Save a relationship

This is a big question: How can you save repair a relationship that is struggling or in danger or collapse? It IS possible. I’m basing this on almost 30 years’ work and study in conflict resolution, as a family therapist, a mediator, and a person (a lot longer than 30 years doing that last one).

I’m thinking mainly of personal relationships here (family, friendship, life partnership). You can adapt the ideas as appropriate for working relationships. There are certainly many ways of going about this, far more than I’m telling you here. I’ve picked on three because I think they are a reliable starting point and I know that attention spans are limited, especially where relationships are concerned. But first:

  • Some relationships will fail. Not all are worth saving nor should they be.
  • Both partners must want to save the relationship.
  • Don’t jump to wrong conclusion if one partner says they want to end it. This may be what they are feeling through frustration,and it’s often the opening gambit because other attempts to get the other’s attention have failed (be aware that when angry, hurt or frustrated, people may say they don’t want to save the relationship, when in a calmer moment they might say think differently).
  • This assumes that the relationship has had a few years of satisfactory operation for both people in it, before it got into trouble. It may not have been perfect (that’s why it’s struggling now), but there is something to build on.
  • See the relationship as an entity that exists between the two people involved. This is not about either one of you, or even about both of you; it is about the relationship BETWEEN you. That means how you interact, how you behave together, and what the relationship can offer you (support, mutual respect, safety), and what you each value in the relationship.
  • Even if the points below don’t save the relationship, they’ll help you dissolve it more amicably. This is very important if the relationship will continue after separation, but in a different form (shared parenting or working together, for example).

If I’m going to fulfil the promise of my ambitious title I’d better get on with it:

  1. Recognise what you value in the other person and tell them regularly. Be sincere and patient. The idea is that they understand that you value them, not to earn praise or recognition for yourself.
  2. Understand what you both value in the relationship – qualities as well as practical aspects – and build on that. The relationship has nothing do with how rich or poor you are, where you live nor anything like that. It has to do with how you ARE together. Focus on that, the rest will follow. Build strength and understanding, not a list of weaknesses and complaints (everyone has those, get over it).
  3. Know what your joint aspirations are, and that together you can do more than either of you could alone. You can also have individual hopes and aspirations, but these should be compatible with the partnership’s shared objectives. Talk about these, look to the future, and understand that you are both prepared to work towards what you want together. Sometimes that will mean pushing your own dreams to one side, in favour of joint aims.

A healthy relationship can move mountains and achieve ambitions. It will be resilient enough to handle conflict, and supportive of you both. Above all, it will be respectful, honest, and each of you will be able and willing to put the other’s interests ahead of their own, if appropriate.

It will be equal and unequal at the same time, which means that you’ll sometimes feel that you are doing all the work. That’s what it means to be part of a mutually respectful and supportive relationship.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.


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