Before You Throw in the Towel to Your Relationship – Read This!
One of the biggest mistakes individuals make is deciding to break up without first understanding their real goals and purposes of why their relationships are not working for them. One of the most common complaints I hear from an individual whose partner announces they want a divorce is, “You never told me you were so unhappy. You never gave me a chance to work on it!”
During conflicts and stuck periods in your relationship, your perception of your partner narrows. You may see your partner as over controlling, critical, nagging, withholding, mean and angry, non communicative, uncompromising, uncaring, a betrayer, mistrusting, asexual etc. you fill in the blank. In short, you no longer give your partner the benefit of the doubt. These perceptions then shape your behavior with your partner and become the norm of how you relate. This becomes your truth about your partner. Without even realizing it, both partners often end up perpetuating the problem pattern and, regrettably, it becomes all too easy to forget what attracted you to your partner in the first place. If this is the case, all you may be able to see is a person who grates on your nerves, pushes your buttons, or worse. Many will say that my partner’s behavior made me become this way. Just how much is your responsibility?
I have worked with many couples that have learned to manage conflict better and restart their communication process. This in turn allows them to feel closer and get their relationship back on track. They nurture and rebuild that loving bond between them. There seems to be enough positive energy going for these couples so a good “jump start” is all they needed. As they manage conflict and listen and talk to each other, they open the door once again to an improved perception of the other. Other couples and partners struggle with getting their anger, resentment and conflict under control so they stay stuck. This maintains the walls between partners and doesn’t let in the good stuff. Some couples, especially those with passive conflict patterns, may manage conflict by not dealing with it, but find little satisfaction in how they listen and talk with each other because they are so fearful of conflict. The feedback to help your partner know you better does not happen.
I usually recommend that partners start talking and listening to each other by following my, Ground Rules for Talking. If you truly focus on listening and not attacking, interrupting and defending yourself you will likely discover what you each expect in your relationship. You may find that you need to work out specific issues, such as how much time to spend together or apart, finances, sex and affection, child rearing, sharing family responsibilities, and decision making. Some couples may be relieved to be renewing communication and notice real progress in how they are relating. Others may find at least one partner fixated on wanting to keep the conflict going, needing to take a break from ongoing conflict or already gone from the relationship emotionally. Perhaps they have even invested in a new relationship. Some partners may not make themselves available to talk because the conflict and tension is too intense, and they feel emotionally unsafe or become easily angered when they are around their partner. Couples in this situation must learn to detach and separate, to simply get the physical distance necessary to reduce the conflict. Getting at the truth of how much investment and commitment partners may have for each other is very important.
The challenge for you in the midst of conflict, struggling communication, and disappointments is to think about and explore some of the reasons your partner’s and your expectations and wants are not being met. Knowing how you have constructed your truth and perception about your partner is very important. Taking responsibility for your side of the conflict and problem pattern is necessary. Sometimes it is easier to not try and just give up, but realize there is a lot at stake for you and your family.
This brief exercise may help you focus on what’s not working for you
Take a few minutes to reflect on what you believe is not working in your relationship:
• What do you often say silently to yourself or out loud to others (friends, family
members) about your relationship?
• What do you complain about most, especially during and after a conflict?
• As you think about your relationship and communication pattern
in a circular manner, what happens again and again that results in an unfulfilling or
unsatisfactory process for you?
• From your perspective, what do you think you do and what does your partner do to
contribute to this?
Read more on Relationship Investment-Commitment ; Ground Rules for Talking in my Book – Taking Space – Step 3;
Couples Home Study Course – Step 3 CD and Workbook