You’re picking up his socks, fuming, muttering epithets under your breath.
You’re listening to another one of her tirades, nothing you do is ever good enough.
At a party, he jokes about your closet, or hobbies, or (gulp) weight.
Her girlfriends stop talking when you come into the room.
These are just a few of the many scenarios that leave couples saying, “why am I doing this?”
It would be great if they taught relationship skills in High School. We’d use them daily, unlike, say, algebra. But they don’t. And unless you come from parents who had amazing relationship skills (and taught them to you), then you’re winging it. Most couples wait too long to get help. It may be that therapy seems scary – what if the therapist takes the other person’s side or makes you do things you don’t want to do.
But counseling really helps when couples make it in early enough. In fact, pre-marital counseling is usually the most successful. In the early stages of relationship, there is a big emotional reserve of love and kindness that helps couples withstand conflict about money, in-laws, parenting, and how to load the dishwasher correctly.
Regardless of what stage of relationship you’re in, you can make positive changes, even if your partner doesn’t want to change! The key lies in understanding some basic concepts and committing to changing YOURSELF (not the other person).
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- No one wants to be mean or hurtful, when we hurt others, it’s because we are hurting inside and feeling vulnerable.
- When we feel hurt or emotionally threatened, our fight/flight reflexes take over. This is automatic and requires time, soothing and emotional safety to recover and return to a loving place.
- Relationship problems are never what they seem. Everything from arguments about cleaning to infidelity are symptoms of attachment or bonding wounds, often from very early childhood.
So, if all of this is automatic and started in childhood, how do we change?
The first step is to realize that the PRIMARY function of your couple relationship is to provide a safe place for each person to be themselves.
The second step is to begin learning what makes your partner feel safe and what makes him/her feel unsafe emotionally. As you learn this, your job is to shift your behavior so he/she feels safer more of the time.
REMEMBER this step will backfire if you focus on changing the other person so you feel safe. Often your own safety will come naturally as your partner feels safer and softens toward you. If this doesn’t occur naturally within a month or two, then counseling may be needed.
The third step is to recognize that neither of you will ever be perfect. The good news is, you don’t have to be. Learning how to mend when one of you gets hurt is really what works. Take time to learn what makes your partner feel safe again and re-connected to you. For some people it’s a sincere and genuine apology. For others, actions speak louder than words. And for others still, it’s a combination that reflects you understand how your actions caused pain and your ongoing commitment to changing so you don’t cause more pain