My relationship has needed a lot of help for a long time, and I’m tired. If I had the energy to do just one thing with my partner to pull us out of our nosedive, what should I do?
First, you have more energy than you think, and all you have to do is use it. Believe me, it’s there. You will find this out if you go through all the painful work of splitting up and reestablishing yourself.
But we’ll go with the idea that you can do just one thing. Now, different professionals will give you different recommendations. Some would say to increase the number of positive interactions with your mate, or to practice new communication methods. Others would advise you to show more warmth and regard, increase your attentive listening, or when you want to talk or complain, to make approaches that are gentle. All these ideas are worthy enough that I had to find a way to sneak them in here.
My own single recommendation would be this: choose the one most negative thing you can recognize that you are doing – something that is eroding the relationship, or that your mate would dearly love for you to stop. Then, stop doing it. If you are complaining at length, back off. If you are shutting off the complaints, then open up and make an accommodating response. It won’t kill you. If you are clutching, give some space and if you are generally backing away, come towards. If you have no interest in sex, first get a medical checkup and then do some reading or talking about how to stir your own libido. If you think you are starved for more sexuality, calm down and settle for the talk, the touch and the romance for a while, without sex on the agenda. If you are the one who is loose and permissive with the kids, show more backbone. If you are the one who is strict and firm, try easing up.
There are more examples but my point is this: it is likely that you are responding to the stress in your relationship by doing something that is making that stress worse. Of all the cruel ironies, the solution you are using is part of the problem. There may be many reasons for this. One of the reasons may be that your partner is doing the very same thing as you, but in the opposite direction. You may feel you have to go further in your own direction to provide a counterbalance, so to speak. This is because your partner is so darn stubborn and predictable, you say? Well, neither of us can change what your partner is doing. In fact, you see, your efforts to change him or her may only be increasing the polarization.
So grit your teeth if you must. Better yet, breathe easy. Stop what you are doing with your partner, and try moving in the opposite direction. Then, watch what happens.
Let me repeat my caveat that all rules have exceptions. The suggestions here are general in the extreme and are not meant to apply to everyone.