In my many years of counseling, I have never encountered a "perfect" couple. All relationships have their challenges and rough spots -- mine is no exception! I've learned along the way that the trick to long-term relationship success is not to be perfect or conflict-free. The trick is to maintain a strong supportive foundation so that you and your partner can weather the dry periods.
When a couple walks into my office and I can tell they are getting on each others' last nerve, I talk to them about rainwater collection. (Strange, I know. But hang with me for a sec.) If you've met anyone who lives off of rainwater -- which is getting more common in this eco-friendly 21st century -- you'll know that they love a heavy spring shower or a gigantic thunderstorm. Their water tanks get filled to the max and they can breathe a big sigh of relief, knowing that they will have plenty of water to last them through the dry summer months.
A relationship is similar. Just like tiny raindrops, there are small things you can do every day to fill up the reserves. The more drops or positive things you pour into the relationship, the more cushion you have for the dry spells. The result is a strong foundation of trust, love and patience.
What happens when the heat is on and you and your partner exchange harsh words or do something hurtful to each other? A tiny bit of your reserves evaporate. Just as little, positive things fill up your love tank, tiny, negative things can drain it. If your relationship experiences enough negativity, or goes through a major trauma such as an affair or a bout with addiction, you might find your relationship completely dehydrated and in a full-fledged drought that feels hard to come back from.
How do you rebuild the trust and patience when you are running on empty? You return to the little things... little gestures, little favors, little compliments. These actions are contagious and the more that you make an effort to hydrate your relationship, the more your partner will feel appreciated and follow suit. Bit by bit, you will refill the tank and find yourself enjoying that loving feeling again.
The truth is, you WILL have fights with your partner, you WILL get annoyed with them at times and one or both of you WILL let each other down. But if you go into those challenges with a full reservoir versus a depleted tank, you will have an easier time rebounding and navigating through the obstacles.
Parenthood can both enhance a relationship AND put an enormous strain on it. When I meet with expectant parents, I encourage them to spend the nine months before baby filling up their virtual rain tank. Give your partner compliments, surprise them with a card or a gift, be affectionate and speak to each other with kindness and patience so that you have a full reservoir when you are facing the sleepless nights and gassy infant ahead. Whether you are hoping for a baby, raising a baby or well beyond babies, keeping your relationship hydrated and your water barrels full will help you to manage whatever challenges come your way.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and married mother of two rambunctious boys in Austin, TX. She and her blog partner, Cheryl Sipkowski, MS, LPC, provide sanity-saving tips and workshops for expectant and new parents at Baby Proofed Parents. Follow BPP on Facebook or Twitter for real-time tips and humor to help you "bring sane to baby brain."