By Linda Carroll
Every morning for 30 years, my husband has brought me a latte. Some mornings, he hands me the steaming mug with a smile and a kiss. Other mornings he’s in a hurry, so he simply sets the latte down on my bedside table. Then there are the mornings when he’s not happy with me, and he puts the mug down on his bedside table, so I have to lean over to reach it.
Still, whether our feelings are running hot or cold, that latte is there for me every morning. Over time, those cups have added up. He and I have banked on them, as well as on many other sweet nothings, to carry us through hard times.
When times are tough:
When all is going well, most of us find it easy to be generous, appreciative, and kind with our partners. But what happens once things are less than perfect, and power struggles and differences in libido take over the relationship?
Our natural urge may be to punish (fight), evade (flee), or withhold (freeze). Yet our instinctual response is often the opposite of what our relationships really need.
These five pointers will help you act in a positive, constructive way and power through relationship hardships.
1. Nourish your relationship in little ways, especially when you don’t feel like it.
Think of this practice in the same way you keep money in the bank, only this is a love bank account — even though that may sound corny!
Try and first understand your partner’s love language. Some people like words and appreciate receiving cards, notes, flowers, and texts. Some enjoy being touched, whether with light tickles on the arm or big hugs and back massages.
Others like acts of service — my husband puts gas in the car and makes the bed because he knows I hate doing these things. These small displays of caring can really add up, and it’s important that you do them even when you’re having a bad day or exhausting week.
2. Remind yourself to always value your partner’s needs.
If I mail a package for you, go with you to a ballgame, or make your birthday special even when I’m annoyed with you, I’m funding the goodwill account of our relationship. If I can care for some of your needs, even though they’re different from mine, I can strike some of the gold in our connection: true recognition of you, someone other than me.
3. Unconditional giving may feel counter-instinctive. Do it anyway!
During the early stages of a relationship, unconditional giving is a pleasure and couples often believe that nothing will pop their love bubble. This isn’t the case when we are annoyed, sad or mad.
Still, we need to practice generosity throughout the relationship, not just on the good days. I am NOT saying that you should act like things are fine when they are not, or accept any abuse or damaging behaviors. Bad days are different than bad relationships.
4. Fill up your own self-care bank account.
When your self-care bank account is full, you can withstand, recover and repair a lot of inevitable relationship troubles. Don’t try to tackle these problems when you’re feeling exhausted, defensive or flooded with anger.
People react to hurt and distress more constructively when they’re able to appraise each other with cooler hearts and leveler heads.
So take care of yourself by spending quality time with friends, exercising and healthy eating, and maintaining those spiritual practices that keep you centered.
5. Practicing kindness does NOT mean accepting mistreatment.
Remember: Setting down boundaries gently in no way undermines their strength. There must be limits to our availability and generosity. It’s never okay for others to break their word, be inconsiderate, or repeatedly ignore our needs. If things are so hard that any caring gesture feels impossible, you should recruit someone — a therapist, a friend or a loved one — to help you talk about what’s going on and look for resolution together.
The greater our deposits of kind actions and generosity, the more our relationship can remain resilient and sustain the normal wear and tear of life.
Linda Carroll, MS, is a love/life coach and has worked as a couples therapist for over 30 years. She is also the author of Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love. Linda lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her veterinarian husband and their Jack Russell terrier. She has five children and ten grandchildren. Learn more at LindaACarroll.com, LoveCycles.org.
A version of this article was originally published on Mind Body Green.