The concept of growing in your relationship is something that often gets swept aside amongst all of the excitement that comes with new love, but the reality is that growth is probably the most significant marker of a healthy, lasting partnership.
Unlike the fairy-tale romance of new relationships (where the whole world stands still and practically nothing, not even oxygen could come between you), an established relationship sees people grow and change -- sometimes creating a new, uncomfortable environment.
"You'd be hard-pressed to remember a time you were defensive during the early stages of a relationship. This is because we've got this filter that we're viewing the other person through," Muffy Churches, author of Coach Yourself told The Huffington Post Australia.
"We're excited and thrilled about the potential relationship that is brewing and we're putting our best foot forward. Also, we haven't learned enough about each other and probably haven't engaged in enough depth to know the nuances in terms of what might bother us," Churches said.
Churches, a success coach with decades of client experience, said letting these defensive emotions get in the way further down the track causes the relationship to become like a "ping pong match" of negativity, eventually leading to relationship breakdown.
"In order to stop the 'match' you need to shift the emotions to a positive place," Churches said.
Letting defensive emotions get in the way
In an ideal world shifting our defensive emotions to a positive place would be a cinch, because we'd all have to be very centered and objective.
"But because of our egos, which are actually in place to protect us, we become overly ambitious. This defensive front switches on a whole range of negative emotions -- anger, envy, frustration -- the list goes on, and that negativity becomes contagious in the relationship," Churches said.
When this happens, Churches said it's about taking responsibility and turning the mirror on ourselves.
Put yourself in a place of less judgement and ask questions to try and understand a little more about where they're coming from.
"The first step is to make yourself feel comfortable by looking at how you perceive your partner. It's about trying to see through the behaviour to the actual person, even though you don't agree with the way they are acting," Churches said.
Coming from a place of understanding and empathy is crucial.
"Put yourself in a place of less judgement and ask questions to try and understand a little more about where they're coming from."
Quite often when we make an effort to shift the dynamic by just being responsible for ourselves and how we view our partner, that positivity has an amazing effect on the other person," Churches said.
Denying the problems
We've all experienced those retrospective moments, usually in the midst or just following an argument, when you wonder where you went wrong. How did we get here?
And while it may seem like the disagreement that's brought you here brings nothing good, Churches said it presents an opportunity for the relationship to grow.
"Denial is not an effective solution because it postpones the healing of the relationship."
"It also leaves room for more negativity to fester and creates space for detachment whereby you're not working towards coming back together," Churches said.
This is the case for couples who find themselves having the same fight, over and over.
By ignoring the problems happening internally, you end up detaching from each other.
"They are either stuck in a neutral place where nothing is happening -- or they are pulling apart from each other -- by putting energy outside the relationship."
"By ignoring the problems happening internally, you end up detaching from each other," Churches said.
Our own thought processes
"We maintain and look after so much in our lives -- we go to the dentist, get our car serviced and we exercise -- but we're not brought up or trained to look after our minds and our quality of thinking," Churches said.
According to Churches, in order to maximise your relationship's potential it's about having the willingness to identify the thought patterns that service you well, but more importantly, the ones that are not effective.
"Certain beliefs we have about ourselves may be detrimental to our relationship but also, the inflexible expectations we have of our partner can be just as damaging," Churches said.
Sure, there are certain rules and regulations that make up a healthy relationship, but having an imaginary list of things our partner needs to be in order for us to feel we're in the right relationship isn't fair.
"It's difficult for anyone to meet these superficial expectations both in the short and long term. It also doesn't allow for growth and flexibility of a human being," Churches said.