Can you fix a broken relationship? How can you make it work again?
We asked experts to provide some tips on how to rekindle a relationship.
Clinical Psychologist | Founder, Psychotherapy Without Borders, LLC
Feeling frustrated, alone and disconnected in relationships can feel defeating and hopeless. It can be exhausting to work on a relationship, but there are things you can do on your own and with your partner to work through this hard time.
Long-term relationships are going to have there ups and downs, and the downs may persist for a while. Couples who are willing to stick through the tough times have been shown to be more satisfied and trust their relationships more over time.
What to do on your own:
Stop blaming your partner
If you’re choosing to stay in this relationship, you need to take ownership of that choice and support your choice by doing your part, or whatever you can to maintain and strengthen the relationship.
Be mindful of the assumptions you’ve built up about your partner and try quieting those down.
If you want to move forward in your relationship, you’ve got to control how much these assumptions take over your thoughts when you’re triggered.
I know this isn’t easy- it’s actually a skill that takes practice- over and over again. But if you want to make things better and ultimately have more intimate and frequent sex- then these assumptions are going to slow you down
Built-up frustration festers into resentment- which ultimately leads to disconnect.
You’re choosing to be in this relationship to be with your partner, so it’s important to take ownership of that choice and take control of your thoughts and reactions to triggers in the relationship around sex.
Don’t take actions or statements from your partner that might feel hurtful personally
If you’re fighting a lot in your relationship and feeling blamed or attacked often, it’s natural and common to feel rejected and minimized. Following these feeling, it’s common to go on the defense. This can come out by being aggressive, passive-aggressive, distant or cold.
Unfortunately, none of these behaviors help the relationship. So check yourself. Look at what thoughts are coming up for you when you’re feeling rejected or attacked. Take control of these thoughts and find alternative ways to react that focus on connection rather than distance.
Look inward not outward
What are you wanting and what choices are you making that keeps you where you’re at? What have you been hiding or keeping secret from your partner about your desires, fears, and boundaries? Why have you been keeping these secrets? Are you leaning into the trust in your relationship or are you assuming all hell will break loose if you share your desires, fears, and boundaries?
Healthy trusting relationships support you and your partner’s health.
Couples who are in healthy trusting relationships have been shown to have lower cortisol levels, the hormone that increases and causes a cascade of negative physical reactions. So the more you’re able to lean in on and trust your relationship, the better overall your health will be.
Take care of yourself – physically, emotionally and sexually
Focus on supporting your body, mind, and heart by focusing on self-care and self-pleasure to control what YOU can control during this tumultuous period, so that when the time comes you can share with your partner you’re refueled and open.
What to do with your partner:
Talk to your partner
Whatever you think may happen – be honest, it’s already crap, talking about it will only give voice to the reality. You likely aren’t the only one noticing it’s crap so by bringing up the conversation, you’re telling your partner, it’s ok for us to talk about this — it’s important enough to talk about.
Realize the importance of intimacy
Often times sexual intimacy reduces or disappears when relationships are going through a rough period. Prioritize your intimacy in your relationship, but keep in mind that the target should be about connecting intimately, not just having intercourse.
- Start focusing on the other aspects of your relationship where you do connect and lean on those for a while.
- Remind yourself of the qualities your partner has that you find most attractive and the reasons you fell for your partner in the first place.
- Compliment your partner and express gratitude for these traits. This will bring more tenderness in the relationship which can open the space for intimate connection.
- Do little things to show you care. Cups of coffee, a hand massage, cook dinner- simple everyday things that maybe you stopped doing, can reignite the sparks in the relationship
- Provide concrete support to your partner. If they’re stressed about something at work, what can you do to help your partner out- role play out tough conversations, help them job search or do research for a project.
Schedule time and space to connect
Make sure it’s a time that works for you both. Try a new fun, preferably active, activity to do together. Try something new to create new opportunities to relate to one another and connect. This will help break down the routine and habits in the relationship that are contributing to disconnect.
Try taking a massage or tantra class together. These activities can provide a safe space where sexual exploration is the goal and where you both can focus on cultivating your sexual connection explicitly.
Build up the moments of pleasure and enjoyment, to counterbalance the negative memories you and likely both of you have
Dr. Annie Hsueh
Clinical Psychologist, Hope and Sage Psychological Services
Imagine a car that’s been slowly wearing down. Signal after signal pops up, alerting you that it’s time for a tune-up, but you ignore it, and push on, driving on, and in doing so, accruing more and more damage until one day, the wheels fall off and you find yourself stuck and in dire need of help.
By the time a relationship reaches a point where it can be labeled as “broken,” it’s pretty much like that run-down car. It’s important to understand that a lot has gone on and gone into the relationship to damage it to the point of needing repair.
Since many couples wait months, even years before they finally seek to find help for their relationship, they need to be ready for months, even years of rebuilding.
And that’s perhaps the biggest first step in the journey to healing a broken relationship. Both parties need to accept that reconciling things will take time, effort, and work.
Assess what needs to be fixed
Once you’re ready to work at things together, the first thing to do is to assess the “what.” What needs fixing in the first place? It may be difficult to nail things down, as the couple will be tempted to say things like, “we need to fix this relationship,” or “fix them!”
One way to diagnose things effectively is to determine negative cycles. For example, if one partner is often withdrawing while the other partner is trying to connect, and this has caused friction or fighting, you’ve successfully identified a part of a negative cycle.
From there, you’ll need to figure out how each partner contributes to that cycle. Finally, you’ll want to see if the problems in the relationship are fixable or worth fixing to you.
Have some hard but productive conversations
Easier said than done for a couple that’s teetering on the edge, right? Here’s a helpful, systematic approach to take that will go a long way in helping you relearn how to communicate with one another.
Each partner takes turns addressing concerns they have about the relationship.
If you’re the speaking party, you’ll have to work on bringing things up gently and lovingly. The point here is to not point fingers or cast blame. The secret to doing this is to focus on your own perspective and feelings. “I” statements are key here.
If you’re the listening party, you’ll need to work on being attentive without jumping in or cutting them off (you’ll get your turn soon). Your job, after they share, is to validate what they’re saying.
It’s a vulnerable position they’re in, and the more you can validate, the more they feel heard, and the better off the conversation will be. You’ll want the same courtesy when you’re speaking after all.
It’s important to know that this conversation doesn’t mean you have to agree 100%. But disagreement doesn’t mean you can’t validate each other’s feelings.
Take practical steps to fix things
Finally, once you’ve assessed your relationship and identified some major concerns you each have, you’re ready to take the practical steps to fix things (you’ve already done much!).
If you’re considering seeking additional support or guidance, spiritual mentors, other couples you admire or look up to, or a licensed therapist are all great sources to turn to.
Since you’ve hopefully had some good discussions on things already, you’re well equipped and have a starting point for the outside party to join in on.
Public Speaker | Author, Stronger Than Broken: One couple’s decision to move through an affair
So many facets of a relationship must be taken into account before I can truly weigh in on a broken relationship. Was there infidelity? Is it just boredom? Was there a change in the financial status or health status that changed the relationship?
Both parties must have some desire to change and repair
Be warned, however, that it will not be a 50-50 experience. One partner may feel that he or she is putting in most or all of the work. That is common and does not mean that the relationship cannot be repaired.
Forgiveness is the next piece
In the case of infidelity, the scorned party must forgive the spouse as well as the adulterer in order to move forward. I do not mean lip service. I mean from the heart.
When my husband cheated on me, I also had to forgive myself for the way I treated my husband before his affair. I was absent. I was a workaholic and gave him physical attention when he needed it but no emotional connection. My bad. Lesson learned.
Related: How to Get over Infidelity Pain
In the case of a health change, you may need to learn to forgive yourself for the resentment you feel from going from husband or wife to full-time caregiver.
Stepping out of the comfort zone is another important piece
All relationships grow stale at some point and couples must continually evolve and grow. I have seen couples who prided themselves on autonomy. This can be a slippery slope when each of them is out doing their own thing all of the time.
I had to learn to kayak which I now love. He had to learn to like romantic comedies, which he now picks out each Friday when we have our Netflix time. We used to take turns shopping but now we shop together.
Learning to spend time together again can be awkward if you have been distant for so long. I used to fall into the trap of thinking that I was spending “quality” time with my husband instead of “quantity” time. I now understand that quantity time is quality time!
As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
So, go out and work on that marriage. Work hard, spend time with your mate, forgive and be open to new experiences.
Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist | Couples Counselor | Owner, Baltimore Therapy Group
Use couples therapy to help fix a broken relationship
Believe it or not, you and your partner are likely in the situation you’re in because you’ve tried to fix the relationship yourselves and it might have gotten you into deeper conflict.
Think about the partner who says “If we just sit down and talk, we’ll work this out” but 20 minutes later doors are being slammed. Or another partner who believes that if we just keep in our separate corners, we can keep some peace. However, that leads to a sense of loneliness and furthers the disconnection.
On average, couples wait six years before seeking professional help and that’s just too long when the first 7 years of a marriage are the riskiest time for a divorce. Furthermore, only 5% of divorcing couples seek professional help.
Couples therapy can really turn around what feels like an insurmountable situation especially when using one of the scientifically-backed approaches like Emotion-Focused Therapy or Gottman’s approach. Both approaches show a success rate of about 70-75% and very low relapse rates.
What can be difficult is finding the right couples therapist and the fit is key. When calling around ask therapists about their approach (and listen for whether they use an empirically-supported approach), ask therapists about their experience working with couples in your situation, and reflect on whether you feel like you could work well with that therapist.
Clinical Psychologist | Author, Joy from Fear
A relationship can be mended if both partners are willing to invest the time and energy in creating healthy patterns, being accountable for any damage created, and letting go of old hurts. Here are some thoughtful tips on fixing a broken relationship:
- Ask your partner to have a heart-to-heart conversation with you about the status of the relationship. Do this when the relationship is NOT in heavy downturn (e.g., during a fight).
- Ask your partner to write out a few top things that are impediments for the relationship — and you do the same.
- When you have your conversation, be sure to have an agreement that the talk will be constructive and that “time outs” will be taken if needed.
- Make an agreement that neither person will use blaming tactics and that both will use “I” messages (e.g., “I feel sad” or “I feel hurt when…”).
- Both partners need to make use of use reflective listening statements after a partner has shared an issue. For example, the listener would say, “If I hear you right, you’re telling me that you feel disrespected when I don’t do the dishes. Did I get that right?”
- Strive to not be defensive, but collaborative in healing hurts and moving forward.
- Once an issue is healed and new behaviors or patterns are agreed upon, let go of any resentments and move forward.
Engage in a couples therapy
Individual and couples therapy is essential in order to add as impartial a professional perspective as possible on the strengths and weaknesses of both the dynamic of the relationship and the internal dynamics within each person.
A competent couples therapist is able to support both people in the relationship with both feelings the therapist is equally supportive of the individual needs of each of them. A competent therapist does not assume that continuing the relationship is necessarily beneficial for both or either person.
Sometimes, ending the relationship is better for one or both parts of a couple. It is the therapist’s job help both people arrive at their own decision concerning their best course of action for their individual lives.
Penelope Lynne Gordon
Empowerment Coach | Writer | Founder, Evouq
See things from your partner’s perspective
Try to remember that the way we see things is based on our own personal perceptions. And our perceptions are based on our interpretations of what we observe.
Each person being completely unique will have different perceptions of a situation. So try to literally see things from your partner’s perspective, by trying to look at the situation through their eyes.
Think about exactly how they are different than you, and how they’ve told you they feel. Have empathy for their perspective. Just that simple shift of focus can have a powerful impact on how you come together as a team.
Stop criticizing and learn to appreciate your partner more
You can’t criticize someone into changing into the version you want them to be. Period. It’s a negative cycle of doom that will only make things even worse between you and cause a lot more pain. Switch your criticism for appreciation and watch as things transform.
No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or by emotional appeal. – Marilyn Ferguson
Feel to heal
Relationships can be a roller coaster of emotions and depending on what kind of person you are you may be over or under-processing your feelings.
Our emotions provide us with valuable information about ourselves and what we are going through, so it’s very important when learning to compromise, that we understand our emotions and express them in a healthy way.
Related: How to Express Your Emotions
A guide I use with my clients is to explore the following three questions:
What do you feel?
Identify emotions that you’re feeling. Think about thoughts you’re having & connect an emotion to it. Sometimes imagining you’re talking to a small child will help you to connect with your own vulnerability. Make a list of emotions and then choose your Top 5.
What do you want?
Write a response to this question for each of those top five emotions that you selected in the previous step.
What do you need?
Write a response to this question for each of those top five emotions that you selected in the previous step.
Your responses should give you clarity around your emotions, so you can communicate effectively with your partner. This tool helps you to cut the fluff, and get to the root of the emotional need, which is almost always about compassion and love.
Remember that regardless of whatever emotions you are feeling, you always have a choice as to what kind of action you’re going to take if anything!
Regular emotional check-in’s
Every two weeks, my husband and I have a standing calendar-booking that reminds us to have a check-in. We do this to remind us to connect and have a chat to see how things are going. If there are specific things that have come up in the past that we’re working on, we touch base about how the other is feeling about it.
It’s a beautiful opportunity to really connect with your partner and show your commitment to one another. No relationship is perfect, but it’s how we show up for the one we love that can make all the difference!
Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Joe Martino Counseling Network | Author, “The Emotionally Secure Couple“
Healing from a broken relationship can be difficult as often people want to skip through the necessary opening steps of living in the tension that comes from experiencing the pain, they withdraw from the necessary steps of dealing with the hurt.
Both parties want the relationship to work and both are willing to make changes
This is hard, especially because one party typically does something that is catastrophic to the overall health of the relationship.
Unprocessed hurt leads to anger, which leads to rage, which leads to bitterness, which leads to contempt, which leads to apathy. (This assumes each stage is not processed).
The problem that couples run into when attempting to restore a relationship is that often at least one of them is past the rage stage. When they try to go back to process the original hurt(s), they run into the cold, brutal wall of rage.
This pain can cause them to not want to move forward because they mistakenly believe that not moving forward will help them avoid pain. In truth, it often causes them different but equally intense pain.
To complicate this issue, they can attempt to fix the brokenness by focusing on the problems, which is like a billow to the fire of the rage.
Learn and discuss what a good relationship looks like for both of you
To truly repair a broken relationship, each party must spend a good amount of time discussing what a healthy relationship looks like for them and what behaviors, attitudes, etc. that they should be practicing daily to develop that health.
Often people focus on what they shouldn’t be doing. When they can make the change to focusing on what they should be cultivating, they will find that the things they shouldn’t be doing tend to stop happening.
Life Mentor | Speaker | Relationship Expert | Author, The Problem Was Me
Both parties should take an honest inventory and look at what they could do to make the relationship work
What part did they play in damaging the relationship and what are they willing to do in actions, not words, so they avoid making the same mistakes. This means both partners become curious with the other, asking questions concerning the things that made them happy, sad or angry. These feelings should be acknowledged and validated.
If the discussion moves into who is right or wrong then the relationship will godown the wrong path again.
Resolving conflict, instead of shutting down or raging in anger when discomfort arises, will be a key to whether or not the relationship can heal.
Remember no one is promised a perfect life. Making each other a priority in each other’s life is another key. They don’t have to always come first but both parties need to make sure they set quality time with each other to review and process their feelings in the relationship. If they don’t they will once again become victims to each other unable to hear the other’s concerns.
Psychology Professor |
Author, Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Releasing Toxicity & Energizing Joy
Focus on dynamics rather than people
Very often when looking to “fix” a relationship, we overfocus on the person. We might do this by thinking about what “they” have to do to make things better, where they are lacking or what they have to improve on.
Instead, I suggest focusing on the dynamics between the two of you. Most often in relationships that feel broken (which is what is really happening), there is quite a bit of reactivity. This means the exchanges and interactions are quite triggering. Triggers happen because there is an unconscious memory looking to be healed.
Relationships are mirrors for emotions which are unprocessed in us. You might think the relationship is causing you angst or pain but the reality is those emotions where probably already there.
Rather than attempt to “fix” the relationship instead focus on ways to nurture the dynamics.
For example, notice when you start to get triggered. This means to observe your own bodily tension. Tend to yourself first. Very often we reach to relationships to “fix” that inner feeling that is coming up to be healed.
In other words, dynamics change when we tend to ourselves first and the process begins with noticing our tension and giving ourselves the space to tend to it.
The best way to do this is to develop a daily ritual (for you). Eventually, this ritual can extend to you and your partner. For example, my husband and I healed our marriage after finding out about his affair.
Certified Mental Health Consultant, Enlightened Reality | Relationship Expert, Maple Holistics
You must first identify what is broken
This does not mean discussing what is being fought about but finding out the root causes of the resentment and distance. Usually, a broken relationship is caused by one of the participants not being independent enough.
Before being able to be in a healthy relationship an individual needs to be independent, emotionally stable, and happy on their own before entering into a relationship.
Otherwise, their happiness and ability to function go onto their partner, which is far too much pressure for anyone to bear. The pressure of someone else’s happiness landing on you is too much stress for anyone to really handle.
If both parties are solid on their own then the broken relationship was likely caused by a lack of communication. This lack of communication likely came from a place of love, not wanting to hurt your partner’s feelings. This is where learning how to communicate in a healthy and constructive way is vital for a positive and long-lasting relationship.
Meredith Futernick, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Founder, LGBTQ Couples Therapy
There are a lot of reasons why people may feel like their relationship is broken. Research conducted by the Gottman Institute has shown that the majority of the problems that couples face are perpetual, and the key is learning how to live with and communicate about those problems.
Acknowledge your emotional baggage
Many times the way that we respond to our partner actually has nothing to do with our partner, and everything to do with our life experiences; the way we grew up and baggage from past relationships.
The first step to fix a broken relationship is to acknowledge your baggage. Fixing your relationship will most likely mean taking a hard look at yourself and doing the work that is necessary to heal some of your old patterns.
Learn how to communicate more effectively and respond to your partner in ways that are productive and helpful
This means talking about your feelings and expressing your needs instead of attacking and blaming. It means taking responsibility for ways in which you fell short. It means expressing genuine interest in your partner’s life, in their dreams, and in the things that they find meaningful.