Working on a relationship when it hits rock bottom has little chance of success, a fact that is not surprising, but was recently proven in research studies. By the time that you have nothing left to say to your partner, reversing the negative spin in your relationship takes such significant effort that few people have the courage to try it.

Just like tending a garden, working at your relationship a little everyday is key to longevity. When you feel yourself withdrawing, because it is easier not to have the difficult discussion again, or because you are overwhelmed with career responsibilities, remind yourself that this effort is the work that will define your life. If you feel your partner slipping quietly away, force the discussion. Being willing to listen to your partner’s frustration and resentments, even if you have heard them before is part of the bargain, if you also want to be heard.

Truth is, there is so much messy business in the complex scenarios that are life. Individual idiosyncrasies and annoying behaviors can be both enchanting and unnerving, depending on the time of the day or month… making space for our differences is a key element of growing up. Little details about how we live together, whether we hang up our towels or leave them wet on the bed, leave the toothpaste cap on or off, clean up our crumbs… all of these issues can be the color of life or the drama that we pursue.

Checking in with our partners about these small issues regularly is better than checking out. The less we feel motivated to say, the less room we have to express how we feel. I really like the line from the fray song …”maybe the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” It occurs to me regularly as I work at these relationships not just with my husband but even more loudly with my teenage kids. It is easier to walk away, it isn’t sustainable.

Don’t be in a relationship half way, don’t keep one foot out the door and wonder why it isn’t working. Love is an action verb – a full-on contact sport.