Couples, Conflict and Change – How to Keep Your Relationship Connected

It seems so easy at the beginning and couples can be a little unrealistic about relationship struggles, assuming they will never happen. Relationships can emerge into something deeper and more stable but be prepared for a few rapids along the way. I constantly hear couples worried about the compatibility of the relationship as the arguments or differences emerge saying; “we use to agreed on everything” and “I really felt understood in a way I never had before and so close, but now there’s a tension”. So what’s happening?

As time marches on and this varies for each couple, differences and behaviours emerge that perhaps haven’t been seen before. Even after several years of partnership or marriage you may at times encounter your partner in ways that may shock, unnerve or even make you wonder if you really know each other. This is because until people are really secure and committed, certain elements of their personality may be hidden or kept in check. Just about everyone under stress or certain conditions can exhibit what I call survival behaviour and generally this isn’t the best part; as your significant other grapples for balance he/she could become tense, selfish, preoccupied or resort to old patterns that he/she said never happen any more. Of course this then, in turn, threatens the relationship stability and issues such as trust and fear then emerge.

Firstly, I would say ‘keep calm’ and don’t take it personally. You haven’t been duped; this is generally a temporary ‘survival’ state until the person is back in equilibrium. Unfortunately, when one half of the couple goes into this state the other often struggles too. In an effort to bring themselves and the relationship back into balance the couple often resort to blaming each other, criticism and defences. None of this brings them closer together or invites cooperation between them.

How to Repair the Disconnection In Your Relationship

Learn How to Communicate

Firstly, ditch the attack and blame game, which so many couples fall into and focus on your part. That will need some self-enquiry and reflection. I would advise therapy, relationship forums or reading to understanding how relationships work (see the recommended reading list below). After all, we inform ourselves of just about everything else that’s important in our lives, so how come very few people put these type of books on their wedding list!

Take responsibility for your part; what are you doing or not doing? I tell my clients the upset is never about what you think it is, to widen the lens on what’s happening and look at the emotions that are being evoked in each other. Remember, other adult relationships do not evoke such strong reactions. Steer clear of jibes like “no one else says that about me or I don’t feel like this with anyone else” Of course you don’t. Apart from your parents way back, there isn’t so much to lose or gain in any other adult relationship.

Set Agreements and Boundaries

Negotiate with each other so that the same upsets don’t keep recurring. If these agreements are being broken then it’s time to really look deeper at what’s happening. Is it that one person isn’t being completely honest and fears upset, so agrees to things they can’t keep? Perhaps the other person gets angry too quickly or can’t cope, so one person agrees to more than they can actually handle. Be brave and step in at the outset, as it will only get worse if you can’t do what you said you would.

Focus on Yourself

At a time of tension, talking, especially late at night, can just result in the merry go round of unmet needs and frustration. I would encourage each half of the couple to focus on the primary emotions of what’s going on as opposed to the content of who said and did what. Often your primary emotions are deeply related to your past and your partner may well be resurrecting old wounds, often ones you don’t even know exist.

What are the Relationship Strengths?

Remember the reasons you got together and what you do well together. Agree some timeout doing something you both enjoy. Regaining this sort of connection can create the right balance and emotional safety to discuss the more difficult issues and bring the harmony back.

Useful Reading

Harvile Hendrix – Getting the Love you Want and Keeping the Love You Find

Catherine O’Kane – REAL: The Power of Authentic Connection

By Sarah Doherty

You can ask Sarah any questions about sex and relationships through Rejuvage – click here


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