward being playful with one another. Doing things that keep you both young and playful at heart will keep your relationship fresh.


Complimenting Your Partner

In long-term relationships, it is easy to forget how important it is to compliment your partner. External appearance compliments are nice but complimenting someone about the things you find admirable about them is an even more profound form of praise. It shows your appreciation for who they are and lets your partner know that you truly see them.

An even more robust way to compliment is to provide an act of service or gift to them, such as giving something that nurtures or pleases them. Telling them that they deserve it because of how amazing they are will enhance any compliment you give.


Seek Help When Needed

The average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems (and keep in mind, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years). This means the average couple lives with unhappiness for far too long. Learn more about Therapy & Counseling

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