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Your undying love is no guarantee for a healthy, long-term relationship.
Conflict and stress are a normal part of love relationships and marriages. But what rocks and erodes relationships, or breaks them up entirely, is the manner in which partners react to each other: how they express their needs, their differing communication styles, and the built-in patterns they observed and absorbed in their childhood households. When couples fail to reevaluate their roles and adjust their expectations periodically, it causes problems in sustaining a harmonious relationship.
Perfect togetherness is a myth, and even couples with the best relationships can hit roadblocks from time to time. Declaring a moratorium on the relationship and/or threatening divorce or "walking out" does not have to be the only choice to ending "the battle." An objective, nonjudgmental professional can help a couple understand what lies beneath the surface of the conflict, help them understand each of their own "relationship profiles," and help them identify and be respectful of each other's sensitive "hot buttons." Unless each partner understands what his or her individual dynamic is when facing conflict, he or she will continue to repeat the same patterns. Even if she chooses another mate, she will (unsuspectingly) seek out the same type of mate and engage in the same
behaviors—with the same disastrous results.
If you have chosen to read this, chances are your relationship is already in trouble. Common relationship conflicts include money, sex, work, children (discipline and
childrearing), and the household. A therapist can guide you in working on solutions to
these conflicts and other barriers to a healthy relationship.
Barriers to a Healthy Relationship
- Frequent arguments. These can be damaging and hurtful, unfair, and peppered with blame and accusations. Often, old wounds and issues repeatedly surface as"add-ons," having little to do with the current complaint and unmet need at hand
- Poor communication. The main problem is that couples assume and expect their partners to know what they are thinking and feeling without having to explicitly express it. Avoiding addressing the issues at any time ("I don't want to talk about it"), giving the silent treatment, keeping emotions bottled up, shouting, and hysterical crying are ineffective responses to validating a partner's deeper need to be heard and comforted, and to share feelings.
- Being emotionally unavailable. One partner may be self-absorbed and care only about what he or she wants from the other. If the other partner is always putting the needs of the other first, there is no give and take. (This is a double-edged sword, because the over-accommodating partner is setting up the other to be out of touch with his or her needs and is unable to be supportive or compassionate.) Or one partner may feel that his or her "right" to do whatever he or she wants is more important than the other's feelings or needs.
- "Dumping" problem solving on the other. A "You fix it!" attitude takes away from shared responsibilities, compassion, and support of each other.
- Not listening. One partner may not look up to make eye contact, is absorbed with his or her Blackberry or iPhone, reads the paper, walks away during a
conversation, and basically does not acknowledge his or her partner in any visible or verbal response.
- Imbalance of power. This can relate to not only who is always the decision maker but to finances, wage earning, professional degrees, job status, and socioeconomic background.
- Infidelity. One partner may seek assurance, a boost in self-esteem, selfgratification, and stimulation from inappropriate venues to satisfy an unmet, undeveloped need to feel good versus to be good. There are various reasons why partners have affairs—both emotional and physical—and many relationships can survive the affair, but many cannot.
- Disinterest in sex or withholding affection. Although arguments may be about how often the couple has had sex lately, this is often about a deeper need—about feeling loved or cared for and the need for affection.
- Lack of quality time spent together. One partner may have misplaced priorities of consuming all time and energy with work, childcare, errands, hobbies, other family members' needs, sports, volunteerism (school, church) and putting his or her partner's needs and the relationship last.
- Violation of trust. One partner may fail to keep promises, lie, keep secrets, and cheat.
- Control issues. One partner may be manipulative, possessive, and jealous. He or she may feel it necessary to check up his or her partner throughout day and may not tolerate deviations from a schedule. He or she may threaten, demand the other's paycheck, or steal money from a purse or wallet.
- Violence. There is no acceptable excuse for emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. This is the extreme end of the spectrum of one partner wanting to gain control
over the other. No one deserves to be hurt, and it most definitely is not the result of something he or she said or a behavior that was acted on.
Couple relationships can survive and grow deeper as a result of conflicts and problems. Maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner is not intuitive, unless both partners grew up in "perfect" households where the adults (adult) had balance and equality in the relationship, handled conflicts and stress without overreacting, were on the same page concerning discipline and childrearing, and demonstrated love and respect for each other on a daily basis. This is not the experience of most couples.
Couples can learn to turn failure, mistakes, and errors in actions and judgments into opportunities for growth. Relationships don't just "stay in shape" by themselves. Like any other interest you want to master, relationships need constant reevaluating of expectations (outcomes, goals), awareness of limitations, fine-tuning, and adjustment. Most couples can only do this with a commitment to try to love each other differently, an investment of time, and use of a third-party resource. A therapist can help couples:
- Learn how to communicate differently
- Practice arguing in a way that states each partner's needs instead of accuses
- Learn that it is taboo to use one partner's sensitive issues against the other
- Learn the importance of keeping independence and dependence in balance
- Learn how to keep power and control in balance through compromise
- Practice scheduling quality time on a daily and weekly basis
- Learn how to show compassion and support so each partner's needs are met
- Discover their self worth; self-esteem is important to a sound relationship.
Healthy relationships are "works in progress."
Carole Landis is located in Haverford, Pennsylvania (PA) on the Main Line in Montgomery County. Her service area includes: Philadelphia, Montgomery County (Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Bala Cynwyd, Wynnewood, Villanova, Rosemont, Narberth, Gladwynne, Penn Valley, King of Prussia, Ardmore) and Delaware County (Newtown Square, Broomall, Havertown, Upper Darby).
Contact Carole for a free 1/2 hour phone consultation.
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