Dealing with relationship challenges
|relationship||"an emotional or other connection between people"|
|conflict||"to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash"|
What is it?
Conflict arises between two people for a wide variety of reasons. The conflict is an argument, a power struggle, a style of communication that can be painful, or can arise from a partner's unspoken expectations and hurt feelings. A conflict can also arise in a partnership from personality differences and intolerance and spark into a long term debate over who is "right". We have all seen the comics, sitcoms, movies, and operas that depict marriage negatively- with rigid roles and gender-based expectations. misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and secrets. When two people no longer feel safe enough to be vulnerable with each other, that is when the storm can begin. It may grow into a lifelong battle, or bluster in quickly and then die off- but if not acknowledged and then resolved, there will be problems ahead.
When it becomes a problem
Generally speaking, we see many couples who enter couples therapy when one of the partners says "Enough." and threatens to end the relationship if the couple does not enter therapy. Although it may not be ideal to enter therapy this way, with one unwilling partner, it is a theme in couples work. It is rare to find a couple that says, 'I think we might need some extra guidance and insight around this one issue that is a sticking point for us." Usually, the couple is in some sort of crisis: of trust, of communication, of stagnation and they reach out to the therapist for help. However, when the couple gains skills and experiences success through couples therapy, they may re-enter therapy down the road with a more intentional goal like strengthening communication, ideas for rekindling passion, or maybe the couple just requires a trustworthy guide through a different phase of life or their connection.
What Can I Do To Deal
A great deal can be learned by hearing your partner talk to someone about their perspective of the relationship. It is also true that they will learn from you as they hear you confide in the therapist. Sometimes it can be quite surprising to hear what your partner thinks the problem is, while you thought you were on the same page all along. A good couples counselor will not side with either partner, but will make each partner feel equally heard and supported. We often hear from one partner that they were always fearful to enter therapy because they felt the therapist would tell them "it was all your fault", confirming their worst fears. This won't happen with a good therapist. Your therapist will help you feel heard, and more importantly help you feel heard by your partner. It is their job to help you develop skills together to be able to hear each other clearly without each individuals' hurt interfering. The couple's therapist will then help guide the couple towards the goals they have set for their relationship and help them to celebrate wins and successes along the way.
Why One-to-One Therapy Is Important
A therapist can help you see the nature of your conflict and hurts, teach you skills to navigate when the landmines appear, and help you develop empathy with one another to provide safety. One of the most important tools in couples work is your work. Many therapists will require that each person be in individual counseling, as the things that arise in couples are directly informed (if not caused ) by each partner's patterns and family history. A couples therapist will help you see how your parents' relationship has an imprint on your relationship that you may not be aware of, and will help you move through that and let it go once it is uncovered.
In the short-term it is important to reach out at the first sign of trouble, and to bring up counseling with your partner while you are in a connected space, and not in the middle of an all-out battle. You can help your partner see that they will not be blamed, and that you will both be helped to have a satisfying, connected and passionate partnership without conflict.
In the long-term, you can always return to couples counseling when another issue arises, or you enter a new phase of life such as having your first child, having a teen, an empty nest, and then perhaps retirement. All of these periods in life have an impact on your partnership and a "tune-up" is always available to you.
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