How to Keep a Relationship Strong After Getting Through a Rough Patch

Photo: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez
"Things are going well," is a sigh of relief you can relish saying after your relationship clears a rough patch. You love to say it, emphatically, without even a whisper of falsehood and with optimism for the future. Maybe you've overcome a loss and navigated grief, or you've reunited and overcome infidelity, or, on a lower-intensity scale, you've finally gotten used to their gross nail-clipping habits after moving in together. Whatever obstacle you've cleared, things are now going well and you' to keep it that way. And since you know that this healthy state isn't a given, knowing how to keep a relationship strong is key.

In a recent Instagram post, relationship therapist Debra Roberts, LCSW and author of The Relationship Protocol: How to Talk, Defuse, and Build Healthier Relationships, notes how wonderful it can feel to be able to say those four words: things are going well. But still, the relationship recovery and maintenance check-ins need to continue after the fact, she maintains.

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First of all… I love hearing that! And thankfully, it’s a common refrain that I get from clients, students, consultees. Because when you learn tips for communicating those kinds of positive results will keep happening repeatedly. And when good stuff happens, if you’re paying attention you’ll notice a consistent change exponentially. I always point out those changes to my clients and I'm asking (or telling:) you to pay attention to those shifts in your life. Be self-reflective. Take a step back and assess the good changes too. We're always looking to jump on the negatives, the things that make us angry and drive us crazy. I get it. It’s common to focus on the bad things. Yet, when something changes, even in a small way do you try to understand or acknowledge it? How about taking a moment to look at when it works, why it works? Think to yourself, what am I doing differently? What efforts am I or the other person making that’s creating this new change for me/us? What's different about the situation that helped to improve things? Understand the good stuff, so you can continue in a positive direction and (verbally) encourage others to stay the course too. You know why... because then everyone benefits!

A post shared by Debra Roberts (@therelationshipprotocol) on

The key element to keeping things great? Communicating through a lens of positive reinforcement. Below, Roberts shares four actionable strategies for how to keep a relationship strong, healthy, and smooth following any kind of speed bump.

Learn how to keep a relationship strong after a rough patch, according to a pro.

1. Identify and acknowledge what changes have been made

"Can you pinpoint one thing they’re doing that’s making a difference or having a positive impact on you? If so, why not tell them you appreciate the change or effort they’re making?" asks Roberts.

Consider things you may have previously nagged your partner about, little and big, that you no longer need to. "Even if the change is minor, such as a small mind-set shift, if it’s working for you, tell them you notice their effort," Roberts says. "Encourage the good stuff if you want it to continue."

2. Verbalize how happy you are with positive changes

After acknowledging positive shifts, celebrate them; give gratitude where gratitude is due.

"Let the other person know how happy you are that your relationship is stronger and feels better," Roberts says. "Don’t assume they know how you feel, because even if it's obvious, it’s always nice to hear."

3 Have regular check-ins

"Ask them if there’s something you’re doing or not doing that’s making a difference for them in the relationship," Roberts says. "Ask with an open mind and be ready to listen to their answer. It's not the time to get defensive or hurt. Try to understand where they’re coming from, rather than defend or get upset."

4. Every day, at least once a day, think of a way to treat your partner

While it's easy to stay wounded, getting stuck in the past doesn't allow anyone to move forward. Instead, live in the present. "Wake up every day and think to yourself, 'How can I make my partner happy today? What can I do to brighten their day?'" Roberts says. "When we think in those terms, our focus is on the relationship, not just ourselves. By showing the other person that they matter to you and you appreciate them, that’s what strengthens your connection."

That means if, for example, you know they get grumpy without caffeine, wake up the extra five minutes early and make or buy some coffee.

It is the little things, after all.

Please advise: Is an argument really over if there are still bad lingering feelings about it? And FYI, there's a really big difference between relationship preferences and dealbreakers

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