This was first published on KSL.com
Most of the questions submitted to me from KSL.com readers are about getting along better with family members. When your relationships with your spouse, children, parents, in-laws and siblings are struggling, or there is disappointment, anger, resentment or distrust in the mix, it is terribly painful and can suck the joy from your life.
Most relationships that are in trouble started out with just minor issues, but over time the resentment and distrust have grown. Now that there has been a lot of bad water under the bridge, fixing the problem is much more difficult. Most people wait until a problem is huge before they seek help; they get therapy or life coaching as a last resort before splitting up instead of seeking help at the first sign of trouble, when a problem is easier to fix.
This also applies to your relationships with your children. Parents often tell me how they used to be close to their child and now their child won't talk to them. Most of the time, what has happened is a slow decline in trust, respect, validation, listening and communication. The change can be so gradual you don't realize the relationship is in trouble until it's almost too late.
There are things you can do to avoid these problems and/or address them earlier, but you have to first recognize a problem is happening. The following health checks can assist you in recognizing issues earlier.
Check the temperature of your relationship
Are things 'too hot' with conflict?
Is either of you feeling angry, defensive, confrontational, volatile or bothered? Is there conflict and fighting every week? Does someone get offended a few times a week? Even if this happens once a month, it is a sign that there is a problem that requires attention.
Heat in the relationship often means there is a fear of loss, mistreatment or feeling deprived in play. It could mean you or the other person is struggling with not feeling safe. They might be on the lookout for offenses in order to protect themselves. This is a big sign of trouble, but it's not hard to fix if addressed early.
You might show your partner this article and say, "I think we run hot. What do you think?" Ask questions about how safe they feel in the relationship and just listen. Don't defend yourself or try to fix it; just be willing to listen to how they feel and validate their right to have those feelings today. You could say "I can understand how you might feel this way. Thanks for sharing with me. Would you ever be open to getting some relationship help with this before it gets any bigger?"
Don't be afraid that things will get worse, scarier or more complicated if you seek help — it won't. Learning new skills and tools can actually turn things around quickly. Heat in a relationship is something to watch closely and remedy as soon as you can. Reassure the person that you are on their side and have their back and want this relationship to thrive. Seek some professional help and get some skills and tools to help you resolve conflict in a calm, mature, less emotional way.
Are things 'too cold,' meaning quiet or distant?
Is there distance between you? Do you feel there is a wedge of some kind in play? Is something dividing you? This is something you want to address right now, while the distance is narrow. If you let this issue fester and grow, it can become as large as the Grand Canyon, making it almost impossible to cross.
If one of you has the habit of getting cold and quiet when bothered, this is not healthy relationship behavior. It could mean you don't have the skills and tools necessary to talk about the issue or you don't feel safe enough with your spouse to try talking about it. Either way, you need to learn how to make yourself feel safe so you can address issues and problems in the moment, and not stuff them.
Again, I recommend you seek professional help on communication, strength and self-esteem. Don't wait for years of coldness to pass by and freeze the relationship up.
As you know, a healthy body temperature is on average 98 degrees Fahrenheit. But even a tiny three-point increase means you have a fever of 101 and are really sick. It doesn't take much to knock your relationship out of balance, too.
A healthy relationship temperature is one where both parties feel safe with each other and there is mutual love, respect, admiration and appreciation. Check the temperature every day and don't let heat or cold continue untreated. I have written many articles on solving specific relationship problems in the past that you can find searching KSL.com
Take the relationship blood pressure
What direction is your relationship pressure going? If it is not rising/improving, then it is going down. Just like blood is constantly on the move in your body, your relationship is always moving. It is either getting stronger or it is weakening.
What are you doing to move it forward and improve it right now? Are you reading books together, engaged in life coaching or counseling, spending quality time together, asking questions and listening, validating each other, doing nice things, planning dates, making time for intimacy, or showing that you admire, respect and appreciate your partner? Check your blood pressure and make sure you are doing something each day to keep the relationship rising. See if your partner is on board to work on this together.
How much does this relationship weigh?
Is your relationship heavy or light? Is it a place that feels sluggish and weighted down or is it light, happy and fun?
You might have gone through some heavy stuff together, and this adds burden and strain to your relationship. If this is the case, you may need some professional help to give you skills and tools for coping, being resilient and bouncing back.
In the meantime, commit to bringing more joy and fun into the relationship. Make it fun and light to be with you. Plan fun activities together, watch funny movies, go outside, have some adventure, and start choosing some joy every day. If you or your partner are struggling with depression and this sounds nearly impossible, get some help with this. Don't let the heaviness become a permanent thing.
Check for investment in your relationship health
For any relationship to be healthy it requires investment. It might require you to invest some money — for dates, activities and fun together — and it will absolutely require an investment of time and energy.
Your time is your most limited resource and there are many things competing for it. You have many responsibilities and demands that make it easy to lose track of what is most important, but your relationships with the people you love, in the end, will always be the thing that matters most. Ask yourself how you can invest in making sure your relationship is healthy.
There are many options that don't cost a lot. You can read relationship books from the library. You can go on free dates like hikes or picnics. But all of these require you to invest some time and energy into it. I promise it will be worth it.
All your relationships require investment to maintain, and even more investment if you want them to thrive. This applies to spouses, partners, children, parents, in-laws and friends. You can health check all these relationships daily to help you see where extra TLC or attention is needed.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.