My last boyfriend and I should have called it quits years earlier—but we just didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like. The two of us had a whole lot of love for each other, and we believed that was enough. We thought that the jealousy, codependency, infidelity, and endless conflict were merely obstacles to overcome… never cause to go our separate ways. Sure enough, we eventually saw these issues for what they were: signs that our relationship was failing. And after multiple attempts to address and resolve them, we decided to split—we just didn’t have what it took to revive our once-happy relationship.

That being said, a relationship that’s taken a turn for the worse doesn’t have to come to an end. As long as both partners are willing to put in some work and make the necessary changes, their relationship can prevail. Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, is here to further explain what signifies a sinking relationship and what it takes to salvage it.

Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship: 4 Signs

Before you can set a plan in motion for reviving your relationship, you must first recognize a harsh reality: your relationship hasn’t been all that great lately. Dr. Walfish identifies four signs that your relationship is on the decline:

1) Isolation. “You notice you’re spending more and more time in separate corners rather than together. This can be a signal that you may be at an impasse with each other. Ask your partner to join you in taking a beat and self-examining. Try to identify how you each feel in the moment and own up to it out loud. This is what I term “Conscious Coupling.” Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s couples therapist labeled their divorce approach, “Conscious Uncoupling.” This is the same idea, only turn your frown upside down to a positive and make it work toward staying together!”

2) Poor conflict resolution skills. “Everyone enjoys the honeymoon stage—when they’re getting along smoothly. But, the marker that draws the line in the sand between those couples who will make it in the long run and those who won’t are the ones who employ healthy communication skills. Healthy communication means active listening to the other person without interrupting by trying to force your opinions down their throat. Instead, listen to them and narrate out loud what you hear them saying so that they feel heard, validated, and accepted—flaws and all! They will feel loved, and you will be the beneficiary.”

3) Increased fighting. “This may be a sign of overall dissatisfaction in one partner with the other. Or, it can be mutual discontentedness. It might also be a sign of added mistrust, perhaps prompted for good reason if the other person lied, cheated, or demonstrated distrustful behavior. You need to sit down with your partner and have that honest, painful looking within talk about your relationship, in general. Often, this is the best facilitated and mediated with the guidance of a qualified, experienced therapist. If you value the relationship, get help!”

4) Cheating and infidelity. “Serial cheating is inexcusable and a symptom of unresolved early trauma related to abandonment, coupled with narcissistic personality traits. The cheater is missing the character component required to imagine the impact of their own behavior on others. However, if there has been one singular isolated event of betrayal, I have seen a positive turnaround occur when the cheater demonstrates genuine remorse for hurting their spouse and sincerely apologizes for the pain and hurt they’ve caused their partner.”

Save Your Relationship: Three-Pronged Plan

If your relationship is tainted by one or more of the above, it’s time to make some serious changes. Dr. Walfish says that you can improve your relationship by following her three-pronged plan, detailed below:

Prong One, Self Awareness: Dr. Walfish says the first step toward saving a relationship is being “open and capable of taking that painful look within. Conflicts, miscommunications, and not being on the same page in a relationship are inevitable. The key is to self-examine and own up to our missteps and mistakes, learn from them, and not repeat them.”

Prong Two, A Willing Partner: In order to turn a failing relationship around, both individuals must be willing to put in the effort: “Your ex must be willing to take that same difficult journey within. It is so easy to look outside oneself and point a finger at the other person. Taking responsibility for our own behaviors and understanding the reasons that motivate us is the greater challenge.”

Prong Three, Communication: The third and final essential to repairing a relationship is improving communication. “This is probably the most common area where couples get stuck,” Dr. Walfish explains. “People of all ages are on a learning curve when it comes to expressing their needs and wants without blaming, judging, accusing or attacking. Often, these styles are unintentional. Learning how our partners experience us and the ways in which we react is the true art of healthy communication.”

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