Every relationship has ups and downs, good times and bad times. It’s how you deal with problems as they crop up and move on that really matters. A resilient relationship thrives on being able to re-establish the connection between couples following challenges: be they work stresses, family pressures, sex or relationship problems or medical issues.
We spoke to Sarah-Jane Swanley, a sexual health counsellor who helps couples reconnect following rough patches in their relationships, asking for her tips on how you can rebuild the connection in your own relationship.
Hear each other
“When your partner speaks to you, make the effort to stay mindfully present and really hear what they say,” says Sarah-Jane. “So many people zone out when their partner is speaking, often rehearsing their own response in their head, until they finish talking. This isn’t listening, it’s waiting.”
Take down your defences, listen carefully without interruption when your partner speaks and be open to understanding where they’re coming from.
A gentle, non-judgmental approach is more likely to get your partner to open up about what’s bothering them. When you can both hear each other equally in this way, you can then seek a solution together.
Where you hear each other is important too: family worries are better not aired around stroppy teenagers, for example, and sexual issues, such as worries about erectile problems, are best discussed outside the bedroom. Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted.
“When you hear a problem, it’s tempting to try to solve it or give advice without thinking through how the other person feels,” says Sarah-Jane. “Unfortunately, this can come across as judgmental or a criticism and can make matters worse.”
Instead, express compassion for your partner and stay emotionally engaged with them – put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would feel. Use the ‘five a day’ technique: for every single negative interaction you have with your partner (e.g. argument, anger, criticism), give back five positive ones such as a hug, kiss, thank-you text, listening to how their day was or making them a cup of tea.
There’s little you can do personally to resolve a partner’s work issues, and family problems can seem intractable, so reaching out initially with empathy, understanding and support go a long way to rebuilding the connection in your relationship.
In the case of sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction, you may be having all sorts of worries about your masculinity or health, and your partner might be worrying that it’s something to do with them. 4.3 million men in the UK experience symptoms of erectile dysfunction (ED)*, which means that there are many partners who are affected too, so you’re far from alone and help is available.
*Men reporting occasional and frequent difficulty getting or maintaining an erection [ref. Kantar TNS Omnibus Survey Dec 2010 – in a survey of 1,033 men]
Take practical action
Once you’ve really listened to and empathised with each other, you can make a plan to address the things that are worrying you in your relationship.
“Perhaps you need to look for new jobs, move home, spend more (or less) time with family or plan a holiday; perhaps it’s something as simple as helping round the house more or spending less money,” advises Sarah-Jane.
Health, however, is your priority. If erection problems keep happening, you need to view this as a medical problem. Erectile dysfunction can be caused by underlying physical conditions that include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and sleep disorders. It’s important that a medical professional investigates the causes of ED so that any underlying conditions can be identified.
You can visit your pharmacist – who is a highly-trained medical professional - for a private consultation without an appointment. After talking to you, and if the pharmacist believes it’s suitable, they can supply over-the-counter VIAGRA Connect® to treat your ED symptoms. VIAGRA Connect® works by relaxing blood vessels in the penis, to let more blood flow into it giving you an erection when you’re sexually aroused. After sex, your erection should subside as it would do normally.
Rediscover intimacy gradually
“To reconnect with your partner, it’s helpful to remember what attracted you to each other in the first place. Was it your sense of humour? Sense of adventure? Enjoyment of the good things in life?” suggests Sarah-Jane.
Making time for regular ‘date nights’, be it cinema trips or dinner out can help couples reconnect by reminding you why you got together in the first place.
Make sure you have some relaxing one-to-one downtime on days off and before bed to cuddle up and chat to each other.
If you haven’t had sex for a while, focus on kissing, cuddling and foreplay to begin with without the pressure of expecting full intercourse.
“When couples can experiment with different kinds of intimacy, the connection in the relationship will rebuild over time,” concludes Sarah-Jane.