Imagine if you could take your relationship to a WoF testing station for an annual service. Run it through a checking system, patch up the conflicts, add a couple of new communication skills and get a permit that says you can stay together for another year.
If only it was that easy.
Relationships offer up some of our greatest challenges. When love goes right, we feel wanted, special and part of something bigger than ourselves. When it goes wrong it leaves us sad, shaken, angry and often desolate.
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And when it’s toxic — ouch. Beware the emotional bruises and scars, feeling broken, damaged and even traumatized — difficulties that can last for a very long time.
While some relationships should carry bold warning signs “DO NOT ENTER” or “HIGH RISK ZONE” and others should be taken straight to the wrecker’s yard, many are worth holding onto — there’s something irreplaceable about sharing experiences with someone over a long time.
The trouble is, when there have been difficulties, we often don’t know where to start: what to replace, what to fix, what to pour oil on, what tools to use. After conflict, we may cling stubbornly to our perspective because it feels like a lifeline — and that stops us from being able to see things from our partner’s perspective.
So, if you’re brave enough , take your relationship to the testing station. Do an honest assessment. Be truthful about your own role in it. And if you think it’s worth preserving, roll up your sleeves and get to work on the things you can improve.
Here are seven questions to ask yourself:
Who are you when you are with your partner? What characteristics do you most exhibit when you are together? Do you like who you are within the relationship? Your relationship should enable and encourage you to be an authentic, contented version of yourself. If you don’t like what you see when you stare yourself down in the mirror, something needs to change. (Note: this is self-analysis, not a blaming exercise!)
Do you trust your partner? Can they have a night out or go away for a weekend without you fearing the worst? Do you trust them with money? If either one of you has been hurt, then hopefully you are taking steps to rebuild that trust — because it won’t do it by itself. Mistrust left untended is a fire waiting for a match.
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How do you (as a couple) handle tough times? Are you able to pull together and support each other? Or do you go into your own cave and let your partner fend for themselves? It is well documented that a crisis, grief and other difficulties can crack — or even devastate — the strongest of relationships. It’s important to be able talk, to listen to the other’s view and come up with a joint strategy for moving in the same direction.
Do you support your partner’s independent dreams, goals and opportunities to have their own fun? Do you want and encourage your partner to do things without you? Or do you cling tight, wanting to do everything together? While a few couples are happily inseparable, most relationships need (and grow from) time spent apart. Ensure you support your partner’s independence while nurturing your own.
Do you have compatible values? Do you generally agree over money, religion, parenting, sex? Or are you constantly in dispute, tripping up over the same old issues? If your values clash consistently, can you find a way to live easily with your partner’s perspective?
Can you resolve conflict? Do you have (and use) sound communication and conflict resolution skills? After a fight, many couples use unhealthy strategies, such as storming out of the house, periods of silence or acting “cold”, withdrawing sex, until they slowly get back to “normal”. It’s okay to disagree as long as you have means of resolving disputes — and you owe it to any children you have to model healthy ways to get things back on track.
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Do you have fun together? If there are no easy laughs, if you don’t look forward to some time alone with your partner, then do a reconnaissance. Laughter with your partner, or a shared in-joke, is a huge indicator of good relationship health. Remember, even when times are tough, laughter is the best medicine. Except, of course, when medicine is the best medicine.
So how’d you go? Does your relationship need a tweak? An overhaul? Or is it, on balance, roadworthy? If so, then jump back in the car. You might just have years of happy motoring ahead.
This post originally appeared on Medium.com and was written by Karen Nimmo. Visit her website here.
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