A Relationship Tune-Up
As many couples’ therapists can attest, there are a few repetitive themes that come up time and again and negatively impact romantic relationships and hurt partners’ communication. If couples can become more aware of these patterns and problems, better communication and a closer connection may be the positive result. In this month of love and expectations, here are a few common relationship snafus that can impact your love connection:
1. Assuming your partner knows your needs: Even couples who have been together for decades can be surprised by what their partners are feeling and needing. Because couples can feel very much in sync or have a long history together, it is often surprising that we may need to detail what our needs are. Nonetheless, your partner is not telepathic and cannot always intuit what you are feeling or desire.
Instead: Ask yourself what your own needs are, and, during a calm moment, communicate them to your partner as clearly as possible.
2. Avoidance: Many partners will know what the “hot button” topics are within their relationships. Often times, if a potentially sensitive topic can be seen on the horizon, we avoid preemptive discussion until it has to come up, often in the form of a heated argument. When arguments arise after avoidance, we often feel that we want to avoid the issue further the next time.
Instead: Resist the urge to avoid the issue until emotions are running high. Tackle the issue well before there is a problem to make a plan together and preempt an argument and feelings of being misunderstood.
3. Minimization: Certain situations affect each of us differently. It is not uncommon within a relationship for one person to be more upset or activated by a situation or event than the other. In an effort to calm the other partner down, one may naturally say, “it’s not really that bad” or “let’s not make this a big deal.” Unfortunately, statements like those, which are meant to calm a partner, may have the opposite effect because your partner does not feel heard or understood.
Instead: First validate your partner’s feelings, then attempt calming statements. If this continues to escalate your partner, stop, listen, validate, and ask what they need for support. This pattern will help your partner feel listened to and deescalate difficult situations much faster.
4. Mistaking my for our: Because couples can grow closer and closer over time, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate the me from the us. This is a difficult pattern to recognize, especially if you and your partner have been in a long-term relationship. Sometimes, couples will come into therapy and say “I’m not happy with this relationship.” After some discussion and self reflection, it may become clear that we are unhappy with ourselves but only see our unhappiness projected onto the relationship.
Instead: If you are feeling dissatisfied within your relationship, do a self assessment first. Are you feeling happy? Why or why not? Come up with individual goals separately from couple or family goals. If you identify and work on those goals, you may find you are feeling better about your relationship or that the relationship was not the core issue to begin with.
5. Not checking in: Many couples assume that everything is fine because “it’s just like it always is at home.” Not checking in with your partner regularly can lead to less communication about necessary ingredients to keep the relationship active and engaging. Less communication can become a slippery slope towards break up; you have undoubtedly heard comments like, “I just realized I haven’t been happy in ten years.”
Instead: Set times of the year to have check in discussions. Good times to have a “how are we doing” talk is around New Year’s, anniversaries, childrens’ birthdays, and/or Valentine’s Day (hint, hint). Try to have this discussion include relationship highs and lows from the year and goals, too; try to keep it productive, not negative.
Don’t forget that relationships need active attention and time. They should be cared for and tuned-up daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Be good to yourself, be good to your partner, and you will enjoy a smoother ride!
Disclaimer: Shrink Wrapped: Sessions To Go ™ is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or supplement assessment and/or treatment by a licensed mental health professional.
Dr. Nicole Joseph © 2012