4 Ways to Mend a Wounded Relationship

In a troubled relationship? Relationship science can help.

Posted Oct 26, 2020

James Lee/Unsplash
Source: James Lee/Unsplash

Relationships are dynamic entities. They have their highs and lows, and they don’t always go as planned.

What’s the best way to recover from a relationship rut? While there’s no easy answer, relationship science has found some techniques to be helpful at getting a relationship back on track. Here are four strategies to inject new life into a troubled romance.

1. Choose cooperation over competition.

Humans, by nature, are quick to engage in what behavioral scientists call “social comparison.” We judge our own worth relative to others. If I’m doing better than you, things are good. If I’m not, things are less good. While this mindset may be useful from a motivational or aspirational standpoint, it is not a recipe for relationship success.

Resist the urge to socially compare yourself to your significant other. Don’t feel good that you are doing better at following your diet than your partner. Don’t be resentful when your partner experiences more career success than you. Instead, it’s best to view you and your romantic partner as having an intermeshed future. Success for them is a success for you and vice versa. Adopting this mentality will make you a more supportive and encouraging partner.

If you and your partner still need to exercise those social comparison muscles, find a common goal to work toward. Maybe that means entering a doubles tennis league or playing a cooperative board game instead of a competitive one. Make it less about you against the world and more about you two against the world.

Remember, one of the core evolutionary reasons why long-term romantic partnerships came to exist in the first place was to share resources and minimize the dangers of navigating the world alone. Don’t forget that you and your partner are in this together. Never miss an opportunity to help each other, and don’t let an argument or a rough patch prevent you from seeing the forest for the trees.

2. Minimize reality checks.

It is in our nature to seek truth and weed out false information. Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that one of the reasons why gossip exists is to keep tabs on people who may be taking more from their community than they are contributing. At times, this is a necessary lens through which to view the world and our social relationships. But it can be counterproductive when it comes to our close relationships.

Remember to give your significant other space to feel heard and supported, even when you may not fully agree with his or her viewpoints. The truth is that we all receive so much reality checking throughout our day-to-day lives, it is often not necessary for one’s romantic partner to play that role. Instead, be the supportive and encouraging person that your partner wants you to be, and leave the reality checking to others. People tend to come to their senses on their own.

3. Don’t shy away from radical change.

Sometimes, the best medicine for a wounded relationship is a radical intervention. Go out and try the one thing you said you’d never do with your partner. Take that European vacation. Move to another state or country. Take up that hobby you've been avoiding for years. Don’t be afraid to re-conceptualize the entire premise of your relationship.

When relationships are in trouble, perhaps the worst thing you can do is sit tight and hope things will improve on their own. Take action. You may save yourself a lot of regret and heartache down the road.

4. Remember what works.

Humans have a tendency to exaggerate the degree to which something is a problem, especially when emotions are involved. Our thoughts can spiral. We are quick to imagine worst-case scenarios. When a relationship goes off the rails, it's worth thinking back and remembering the types of things that made it work in the past. It might just be a few simple changes that need to be made to get your relationship back on track—things that you were doing a few years ago but have since fallen off your radar.

It can also be helpful to find inspiration in what is working for others. Research suggests that the five most important components of a healthy relationship are partner commitment ("My partner wants our relationship to last forever"), appreciation ("I feel very lucky to have my partner in my life"), sexual satisfaction ("How satisfied are you with the quality of your sex life?"), perceived partner satisfaction ("Our relationship makes my partner very happy"), and conflict ("How often do you have fights with your partner?").

Facebook image: Mangostar/Shutterstock