Whether you and your partner are planning a wedding, renovating the house or taking on some other big project, psychologist Alice Boyes reveals how to keep things happy and healthy along the way
By Dr Alice Boyes
1. Don’t talk about it 24/7
Big projects can end up being all you and your partner talk about. Set time aside each day to discuss other things. If possible, designate one or two days a week off from working on, or talking about, the project. Consider it like taking a weekend off the job!
2. Communication styles not working?
Good communication in relationships is about being flexible. If nagging isn’t working, change your strategy. If hinting isn’t working, don’t keep trying it and expecting different results!
3. How will you remember the experience?
When you get stressed or anxious, your thinking will tend to be narrow and you are more likely to lose sight of the big picture. Knowing this is a normal consequence of feeling anxious means you can give yourself a reminder to consider the long-term, bigger-picture view. Try to imagine how you want to remember your big project when you look back on it.
Take actions that get you as close to this ideal as is realistic. This will help you let go of what doesn’t matter.
4. Recognise each other’s contribution
People have a tendency to overestimate their own contribution to joint projects and underestimate their partner’s contribution. What is one aspect of your partner’s contribution that you tend to minimise? For example, you take for granted that they’re working long hours to bring in money to help pay for the project.
5. Celebrate the small triumphs
When people get stressed, they often finish one thing and jump straight to thinking about the next thing that needs to be done. When you finish a step in your project, give yourself a few hours or days to savour the feelings of excitement, satisfaction, and accomplishment due to having completed one step of the journey. Take photos as a memento of the moment.
6. Take care of yourself
When your willpower is being drained by extra stress and lots of decision-making, it’s easy to let your self-care go. This creates vicious cycles; if you eat more because you’re stressed, then the weight gain can add additional stress.
If you start losing patience with your partner, take it as a cue that you probably need to take better care of yourself. Never wait for your partner to change before you address what you are able to do personally. For example, do things to reduce your stress levels rather than waiting for your partner to do more to help you.
7. Identify each other’s areas of strength
If you’ve tried to get your partner to help you with specific tasks and they’re proving to be an immovable object, consider changing tack. One way is for you to each focus on the aspects of the project that suit your individual strengths.
Start by making a brief list of the things you and your partner are best at. The list doesn’t have to be exhaustive – just get started. For example, if you’re renovating your house your starter list might be something like this
I’m good at:
• Negotiating discounts on materials.
• Clearing up after messy tradespeople.
• Making complaints when work hasn’t been done to an acceptable standard.
• Spotting imperfections in work that has been done.
You’re good at:
• Getting quotes from multiple tradespeople to find the best prices.
• Keeping track of the budget.
• Selecting fixtures or colours.
• Giving second opinions on selections when asked.
Having a clear division of labour means you won’t need to always be renegotiating who is doing what.
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Alice Boyes, PhD, is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.