Recognize this scene: A husband returns from work putting his briefcase and jacket on the counter while saying, “I’m home”. The wife says, “Do you HAVE to put your stuff on the counter!? Can’t you see I just cleaned it? To which the husband angrily responds, “Why are you so angry all the time? I just came home from work! Would a welcome home kill you!”

Or how about this: A woman is feeling disconnected from her man. It is like he is more withdrawn lately. She works up the courage to talk about and says, “Honey, there’s something I’d like to discuss … I notice you have been feeling kind of upset lately”, whereupon his eyes roll and he says, “Do we need to talk about this right now? I’m fine, OK!”

Each time we lead our relationship workshops, these are typically common, everyday stories from “normal” relationships, from “normal” people. The majority are successful in their lives – competent, capable, well-meaning humans who do their best.

But still, scenes like the ones above have grown to be the norm for them. The seemingly insignificant interactions between partners are in reality relationship problems that, if not handled properly, will ultimately lead to relationship failure or divorce.

How is it that well-meaning people turn out talking to each other like this? When you read these scenarios, you can probably feel that the man and woman involved are quick to anger and defensiveness and not able or ready to get involved in open communication. It’s probably also a fair guess that whatever relationship issue is behind these communications, was not previously addressed, and certainly not resolved.

The result of these “seemingly insignificant” interactions is actually detrimental to the marriage, or any relationship. Picture this man and woman starting out their relationship journey standing facing each other with love flowing freely between them. Now imagine they have an interaction like the above that isn’t addressed and simply left hanging in the chilled air between them, and a brick symbolizing this is laid down on the ground right between the two of them. Next time they have a small fight or altercation that also isn’t addressed properly, another brick is laid down next to the first one.

It doesn’t take long for these bricks to form a wall. In the first year, it may only reach their knees. Within the second year, the wall is thigh high. But hey, they can still see one another! And everyone’s got their relationship problems, right? The growing wall between them seems almost normal, because “everyone’s got issues” and “you can’t be in love all the time”. Somehow they push aside the nagging doubts in their minds. Before long, the wall obscures their clear seeing of one another and prevents love from flowing in any way.

This type of “wall building” is an insidious process. It’s akin to a disease that spreads stealthily through your body that you don’t become of aware of until it’s already widespread throughout your system. In relationship, you often won’t become aware of the “wall” until it’s blatantly and painfully obvious that there’s a distance and coldness between the two of you that simply can’t be ignored any longer. At this stage, it is unfortunately often too near to what we call “the tipping point”, after which is becomes almost impossible to put things back together again.

So here are the three relationship tools we recommend you start out doing straight away to not only keep your relationship, but to actively break down the “wall” between you.

1. Spot the warning signs.

Indicators include, but certainly aren’t limited to, tightness around your heart, or a cold knot in your belly. You can notice these sensations when you stop talking to each other concerning your personal thoughts and feelings. When you stop sleeping close together and instead turn your backs and don’t touch. Once your sex life becomes pure routine or you quit making love altogether. When you stop touching and hugging during the day. When you quit appreciating each other.

Notice these warning signs and even if you don’t know what to do about them, speak them aloud. This simple act of “stating the obvious” brings your “brick” out into full view. At least you may then be aware you have some relationship issues that need to be handled and will have interrupted the process of adding yet another unspoken “brick” to the wall.

2. Get appreciations going

One of the simplest, yet definitely most effective, relationship “tricks” is beginning a cycle of appreciation.

As mentioned previously, one of the signs is when you stop complimenting each other, when you quit saying a simple “thank you”, and you cease appreciating each other for what you allow to the marriage/relationship. Without appreciation, your relationship becomes similar to a plant that’s slowly being denied water and sun and will start to wither.

So say “thank you”. For any and everything. “Thanks for making dinner”. “Thanks for doing the dishes”. “Thanks for taking the kids to school”. Notice and acknowledge the “little” things in life.

Actively look for, and speak out loud, what you appreciate about each other. Even if you’re close the tipping point, and you can’t easily see everything to appreciate regarding your partner, you can still always find something. Starting small is efficient. “I appreciate how much care you put into our children’s education”. “I appreciate how hard you work to bring home money”. “When you stayed and talked 5 minutes after breakfast, I really appreciated that”.

This is one of many relationship tips where you make the most “bang for your buck”

3. Get help.

Prior to reaching the tipping point.

Make peace with the simple fact that we all need help. Even the friends and neighbors who seem to have the “perfect” relationship also have the relationship problems. You simply don’t’ see them. Relationship skills are learned skills, the same as playing the piano, weaving baskets, flying an airplane, becoming a doctor, you name it. We somehow have this totally unrealistic expectation that we should be able to create fantastic relationships simply by ourselves. Well, we can’t.

The thought of “getting help” can be a big obstacle, especially sometimes for men. We are raised with the credo that it’s manly and strong to “go it alone”, to drag it off by ourselves. I still catch myself frequently thinking, “Oh, I don’t require assistance with that; I can handle it!” when in reality I DO require assistance.

So get help. Find people you trust. Coaches, counselors, wise elders, individuals who live that loving, passionate relationship you dream of. When you have a clear model of what your very own relationship could look like, you are a hundred times more likely to get it yourself.

About the author: Christian Pedersen is a Relationship Coach and workshop leader. To get new and surprising solutions to your relationship problems get free relationship advice on The Relationship Makeover webinar.