Does your relationship need a refresh?

Feel like your connection with those around you has become a little stale? A relationship refresh can revive the spark and boost health and happiness.

Forget fame and fortune – one of the world’s longest-running studies designed to shed light on what makes people happy and healthy says it’s relationships that are the biggest factor. 

According to the research, people who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.

But when was the last time you examined the connections in your life to make sure they’re still serving you well?

“Often, our relationships aren’t given the amount of attention or consideration they deserve in comparison to the amount they contribute to our happiness,” clinical psychologist Dr Rowan Burckhardt says. 

Embracing Change author and host of The Curious Life podcast, therapist Jana Firestone, agrees. 

“As human beings, we’re constantly evolving and changing and asking ourselves to consider our growth and development in other areas,” Jana says. 

“Yet it’s not often that we stop to consider whether our relationships might also need re-evaluating as we’re growing and evolving, or whether our needs and our connections might be changing.”

Red flags that a relationship refresh is required

Reflecting on the health of your relationships can – and perhaps should – be done anytime, but there are also signs that suggest a refresh might be helpful.

“The energy exchange in a relationship is a good thing to pay attention to,” Jana says.

“You’ll notice you feel really fulfilled and rejuvenated when you leave some interactions, but you might leave others feeling drained and depleted. 

“That’s usually a sign that a connection isn’t working as well as it could be.”

Jana says frustration is something else to look for.

“When we don’t feel like we’re being heard or if there’s unequal give and take in a relationship, that can leave us feeling frustrated if it’s happening regularly.” 

When it comes to significant other relationships, Dr Burckhardt says that in addition to a sense of dissatisfaction or unhappiness, another signal is conflict. 

“If that feels like it’s escalated or if the same issues keep coming up without resolution, so you feel like you’re no longer able to work things through with your partner, that’s a sign there are things that could be addressed to improve your relationship,” Dr Burckhardt, founder and director of The Sydney Couples Counselling Centre, says.

How to hit refresh on a relationship

The action you take to refresh, or even revive, a relationship depends on a number of factors, including what type of relationship it is and what the issues are, but the following facts are good to bear in mind. 

You are allowed to question your connections

“Life isn’t meant to stagnate,” Jana says. 

“And we don’t need to accept where we’re at just because that’s the choice we made however many years ago.”

Relationships aren’t linear.

“Sometimes it’s those little relationship ruptures and repairs which give us growth, so having those tough conversations and moving through a period of discomfort can actually bring a lot of reward,” Jana says. 

“We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable if we want things to change.”

Honest, open communication is key.

“One of the first steps is putting everything out there,” Jana says. 

“You might say to someone ‘look, I’ve noticed we’re not really connecting the way that I’d like to anymore’, or ‘I miss you’ or ‘I’m angry’, and then be as open in your communication as you can, from there.” 

You can’t control how the other person will react.

“The only thing you can control is how you’ll respond, however they react,” Jana says. 

“So if you feel it’s going to be healthy for you to express how you’re feeling, instead of thinking you’ll only raise it if you’re confident the relationship will survive or if you’re anticipating a specific response, do it without any expectations – and be open to dealing with whatever happens next.” 

Seeking help can be a game changer.

And Dr Burckhardt says the earlier the better, for couples. 

“I love working with couples, repairing relationships and seeing that change happen, but sometimes couples leave it too late, only seeking therapy when the relationship is beyond repair,” he says. 

“The earlier a couple seeks help from good therapy, the easier it can be to resolve the issues.”

Written by Karen Fittall.