Think about a couple in your life whom you admire. What about their relationship do you appreciate? Do they advocate for each other, support each other, do they still seem to retain a physical harmony?
Couples that thrive practice a few key actions. Whether they’re simply passing through a room that their partner is in or they are sharing a space together, thriving couples acknowledge, appreciate, reassure, and mend. Those four actions can help to strengthen your relationship, too, and they’re easier practiced than you may think. You can practice them regularly so that when times of conflict arise, you’re AARMed with knowledge and skills.
Feeling invisible or unseen is a feeling that we may sometimes seek — perhaps when something embarrassing happens, for example — but often, we want to be seen. Acknowledgement is the practice of letting someone know that you are aware of them and that you are sharing a space together.
Whether you’re just coming home from work or you’re stepping into the kitchen to get something, say hello to your partner and make eye contact. If you’re able to have a moment of physical touch (a kiss, hug, or touch of the hand) then do. A quick backrub will do, too. This simple action takes only a few seconds but goes a long way to help people feel like they are being seen.
The longer we are in a relationship, the more likely we are to slowly stop appreciating the things our partner does. “Thank you” is a simple phrase that lets our partners know that their actions aren’t going unrecognized.
If your partner makes dinner, thank them sincerely — ”Thank you for making this meal. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this after your long day.”
Similarly, appreciate them for things that are characteristics rather than actions. Do you feel joyful when you hear your partner’s laugh? Let them know with a “I love your laugh. It makes me feel so warm inside when I hear it.”
When conflict arises, what do we subtly or overtly communicate about how we think the conflict is going to move forward? During times of conflict, people often get so worked up that they leave their partner feeling like this is the end of their relationship — even when the conflict itself may be something minor.
People often struggle knowing how to proceed after a conflict. How do we move toward a place of resolution, rather than sitting in our negative feelings?
Reassurance is a critical phase of the AARM method. By letting our partner know that we are here for them and that we love them — regardless of the conflict or disconnect we’re experiencing — we can create a safer and more stable environment for conflict to be resolved. This reassurance helps to keep us away from festering feelings and helps us begin the mending process.
The last component is to mend. Couples who thrive don’t let problems fester or stagnate. Rather, they proactively seek out and implement solutions to them in a timely way.
That doesn’t mean that they’re immediately jumping to problem-solving, because individuals may need different amounts of time to process their feelings and come to conclusions. It does mean that thriving couples do not let conflict go unresolved in the long-term.
Reassure your partner that you will discuss the issue when you are both feeling calm and aren’t angry, hungry, or tired. The person who withdrew or took space away from the conflict should be the one to approach the other person to propose a time to talk. This creates an environment of reliability, building trust at an incredible level.
Ask yourself (and your partner) where the conflict stemmed from. What actions can be done to either change the action or to change its effect? As you look toward the future, how could this conflict be prevented? Is there a communication struggle happening? How does your partner deal with negative emotions and how do you? How can you help each other in those moments? What negative emotions are you even feeling? What would it look like for this issue to be resolved?
Remember that emotions will pass unless we ruminate over them for too long. So, if you know how to break the pattern and move from a state of agitated emotion to a more relaxed state (or help the other do so), you are less likely to move down the spiral to shape and retain negative feelings.
By answering these questions, you can begin to move toward a place of conflict resolution, rather than continuing to struggle with the same issues on a rotating basis.
How do you practice these techniques with your partner?