How do you know when your relationship is in serious trouble? Is it the amount of fighting that tells you? The lipstick on your partner's collar? Or your ongoing sense of disappointment and boredom?
Relationship Services is often asked to identify "warning signs" for people, but actually, relationships tend to be a bit more complicated than that. Some couples recover from affairs, lying and deceit; some couples find boredom too soul destroying to live with.
Sure, anyone who works with couples can give you a list of common stumbling blocks. But there is no surefire formula to tell which of those hurdles your relationship might take in stride and which might trip you up.
If you focus on what's wrong and vulnerable in your relationship, you might find that you're asking the wrong questions. If you look for what will wreck your relationship, danger signs are what you will notice. If you look for problems, problems are what you will find.
While you're busy getting anxious and depressed about the signs of trouble you hunt down, how much time will you have to notice and appreciate the things that work in your relationship?
In an appreciative frame of mind when your partner does something nice for you, you relax and enjoy the treat. But if you're looking for trouble suspicion joins the party and becomes a spoiler. You start to fret about your partner's motives: What's this about? are they guilty about something? what do they want?
When you focus on what works in the relationship, you start from the assumption that you are both doing your best, that your motives and intentions are good. You interpret your partner's behaviour with those ideas in mind. So you assume they are late because the traffic is bad, not because they don't care about you, or because they are cheating on you.
The great thing about appreciating your relationship like this is that when the inevitable problems do emerge, they are isolated against a background of a warm, loving relationship going well. Instead of the problem proving that this relationship really is the disaster you always suspected it to be, it's just a problem.
You have a store of good times and trust. That might just be enough to meet the problem with generosity. Rather than blaming each other for creating the problem, you can co-operate with each other to address the issues and move on.
Relationships don't come with guarantees. There are no one-size-fits-all, failsafe insurance policies. What you can be sure of is that if you look for what works in your relationship, you've got a much better chance of experiencing and enjoying the good things your relationship has to offer.
This appreciative attitude won't protect you from relationship problems, although it may reduce them. It may mean your relationship is better prepared to address problems when they arise. It will certainly mean you have more fun in your relationship in the meantime.