Every couple has their core issues. Some are relatively minor, some are quite serious. Some issues can be handled easily and resolved quickly. For example, a couple may have different needs when it comes to spending time together. One person may require a lot of time on their own, while their partner needs more together time. In this case, couples may find a middle ground that works for both of them. With love and understanding, this couple can find the compromise that works. They may need to tweak their agreement from time to time, but overall, this issues does not wreak a lot of havoc—they understand and handle the differences without taking it personally.
Other issues are more complicated. There are deeper wounds attached and behavioral change is not so simple. These issues create a domino effect as one partner's behavior creates a reaction in the other that triggers more acting out in one’s partner that then creates even more distress for the other and so on and so on. I'm sure you can relate to having this kind of issue in your current or past relationship. It may involve an addiction, a destructive way of handling feelings, or other preferences and coping skills that cause negative consequences for the relationship.
We all have developed coping skills. Some work well for us but not for others. Some are overall healthier than others. Regardless, deeply ingrained coping strategies are hard to change. Thus, these issues tend to come up again and again in relationships. They have to. It takes time and repetition for someone to release a maladaptive way of coping and create a replacement strategy. This involves a lot of self-awareness, commitment and discipline in making a change. In all honesty, some people can do this and some cannot. Even with the best of intentions, the results aren't guaranteed.
So if you are experiencing an issue in your relationship that continues to come up again and again, understand that this is normal. Both you and your partner need to know that change occurs slowly over time and a commitment to see this through is required from both of you. Even under the best of circumstances, breakdowns will occur.
For example, let's say your husband (or wife) has a temper. He deals with his frustration and anger in ways that you find hurtful and unacceptable. He yells and demonstrates contempt for you when he's angry. He personally attacks you and finds ways to make sure you know that you are the problem, not him. This causes you to feel utterly belittled, hopeless and resigned. Eventually things calm down, you do what it takes to reassure your husband, point out what doesn't work for you, work towards normalizing the relationship again. Sometimes he will apologize and sometimes not. He understands he has a temper but has difficulty controlling it and reining it in once he's "lost it." You have gone to counseling for this and continue to work on the issue as a couple. Progress has been made. Your husband understands why he gets angry and is working on calming down before saying anything. However, he still loses his temper every now and then in ways you find hurtful and damaging.
You wonder if your husband will ever change. You wonder if you can live with this for the rest of your life. Every time he slips you forget all the times he has been successful in managing his anger in more constructive ways. You feel hopeless instead of remembering that both you and he committed to dealing with this issue, understanding it will take a long time for him to truly integrate a new way of being. You forget that even under the best of circumstances, people are human and under stress, primitive ways of coping can take over.
So what can you do to deal with the same issue that still haunts the relationship? Here are things to remember when those same old issues come up again.
- Remember, as long as you are both committed to making things better and take action to do so, progress is being made.
- Expect breakdowns. They are a part of life and no one is perfect. As long as they are occurring less and less, you can relax and know things are moving in the right direction.
- Always make sure that you are attending your end of things. Even if your partner's issues have nothing to do with you, you are responsible for how you deal with them. Make sure you work on you.
- Focus on what your partner does right and how he pleases you. Give your partner credit for his intentions, efforts and progress made. It's the best reinforcement for continued change.
- Lastly, know that dealing with each other's imperfections and woundedness is part of the deal. Relationships provide fertile ground for healing. In doing so, this requires ongoing patience, forgiveness and love. It also takes a willingness to take responsibility at all times for one's actions and continuous recommitment to do better next time.
So you decide if there are reasons enough to hang in there for the entire ride. Know there will be up hill climbs, steep vertical falls and lots of thrilling curves along the way. Buckle up. No one said relationships were straight and level roads--but that's the very thing that makes them so worthwhile.
If you or someone you know needs help in dealing with your relationship challenges, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm here to help. I provide personalized guidance and coaching. And if you want to start right now, go and purchase The Pathway to Love at-home program. You don’t need to wait. You can begin the process today. Take advantage of the opportunity receive the support and guidance you deserve.
As always, I’m here to support you in creating strong and intimate relationships.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
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