As we approach a time of year when some 80 percent of people have fallen off the New Year’s resolutions bandwagon (the second week of February), according to U.S. News, it’s crucial to prepare for a time of conflict and challenge in order to reach your goals.
Resilience, a trait that allows us to muster up courage and strength to push through difficult times, is vital in many situations in life; money, relationships, sports, and family, to name a few.
And while some life phases may come and go, a life partner is chosen with the intentions of being beside you forever—through thick and thin.
So how do we build this important characteristic not only in ourselves individually, but in our relationships to grow as a unit?
I spoke with Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist in midtown Manhattan, to hear her thoughts and expertise on the who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s and why’s when it comes to relationships and resilience.
You can visit her website at therapistnyc.com and read her interview below.
What is resilience?
Resilient couples have the capacity to repair after a negative interaction.
Instead of insisting they’re right, partners shift their focus to calming themselves down and working to understand each other.
They don’t get mired in blaming or bickering.
Instead, they’re taking care of the relationship and moving it forward.
Where does resiliency come from?
Resilience is like a muscle.
Couples can learn relationship resilience and strengthen their capacity.
Even if you didn’t see conflict handled appropriately in your household growing up, you and your partner can develop a toolkit of repair techniques.
For example, how do you calm yourself down when you’re upset?
You might take a walk around the block, or focus on a slow exhale, or listen to quiet music.
When you and your partner hit a painful moment, try using that calming technique instead of getting defensive.
That’s the first step in shifting your relationship resilience.
The more each of you focuses on this, the more skilled you’ll become and the more confident you’ll be in your ability to move past those moments as a couple.
Once you’re calm, you can then talk about the subject that’s bothering you in a productive way.
Why is resilience important?
All couples experience conflict.
Couples who don’t develop the capacity to repair can get mired in lengthy bickering, hours or even days of stony silence, or bitter resentment.
These can do more damage to the relationship than the conflict itself.
Resilient couples feel good about their relationship.
They have confidence that they can weather tough moments and that a conflict can lead them to a deeper understanding of each other. They feel positive enough that they can let go of the small stuff.
How do we build resilience?
It’s like that old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice!
The next time you get angry at your partner, see if you can hit your mental pause button.
Ask yourself whether you are calm enough to engage constructively right now. If not, find a way to soothe yourself instead of attacking or getting defensive.
As a relationship therapist it’s so satisfying for me when a couple I’ve been working with tell me they’re getting more skilled at navigating tough moments that would have developed into major blow-ups in the past.
They’re proud of themselves, and I’m proud of them!
How can we increase our awareness and ability?
Notice your breathing and your heart rate.
When we get angry at a partner, our body goes on high alert.
If your body is in a state of emergency then you’re not ready to engage constructively with your partner.
Practicing a mindfulness technique will lower your anxiety level 24/7 and will give you a tool you can use at those moments when your breathing and heart rate are way up.
In your experience, do women tend to be more resilient than men?
We all have our strengths and weaknesses!
In a relationship context, men are more likely to get defensive when a conflict arises. Women tend to be more comfortable talking about feelings.
That said, sometimes women can be very critical, or express a feeling as a demand.
If a woman can share her feelings gently and make a request in a neutral, matter-of-fact way, she often discovers that her male partner is solution-focused and eager to find a successful way forward through a conflict.
The more the two of them can coordinate this dance, the more resilient they will be as a couple.
It’s always a good idea to have a goal in mind and look towards it in your pursuit to live a successful and satisfied life.
There will inevitably be bumps in the road and what could feel like major setbacks, but with proper skills, practice, and preparation, you’ll devise a plan and path to follow to reach your goals—together.