I’m a couples therapist. These are 5 things I always do in my relationship

Your relationships, romantic and otherwise, may be tested as you feel more exhausted and stressed than ever.

COVID-19 burned out Sinead Smyth, a couples therapist at the East Bay Relationship Center in Alameda, California, and her husband of 23 years, a health care worker. Two college-aged sons live with the couple. Therapist Smyth is Gottman Institute-certified.
“We didn’t realize it for a bit, actually, because we weren’t fully burnt out, and we had the two boys at home,” Smyth adds. “We’re just coming out of that fog a bit now, and I feel very lucky to have the knowledge that I have through my Gottman therapy training.”

TODAY asked Smyth about the relationship habits she and her husband use to stay married and one she avoids after learning the consequences.

‘Towards’

The biggest tip Smyth and her husband use is “turning toward,” which means that when one person extends a “bid for connection” — like asking how their partner’s day was, the other person “turns toward” by replying and engaging with their day rather than shutting down the conversation.

“With COVID, with fatigue or burnout, we disengaged a bit from each other,” he said. “I would escape into my screen and not notice if he was trying to connect. One of our goals is to reengage, like putting the phones down and turning toward.”

In some of her clients, who aren’t having relationship issues, Smyth sees this pattern of disengagement. This practice deepens partner relationships, she said.

People are generally more disengaged, but the solution is not to disengage more. She said “engage.” We’re trying to be open to that daily. A course correction for us.”

Small kindnesses
This may seem obvious, but Smyth said small acts of kindness can go far. Even making coffee for your partner when they’ll be up early can mean a lot.

“That would be my takeaway is that it’s about doing certain small, low-level things consistently,” Smyth adds.

She said big gestures can help relationships, but small, consistent moments can do more.

“I think that’s the way out of the COVID black hole of relationships that I think a lot of people have found themselves in,” added.

Appreciating and thanks
Smyth said noticing and thanking her husband for kind gestures has kept their relationship healthy.

“It’s basically looking for what your partner is doing right, and then telling them what you see, as opposed to noticing what’s going right and not saying it, or not looking for what they’re doing right and looking for what they’re doing wrong,” Smyth adds.

This tip emphasizes their relationship’s strengths, she said. This practice helps keep a positive perspective, she said, but there are issues.

Smyth also used this procedure with her kids to encourage them to keep doing well.

Do not argue without pausing.
Smyth said her relationship rule is simple: If she wants to say something in an argument, she doesn’t.

“In the heat of an argument, it’s not going to come out well,” she noted. “So I usually check myself, give myself three seconds.”

She would say things as they came to mind, but they often sounded like criticisms and hurt her relationship. She now pauses to consider what to say and often decides not to.

She said a positive statement can help calm arguments in long-term relationships.

“Don’t shoot in conflict. Smyth advised taking a break, even for a few seconds, to decide whether to say it and how.

Many relationship issues never go away, Smyth said, so it’s important to accept that your partner is different and sometimes agree to disagree.

Smyth said these tips have helped her maintain a healthy relationship for 22 years, even through the pandemic and an empty nest, such that it feels like a friendship.

Weekly events
Since her oldest son was 5 months old, Smyth and her husband have gone on weekly dates.

Children and logistics are not discussed. ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?'” As Smyth said. “We’re just really trying to stay with who the person is as a person rather than the logistics and chores and tasks.”

Despite pandemic lockdowns, she and her husband still went for beach walks. She said their weekly dates are a “mainstay” of their relationship.

“I really do think it is small things that make a difference, rather than saving up all the positivity for one big trip or two big trips a year or something like that,” added.

couple sitting on bench near body of water

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