Repairs for a broken relationship
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor
In a relationship conflict happens, it can be about small things or important things. It might be a specific event like an affair or it might be a long running issue like leaving laundry over the bedroom floor. How problems are dealt with goes a long way to saying how well the relationship works.
Perhaps you have seen problems in your relationship and while you would like to address them. You are not quite sure how to go about it. There are 4 basic options; the first is to do nothing. While this avoids a conflict it is unlikely to work long term as resentment builds up with you partner. What was once positive communication slowly becomes more destructive with criticism, accusations and even abuse.
A second option might be to fix it yourself. Many will have tried this, yet it can be difficult to fix a problem of how two people relate to each other by looking at it from one point of view. The reality is that both partners have to want the relationship and so trying to fix it on your own can be very hard work. That is not to say, however, that counselling cannot help you with your relationship, but the change that it can bring about in the other partner is at best limited.
Coming together to solve the issues has a much better chance of success, yet many people find that their behaviours are so ingrained that it is difficult to make progress because you revert to your normal pattern of behaviour. We come to our final option see a counsellor. A counsellor offers perspective looking from the outside they see both the issues and the possible solutions in different ways. When couples talk it becomes a list of past and present misdemeanours. This makes the couple talk about blame, guilt, shame and punishment rather than a way forward. A counsellor can help meaningful dialogue between you and your partner, by breaking the ingrained patterns.
In therapy you will be encouraged to have honest conversations, looking at how to move on from past anger, resentments and hostility toward your partner. Couples are encouraged to accept responsibility for their part in the relationship. It can be difficult be vulnerable enough to accept yourself. For example, if you say to your partner: “When you don’t clear your dishes, it makes me frustrated so snap I about anything and everything; I don’t like snapping at you, so could we do it differently?”
Part of the solution is going to be empathising with the other person’s perspective that comes from deep listening and checking and being vulnerable. When you have understood the content of what each has said you are in a better position to discuss the process that underpins your relationship. In our example, the dishes and what is said is the "content", the lack of action leading to frustration leading to snapping is the "process". You need to interfere with the process. How can you change the process? Sure, doing the dishes is one way to fix the problem, but you are fixing the content not the process. Dealing with inaction will make sure that the problem doesn’t re-emerge in picking up laundry etc. Similarly, techniques to lower frustration and anger will help to prevent snapping and allow congruence about what you are feeling.
Through that honest, adult conversation about your relationship you can begin to re-build your relationship for the present and the future. Look at ways that you can build in intimacy and spending time with each other so that there is respect, valuing and an honest exchange going forward. The process helps each partner to be mature about the relationship to own feelings and behaviours. Not to play a game being the victim or manipulating, but empathising and supporting accepting that each of you has an impact on the other.
This change in behaviour is what truly will make the difference going forward.
There is no doubt that it will take effort by both partners to re-build the relationship and effort to keep it healthy in the future. Together you can learn again what it is to love each other.