The Easiest Way To Improve Your Relationship
I am not a fan of self-help books (even ones that tell you how to improve your relationship).
There, I said it.
Okay, I admit, they turn into excellent coasters after you read the first chapter or two and then life gets busy and they sit around, collecting dust (surely I’m not the only one with this problem…)
When it comes to self-help books about how improve our relationship, some talk about our attachment styles, our love languages, or our planets.
Some guide us into our past to help us understand the “Why” behind “Why we are the way we are” (a never-ending rabbit-hole if I ever saw one).
But, more than anything, most relationship self-help books do one job really, really well.
They point out how we are different from our partner.
Talking about differences
They all seem to think that pointing out your differences is the best way to improve your relationship.
I can’t help but wonder if these authors have spent much time on a couple’s therapist’s couch.
Have any of them seen what happens when you ask a couple how they are different?
I’ve helped hundreds of couples, and the one thing that consistently occurs when a couple begins talking about their differences is, they fight!
They look and turn away from each other, sometimes even moving further away from each other.
Differences create distance.
If it’s distance you want, then talk about your differences with your partner.
I challenge you (well, really, I don’t – but you could try a controlled experiment if you’re really curious) to sit down with your partner tonight and talk about what makes you different from one another.
I have a strong hunch that your conversation will not be as productive as you’d hoped – and will likely even end in some kind of disagreement or fight.
Let me clearly say here that I don’t mean to trash these intelligent and experienced authors (and I’m sincere when I say that).
I’d simply like to say that I disagree with their methods.
The method that I prefer, that I have seen work time and time again, is different.
You already know how you’re different.
In my experience, couples know their differences.
They talk about them all day.
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
“Why do you spend so much time on your phone?
“Why do you let the kids watch so much TV?”
“Did you really need to spend so much money at the grocery store?”
“Can’t you feed the kids breakfast when they first get up?”
“Do you really need another beer?”
I bet that you and your partner throw around your differences at home all the time.
Will doing more of that in therapy sessions really help?
Is talking about your differences really the key that is going to help you improve your relationship?
I have my doubts.
Couples make change happen – not therapists.
Believe it or not, therapists are not responsible for change or positive outcomes in therapy.
Research shows that the clients are responsible for the lion’s share of any change that happens.
“When it comes to making change happen and building a better relationship, couples do all the heavy lifting. Thankfully, when partners make regular micro-efforts towards one another, the task becomes lighter and lighter.”
You and your partner will get your relationship unstuck. Not the therapist.
And if what you do at home – talking about your differences – isn’t working, then how can you expect it to work in therapy?
I’m not saying that talking about differences can’t or won’t work.
There are many therapists (and lots who are prominent and successful) that have built their practices on helping clients iron out their differences.
You might refer to their approach as a problem-focused approach.
There is nothing wrong with problem-focused approaches to therapy or building a better relationship if you find them helpful and they bring you closer to your partner.
However, it’s not the approach I use, and it’s not the approach I recommend.
Look for solutions instead of problems.
Rather, I prefer to help clients find solutions. I see it as most helpful to cultivate sameness between partners.
This means focusing on the ways you are similar, rather than different.
By using a solution-focused approach to help you improve your relationship, you get to do something different.
You get to put down your problems and pick up your solutions.
I promise you it can be fun. It can be easy.
It can also result in changes right away.
And let’s be honest, when it feels like your relationship is tanking, change that happens fast is a welcome change.
The Easy Way to Improve Your Relationship – Today
I promised that I would show you the easiest way to improve your relationship and how you can start today, so here goes.
The simplest and fastest way to get your relationship back on track is to talk with your partner about how you are the same.
Really, you ask? Is that all?
Yes, that’s all! That’s it!
It’s that easy!
Talking about your similarities with your partner is the most potent tactic we have for making things better – and quickly.
Problem-talk: No end in sight?
Before I fully committed to using a solution-focused approach, I would sit with clients and help them hash out their differences.
We would talk for a full hour about their differences and problems, only to return the following week and talk again for a full hour about differences and problems – without ever returning to the previous week’s differences and problems.
And this could continue week after week with no end in sight. (This was the process my wife and I went through when we attended therapy early on in our marriage, so I also have first-hand experience with it.)
Now, imagine what your bank balance is going to look like.
It can cost you a lot of money in couple’s therapy to talk about a new set of problems and differences each week – often leaving you with little hope for resolution and reconciliation.
How to Talk About Similarities
So, if you want to keep more money in your pocket and make progress more quickly, what is the process for talking about similarities?
I recommend starting off with one question: “What is it about me that makes you want to stay in this relationship?”
If you’re in a difficult place with each other, this might take a great deal of thought and shifting your mindset.
But I know you can find at least one thing, and that may lead to more.
When you answer each other, try to do so in the greatest amount of detail. And be honest.
Let your kind words flow.
I know you’ll say and hear things that you haven’t said or heard in a long time.
Doing something different is good.
Now, was that different? Was that doing something different than what you’ve been doing?
When was the last time you really let your partner know why they are special?
Why you love them?
I bet it’s been a while.
I know, because my wife and I have two small kids (5 and 1) and we don’t even get to ask what we each did in a day without being interrupted.
You’re probably wondering how you can ask a question like that when you’re in the throws of a marital crisis and are ready to walk out the door.
Well, the fact that you’ve stayed and haven’t left means there is at least one reason why you stay in the relationship.
Your job is to start talking about those reasons.
In conclusion, creating sameness is essential for couples.
Those reasons why you stay will lead to more reasons.
And the more you talk about the reasons why your partner is important to you and the attributes about them that keep you in the relationship, you’ll accomplish one very important task: you’ll create sameness.
In my line of work (in my opinion), sameness is where it’s at.
Discovering and talking about the similarities you share with your partner is the best way to improve your relationship.
Give it a try. I know it’ll be a lot less painful then arguing on a couple therapist’s couch.
And a whole lot cheaper!
You may even end up moving a lot closer to one another.
You’ll never know unless you try.
Additional Resources For Solution-Focused Therapy
Another great resource for learning more about the benefits (and limitations) of solution-focused therapy is offered by GoodTherapy.org. Check out what GoodTherapy.org says about solution-focused therapy.
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About the Author
Jonathan Van Viegen is a full-time online therapist and relationship coach helping adults and couples improve one of the most important relationships in their life – the one with their partner. Jonathan’s approach has helped 100’s of clients struggling to maintain a lasting, loving relationship while navigating the challenges of parenting. Jonathan’s goal with this blog is to offer you a behind the scenes look at his life to show that it is possible to create the kind of relationship you desire – using simple skills that anyone can learn.