Building a better relationship - things to try
With all the daily stresses and responsibilities we face each day, it can be easy to lose track of our relationship and get disconnected from our partner. Yes, keeping a relationship strong requires great effort. But there are simple, proven exercises that couples therapists recommend to deepen your relationship and make it more fulfilling.
If you have tried couples therapy before, you probably have encountered several of these.
Many times, a simple conversation could lead to a week-long of cold war or simultaneous arguments. That is why a lot of couples therapy exercises are designed to make both partners ‘active’ listeners. Active listening doesn’t only make discussion of sensitive issues easier, but also allows both of you to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other. When practising active listening, it is important for the speaker to remain focused on a single thought or point, and for the listener to concentrate on sharing their partner’s perspective. Here are simple rules to follow when practising active listening:
Spare a few minutes daily to practise this exercise and see how it can enhance many aspects of your relationship. Whatever the issue is, the best way to practise active listening is to do it with patience and love.
Study after study shows that grateful couples are happier and more resilient. Appreciation is vital to a relationship. But sometimes, especially among long-term couples, appreciating becomes a rare thing. If you’re lacking of this, there’s a very simple exercise that couples therapists recommend and it only requires making a list. Here it goes – daily, for five days, write down things that your partner did for you that you appreciated. They don’t have to be grand. Simple, sweet acts would do, like taking your dog for a walk, watering your plants, preparing your breakfast, making you smile, massaging your pounding head, etc. After the five days, exchange lists.
It is very easy to feel that you are being taken for granted and feel that your partner doesn’t recognise your efforts and the little things you do for him/her. This simple exercise can help both of you see and appreciate small gestures of love and care that you have for each other.
Using Positive Language
Miscommunication is a common problem among couples. Many of us often make false interpretations of what our partner is saying. This can lead to arguments, emotional disconnection and feelings of rejection. Couples therapy exercises can greatly deepen your bond and help you tackle even the most complicated issues without lashing or arguing. One of the best exercises for better communication is using positive language. A good communication exercise is using "you said" and "I heard" statements during conversations. In this exercise, you and your partner take turns repeating the other person’s statement and explaining your own interpretation of the message. Beginning your sentence with “I heard” makes your partner feel that you pay attention to and care about what he or she is saying. Saying these two words is like saying “I’m listening to you because what you have to tell me is important”.
Many times, we get too caught up doing things that we think our partner would really love and appreciate that we forget to ask ourselves – is it what he/she really desires? We need not always do or spend so much to please our special someone. Sometimes, it’s again the little, sweet acts that matter to them. Whilst surprises and gifts are really so romantic – sometimes, it’s the affectionate gestures like running errands for him/her, sitting with your partner to watch the same movie over and over again, or kissing him/her before leaving for work and the moment he/she comes home are enough to make your partner feel loved by you. A great exercise that therapists usually ask couples to do is to write down five things your partner can do, or does to make you feel loved.
Lots of couples stop dating after marriage, which is wrong. Dating is essential to keeping the fire burning and retaining the kind of excitement you both have experienced before. Maintaining relationships require hard work, and can be really stressful at times. Therefore, it is important for you and your partner to relax and unwind. Arranging a trip with your partner can be one great way to practise the above exercises whilst having a little fun. It doesn’t have to be a grand vacation. A simple getaway will do as long as you are in a place where you can relax – away from the things that remind you of your work, responsibilities, and all others that stress you out.
When you already have kids, intimacy becomes much more of a challenge. Intimacy is about being emotionally close to your partner. It’s also about being able to bring your defences down and accept and share in your partner’s thoughts and feelings. It’s about being able to share your “inner world” to this person. Intimacy is basically one of the most rewarding aspects of a relationship. Many couples start out their relationship thinking that they have achieved the highest level of intimacy that they have never experienced before. Yet, as years go by and they go through the highs and lows of marriage, they tend to discover a series of deeper levels in their intimacy. And each discovery only makes their relationship deeper and more rewarding.
A great intimacy builder routine, which you can do daily, involves sitting facing each other and closer that your knees are almost touching. Take a minute or several minutes to look into each other’s eyes. Assess your own reactions and thoughts. And share them with your partner. Feel the moment. Experience the closeness. This exercise is one way to connect with your partner after a hard, tiring and busy day.
Every relationship goes through rough waters. Incorporating all if not some of these basic couples therapy exercises can greatly improve many areas of your relationship and help you and your partner deal with issues more effectively, and grow closer. Marriage counselling exercises can also help you revive intimacy, strengthen the bond between you two, and maintain a healthy, happy and lasting relationship.
A large body of research tells us that happiness go beyond material things.
It’s true that a new car or house, a luxury trip, or some designer clothes and bags can give us an instant feeling of joy and gladness. But the positive emotions brought by these things quickly wane and if we cling on them as our major source of happiness, we could find ourselves lonely, discontented and disconnected at the end of the day.
If it’s not money, fame or fortune, then what makes us happy? There’s no secret formula to lasting happiness. But numerous researches suggest that happiness could be a product of the following things combined together:
An illness doesn’t only drain our wallet, but also destroy our energy and zeal in life. Therefore, the body must be treated well and given its needed nourishment, love and care. When you are healthy, you could focus more on what you do and be able to deal with problems much better. We can opt to live a healthy lifestyle by engaging in regular exercise, getting enough sleep, eating right, and learning to manage stress.
Humans are social beings. Therefore, it is a basic human need to look for affection from others. We all need to feel loved and cared for. It is crucial that we have at least one person to share our life with. Research published in 2001 in the Journal of Counselling Psychology found that people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. They also have higher self-esteem, and are more trusting, empathic and cooperative with others. As a result, the number of people who love them increases.
Sufficient Source of Income
As mentioned, happiness goes beyond material things. But in order to have more time on things that give us lasting happiness, we also need to work hard to get a sufficient source of income. This reduces our worries about where to get our basic needs and concentrate more on things that truly matter – like health, family and social relationship. Whilst we can always aim for higher status in life, it should not be our motivation to be happy.
The cliché “the more you give the more you receive” is true. People usually feel good when they donate to charities, help someone in need, and reach out to others. Compassion is critical to happiness. When our hearts are filled with love for others, our sense of well-being dramatically increases. Not only that, it benefits our brain too. A research by Jordan Grafman, a neuroscientist from the National Institute of Health found that the "pleasures centres" in the brain, or the parts that are active when we experience pleasure from food, money or sex, are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves.
In life, we should have a clear idea of what our goals are. Goals are what give direction to our lives. They motivate us to do better, keep learning, exceed our limits, and work harder. After setting our goals, we must make a clear plan on how to achieve them.
Without being grateful, it’s very difficult to be happy. A bulk of studies confirms that gratitude is vital to happiness. “Thank you” is a simple yet powerful phrase that can uplift our spirit and touch other people’s lives.
Optimism and Resilience
Seeing the glass half full has a significant effect on our happiness levels. Optimism is what gives us hope to move forward despite the adversities we experience in life. It goes hand in hand with resilience – which is the ability to handle difficulties effectively. The world is full of imperfections. No one in this world has ever experienced any problem at all. Challenges are part of life. But they shouldn’t be a hindrance to our happiness.
Unless we incorporate all these things to our life, we can never be completely happy. Not practising one of them is like forgetting the secret ingredient that makes a recipe stand out. Good health, affection, sustainable income, compassion, defined goals, gratitude and resilience – all these things are essential to happiness. And the good news is that they are something we can learn and master over time.
Mindfulness - what is it?
The Wikipedia definition is as follows:-
….. mindfulness is defined as moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by "acceptance" - attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong.
Whether you think that sounds simple or incredibly difficult then you are right! Trying not to judge ourselves, trying not to imaging how other people perceive our actions or not second guessing what we ‘should’ be doing in a situation can be incredibly hard for some people. We all have an inner voice either urging us on or questioning our abilities so image you can just ‘be’. Can you begin to think how it would feel if that questioning voice was just a whisper which we could pass over and get on with our lives – enjoying every second of it?
Mindfulness encompasses various methods of reminding ourselves of the moment-by-moment feelings, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations so we can be more in tune with our bodies. Maybe during these darker months when we can’t get out and about so much, how about getting ‘in’ more – in tune with ourselves.
On YouTube there are 1000s of mindfulness videos guiding you though body scan meditations, relaxation techniques, explanations of processes, in fact anything you might want to learn. Why not treat yourself and go somewhere exceptional?
There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage.
Even couples who say they are happily married go through ups and downs, occasional fights and misunderstandings. But many end up with divorce not because the love is gone but because they wait until it’s too late to get the help necessary to save their marriage. If the flow of your relationship is going through lots of bumps, consider the following self-help tips to get your marriage back on track.
Identify what the real issues are.
When we are angry at our partner, we tend to dig deeper into the past, looking for the past mistakes they have done to us. This habit however, can stray you away from the real issues your marriage is facing in the moment. Create an honest list of problems that your marriage has, including those you have never brought up yet to your spouse but you think is essential to your relationship.
Assess the weaknesses and strengths of your marriage.
In the past years you were together, what had been the greatest hindrances or issues you encountered? What are the qualities that make your marriage special? What can be done to reduce the issues and increase the quality of your marriage?
Focus on what you can do.
No one likes being told that they are doing things wrong, or that they are a bad person. When dealing with marriage problems, we tend to focus on what our partners should do or change. But this can just lead to further misunderstandings. Try not to focus on your partner’s flaws, rather on what you could do differently.
Stay in the calm zone.
Avoid snide remarks, sarcasm, criticism, anger, blame, accusation, etc. If you really can’t stop yourself from saying hurtful things to your partner during a conversation, then just leave. Get some fresh air. If you let yourself be flown away by your emotions, you might end up saying or doing things you will just regret in the end.
Learn to express concerns constructively.
Avoid beginning your sentence with "You always…” or “You never…” Remember, you must focus on fixing issues on your end. Instead of saying “I would like you to…” say “I would like to…”, or “My concern is…” etc.
Set up conversation rules.
Try not to interrupt until your partner is done speaking, and avoid raising your voice. As for clarification if you need to, so you can check they completely understand what you are trying to tell them or what he or she is trying to tell you.
Create positive experiences together.
Touch more. Kiss more. Smile and laugh more. Talk more. Have sex more often. Spend more time together. Don’t last a day without giving your partner a nice compliment. Give more praise and show more gratitude. Go out for a romantic date. Travel together. Do the things you used to do when you were first dating. One positive experience can overthrow ten negative experiences.
Seek professional help.
Many marriages have been saved by counselling. If you can’t avoid arguing when discussing issues in your marriage, maybe you need the intervention of a qualified therapist.
How to be productive at work while suffering with depression
Mental health problems such as depression are one of the leading causes of absences and productivity issues among employees. In 2010, a survey conducted by the UK IDEA (European Depression Association (EDA) revealed that 26 per cent of people in the UK have depression, and this mental illness is costing the government £105.2 billion each year – which covers the direct cost of mental health services, lost productivity at work, and reduced quality of life.
Staying productive at work is one of the biggest challenges that people with depression face. One day you are perfectly doing well and meeting your deadlines, the next day all you did was to look at your computer screen for eight hours. Overcoming depression is not an easy process and sometimes, it takes months (even years) of therapy to overcome this debilitating condition. The good news is that you can still manage to be productive at work and perform at your best even though you are depressed. Here’s how a few ways to help you:-
Take one step at a time
People with depression easily get overwhelmed even with simple tasks at work. Because of the vicious cycle of negative thinking, you may even find it hard to know where to start and how to deal with the problem at hand. One good strategy is to break big projects into smaller, achievable tasks. It can be helpful to create a to-do list or a chart that outlines the things you need to do and their expected completion dates. This helps reduce the anxiety you feel which is common during depression.
Take regular breaks
Taking a break is probably the last thing you want to do when you are anxious and afraid of not completing a task on time. But really, it can help ward off mental fatigue that prevents you from performing well at work. During breaks, avoid staying on your desk and take the opportunity to unwind a little. Go out for a cup of coffee, or stroll outside. Chat with your work buddies or call a friend. Trying to bust negative thoughts can consume a lot of your energy. Give yourself time to recharge.
Learn some relaxation techniques
It’s usual to experience burnout when you are depressed. The workweek may have just started but it may feel like you’re already in the middle. Relaxation techniques are very practical tools to reduce feelings of anxiety, fear or restlessness that you may experience from time to time at work. Among the best techniques are meditation, deep breathing and stretching. When things are getting too overwhelming, close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Shift your focus to your breathing pattern and to the sensations you feel in your body. And slowly release the tension. You will be surprised of how calming this simple exercise is.
Personalise your workspace
If your desk is full of clutter, it’s likely to worsen your depression. You want your environment to be as calm, beautiful, peaceful, fresh and organised as possible. Hang a picture of your family on your wall or post inspiring motivational quotes. The inspiration you get from these things can really amp your productivity levels.
Give time for regular exercise
Not only will this fuel your energy at work, it will also help reduce symptoms of depression. A 30-minute daily exercise routine will do you a long way. But if you can exercise more, much better!
Make the most out of your rest days
Weekends only constitute two days so make the most out of it! As much as possible, avoid doing anything that’s work-related and stay away from your laptop or mobile phone (as they can make you feel like you’re at work). Rather, go out with friends and family. Spend your rest day staying physically active by playing a sport, backpacking or engaging in adventurous recreational activities.
Lastly, don’t forget to seek professional help. Talk to a therapist and know your options. Depression does not only affect your work but all other aspects of your life, including your personal and social relationships. Remember that depression is a treatable disorder which many others have been successfully recovered from and you can too.
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