How to Weather Big Life Transitions With Your Partner

Major life transitions are like a powerful gust of wind. They can throw off even the strongest of relationships. 

While you might retreat from friends during messy or chaotic times, a partner often witnesses it all. And, especially if you live together, you can’t totally stop making requests for time, attention, and energy. After all, somebody has to take out the garbage on Thursday nights.

Fortunately, you just gained a valuable tool to weather life transitions with your spouse or long-term partner: awareness.

What Do “Life Transitions” Look Like?

Couples hit the stickiest rut when they work backwards from the midst of a transition. In other words, you find yourself snapping at each other. You’re grumpy. Low energy. Perhaps even wondering if your relationship has run its course.

And suddenly you realize. “Ohhh! This is because we just….”

  • Changed jobs
  • Watched the last kid move out
  • Retired
  • Lost a loved one
  • Moved to a new city
  • Started house renovations
  • Had a significant income adjustment
  • Embraced a gender/orientation change
  • And so on.

You can see how specific these can become. As many transitions exist as there are walks of life.

Without awareness that you’re undergoing one, you might get stuck in a feedback loop of stressed reactivity, pulling away from more and more prickly versions of each other. 

Instead, if you’re proactive, you can give each other extra space and tenderness to soften the ride. And you’ll be more capable of using the kind relationship tactics below.

Ready to hear them? Let’s go!

Make Time to Communicate

You may assume you’re already communicating. After all, you talk to your partner every day. But asking if they remembered to tell the contractor about the slate tile doesn’t count. 

Take a stand for the health of your relationship by taking time to sit down and check in with each other. Try your best to keep these uninterrupted, even if they only last for 15-30 minutes.

During the check-in, approach your partner with curiosity. Our brain likes to get into grooves for efficiency’s sake -- especially in tense times. Instead, make an effort to see your partner for who they are in this moment.

Use the powerful communication tool of open-ended questions/statements:

  • What emotions are coming up for you since this change started?
  • Tell me about what feels challenging right now.
  • What would make things easier for you?
  • What do you need from me the most?

If you can manage it, add something to sweeten the deal. Split a piece of pie. Share a glass of wine. Cuddle up under a family quilt. A little warm fuzziness goes a long way to repair relationship strain.

Practice Grace

Speaking of ruts, a grudge is one of the deepest out there. You and your partner might make some missteps while you figure out a new way of living.

For small ones -- a sharp tone, jumping to conclusions -- make a habit of apologizing quickly. And forgive even faster to oil the wheels to peace. Nobody’s perfect. 

For larger mistakes, give each other compassionate space to cool off. Tell your partner that you will talk it out at a set time, and follow through on that discussion for each other’s sake. This will help you both feel secure, because you remain on the same team even during confrontation.

Look for Opportunities to Love More Throughout Life Transitions

Beyond damage control, cultivate extra signs of affection that help you and your partner feel close. Small gestures work especially well in this context. 

Anticipate needs. For example, wake up 10 minutes early to have coffee ready for your partner. Replace their pair of everyday shoes that have worn down. Bring a snack in the car when you pick them up from the airport.

Express words of love. Maybe you can’t solve your partner’s discomfort in their new career field. But you can tell them how great that shirt looks on their way out.

Connect through simple fun. Start a game of online Scrabble that you two can play throughout the day. Ping each other with silly animal videos. Play hide ‘n’ seek at the garden center.

Together, with caring and appreciation, you can get through these times together.

Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803