A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: Spring clean your love life

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I am feeling particularly restless and this feeling seems to be focused on my marriage. We have been together 6 years and have a 4-year-old son. I still love my husband and I know he loves me - but we seem to irritate each other and it’s making me feel very dissatisfied. What should I do?
Enjoy the spring sunshine and get talking to your partner to clear away any cobwebs.
Photo / Thinkstock
Enjoy the spring sunshine and get talking to your partner to clear away any cobwebs. Photo / Thinkstock

The seasonal whiff of jasmine and the lighter mornings infuse us with a sense of growth and possibility. And it's interesting how that feeling can suddenly make us review how our life is - a bit like noticing just how many cobwebs there are in the bathroom, and that the windows are hard to see through.

To extend this metaphor a little further - perhaps rather than wondering if the house we live in is the problem and that we need to move, maybe it is time instead to do a little spring-cleaning.

I wish more people would name these problems, as you have done, because - common as your complaint is - it can also lead, if we are not careful, to a slippery downward trail for our most intimate and precious adult relationship.

You say you still love each other - but that you irritate each other. It is all too easy to become intimate strangers as we plough on through the winter months, with our routines and to-do lists and our good intentions.

That cup of tea in bed, that once spelt such tenderness at the beginning of our lives together - can change to an experience of irritation. Why does he always put the teabag on the white bench top? and so it goes on. Somehow negative feelings triggered by small details can set the mood for the day, snowballing into frustration about the unpaid electricity bill, or the fact that someone has trodden mud into the house.

All very petty, but despite agreeing with the exhortation that we should not sweat the small stuff, most of us know these snail trails of incremental frustrations and how they can mount to quite an overwhelming sense of blahness. And how easy it is to attribute disproportionate feelings to the small faults of our partner, which can some days irritate so much.

When we reflect and take stock, we can be philosophical about the commonplace relativity of irritation. However, when these patterns of negative thought embed themselves into the dynamics of our communication, we can be in danger of a self-defeating pattern and this can build a real brittleness into the previous robustness of our relationship.

Lots of factors contribute to why some people struggle more than others do in their relationships But notwithstanding the big issues, that affect us all - the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," as Shakespeare called them - the quality of the cut and thrust of daily life simply has to be conscious if we want to maintain our most precious relationships.

Telling ourselves that the frustration and ennui "shouldn't" be part of life with our loved one - and that somehow it is the other person's fault for being tiresome - can be a sign that our communication is in a very stuck place.

Life is quite tough and it's common to have times when we feel we just don't measure up: not successful enough, not powerful enough , not thin enough, not rich enough - and so the list can go on. Our sense of ourselves, compared to others we know, can be illuminated in this day and age by the incessant glare of social media and it is all too easy to internalise a sense of vulnerability and inadequacy. And sensing we are irritating the one person in the world that we most need on our team can increase that vulnerability - and make us irritable in defence.

Have a look at how you feel when you are together - is your partner your friend? Are you his? Does he know - despite the petty irritations - that you are his biggest fan?

Looking for spring clothes and clearing the cobwebs don't rate on the to do list, compared to making the time to talk and cuddle and remind each other of what it is you both appreciate and acknowledge- and love -about each other.

Just try starting at this point with this one simple behaviour - rather than a complex plan of action or strategies. But do start.

And don't be at all surprised if by the next day there are things about your relationship which feel a lot better than they do at the moment.

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A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be. • Jill Goldson is a Family Dispute Resolution mediator and counsellor, and Director of The Family Matters Centre in Auckland.

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