Spotting the Danger Signs in Relationships and How Counselling can Help
Most of us would like to be in a relationship in which we feel loved, safe, appreciated, needed and free to be ourselves. Ideally, we’d like our partners to make the right responses to us on almost every occasion. Of course, this isn’t easy and sometimes relationships can become strained.
If your relationship is suffering because one or both of you are constantly very angry, then it is likely that there is quite a lot of work to be done to pull things around. That word “constantly” is vital here. Anger is normal in relationships. In fact, anger is really just another form of passion. Sometimes a big argument can bring you closer together as you realise just how much you really love each other and making up can result in red hot passion that really you wouldn’t want to miss. Anger is energy and as long as it is expressed reasonably then it can be productive. If the anger becomes internalised or becomes trapped then it can turn into resentment and bitterness which is an altogether more corrosive thing.
Some Relationship Danger Signs
- Constant criticism and sniping (by either or both of you)
- Treating the other with contempt
- Emotional and physical withdrawal from the relationship
- Not kissing
- A lack of intimacy (either physical or emotional)
- Anger about specific incidents becoming a general character assassination
- Being irritated by things that previously seemed minor
- Lack of conversation except about trivial things like which tv channel to watch
- Avoiding doing things together (even something as simple as watching tv together)
- Not listening to your partner and either shouting or walking off before they get their message across.
Kissing can be a particularly good indicator. If you have no desire to kiss your partner that could mean that your relationship is either in trouble or could be heading that way. Couples who kiss even after a bad fight are effectively saying, “Even though I really don’t like what happened just then, I do love you anyway.” Not kissing can become a habit that gets harder and harder to break. It can be a good idea at the start a long-term relationship to agree to kiss (even just a peck) before bed even if you are very angry with each other. It does diffuse things just a little.
In a struggling relationship, it can often be harder to kiss your partner with any real affection than it is to have sex with them. Sex has two sides – the physical drive and need; and the affectionate, intimate, connecting side. In healthy relationships both are happily expressed. When there is bad feeling around, our brains and bodies might lead us into thinking it’s ok to have sex (because we can tune into the driven side), but won’t allow us the same trick with kissing. It is possible that sex can provide a physical release and satisfaction for both partners even if they have come to dislike each other – and it can also be a release of the tension of anger; but for kissing to feel right there has to be more than just a physical connection. For this reason, in troubled relationships, kissing often goes before sex.
Intimacy and Communication
Intimacy requires vulnerability and it is very undermining for the relationship if you feel that you’d rather not show your partner your vulnerability, or if you feel that to do so would result in a negative judgement. Loving partners appreciate that you can’t always be strong and that even the best of us has times when we need a little help with something. Showing and allowing that creates a bond between you. Dealing with everything on your own is effectively a type of withdrawal. This can lead to a vicious circle, whereby your partner feels angry that you have withdrawn and in turn their anger encourages you to stay away and withdraw even further. Positions can become entrenched very quickly, when with a little vulnerability or sensitivity, they might have been dealt with.
Lack of clear communication can be an obvious problem. Aside from not talking or spending time with one another, there can also be crossed-wires, whereby partners are trying to communicate but the message is not being picked up by the other. In his book, The Five Languages of Love, Gary Chapman talks about touch, words, gifts, quality time and acts of service as being the ways in which lovers show each other how much they love one another. It can be confusing, for instance if one person expresses their love by doing things (acts of service) for their partner - e.g. washing their car or baking them a cake - and the other is expecting (and not getting) words. Both partners may feel unloved when in fact they are both communicating love in the way they find easiest. This sort of situation might be easily solved with a little awareness, discussion or via counselling.
Most people with relationship problems take a long time to turn to therapy. If you think of a relationship as being a little like a ship, it needs maintenance from time to time and if it gets a hole or two in it, then it can be repaired if both partners put some effort into that. However, the more and bigger the holes, the more likely it is to sink. If a ship gets damaged, its owners bring it into dry-dock for repairs before it gets worse – we should do the same with our relationships.
Counselling can be the ideal method for sorting out problems. At the end of sessions, it is amazing how often couples tell me that they have just discussed issues that they would never have broached on their own. The careful rule setting and guiding hand of the counsellor easily facilitates exploration of otherwise difficult areas. Sometimes harsh words and difficult things are said and then the air is cleared and things start to get better. Honest expression of anger or frustration is much healthier than repression. At other times things are said that were only vaguely in awareness for either partner before. Talking when a neutral and helpful person is present can open up a lot of issues and feelings and result in several breakthrough moments.
A couples’ counsellor can help you to improve your methods of communication, remember why you fell in love in the first place, rediscover your sense of fun and play, and spot and start to remove negative patterns of behaviour between you. In this way, you can change and build a healthier relationship.