Want two ways to make your relationship stronger? All intimate relationships have doldrums at times. Romance starts to fade and reality sets in. What was vibrant and alive now starts to seem sluggish, stale, routine, and disappointing. Bills, chores, work, roles, stresses, time (or lack of), the myriad and mundane ennui of life, creeps in and you might begin to wonder “What happened?” You might start questioning yourself along the lines of “Who is this person I’m with?” or “What have I done?” or “Did I make a horrible mistake?” Little things you never noticed or ignored before start to become more and more bothersome. The pressure builds and bothersome becomes annoying, annoying becomes anger, and anger becomes an argument with insults, name-calling, and more. Your “perfect” relationship explodes … and it’s suddenly not so perfect anymore. Sound familiar?

You’ve unknowingly entered … “The Reality Phase.”

You’re probably not the only person in the relationship with these same feelings. During courtship we’re on our best behaviors. In romantic love we have a warm and rosy glow that can see no wrongs. We all have mannerisms, small habits, things we don’t know about ourselves that can grate on others, but we don’t see these things initially. But by golly we sure do now.

You can do some bad things at this point. First, you can yield to those negative thoughts, acknowledge that you didn’t get the ideal Mr. or Mrs Right, and head for the hills. I’ve known more than a few folks who’ve been married 5-6 times. They chose the easy way, but ultimately ended up disappointed and miserable in life, and were still looking for that perfect person. Secondly, we can stifle our negative thoughts and be miserable for years. I’ve known more than a few who went down that path. Neither of these works very well.

There are better ways, and here’s the first. You can start to talk about things with your partner. Chances are your partner is having some of the same thoughts. This isn’t nagging and it’s not trying to change the other. Those ways just lead to more pressure, and more hurt. This conversation is all about how you feel and possibly what’s causing those feelings, but said in a way that doesn’t blame or harm your partner. Yelling at your partner that he or she is a slob and needs to change won’t work. Those words and tone will make your partner defensive and stifle communication. Being yelled at is like a parent talking down to a child. But you’re not your partner’s parent and your partner is not a child. You are both adults. Your partner may not have a problem being a slob, they’ve been one their entire life and no one has complained before. What you can talk about is how their acting like a slob makes you feel. You aren’t deriding the entirety of your partner but owning your feelings about a few behaviors or words.

These are your feelings, your emotions, at work here. They’re actually your problem and not your partner’s, although it’s easy to point a finger. Ask yourself why you’re angry, hurt, etc. It may be realistic. It may also be unrealistic or a product of what you’ve been taught or learned in the past. It is fixable. Running away, searching for a trade-in, becoming a sponge for negative thoughts, or yelling and arguing don’t make for a stable, enduring, and loving relationship. What does help is owning your feelings and talking assertively with your partner about how you feel. This process can actually increase emotional intimacy and strengthen a relationship.

The second way may seem stilted and intrusive but it also works (and works well with the method above). Your relationship started with physical attraction and a mutual desire for companionship, so schedule a date with each other. Put it on the calendar and both of you need to stick to it. Dress up, go out, and have some fun together. It’s a date! Act like it! Leave work and home – at home! Just do it! No discussions about problems, about stress, etc., during the date. The focus is on the two of you so enjoy each other.

The next day you can talk about problems if you like, but include what that date meant for each of you, what you enjoyed, how it made you feel. Instead of doldrums or arguments you may find a deeper trust and commitment in your relationship. Sure beats the first two bad options.