How to mend and repair a relationship
At the bottom of the relationship distress cycle, many people just feel despair. Each can think, ‘Would any kind of help could fix this mess?’ Later, as they lift out of the cycle and back to feeling okay, going for help loses its urgency – until the next time. Committed relationship can go through multi-year up-and-down cycles, and yet this may only lead one of the partners to seek help.
I estimate more than half of adults who are unhappy in their intimate relationship are with a partner who IS content with the relationship. Here’s some reasons for unbalanced discontent: CLICK HERE
Just think of those who have asked their partner to go to counselling for years, and they can’t see the point or flatly refuse, and are then blown away when the unhappy one declares they are moving out.
That is the first problem in mending. How to bring the one happy with the situation alongside the other’s unhappiness in a way that the cycle of distress can be resolved collaboratively. Too often a team effort doesn’t kick in until it is almost too late for one partner. External constraints such as financial loss or impact on the kids, which often delay separation, are not enough in the end. Commitment requires a personal dedication to a sense of ‘we-ness’.
In the absence of intimate partner terrorism, in my clinical experience long term committed relationships can mend just about anything except the unforgivable or a profound lack of a personal dedication to ‘us’. What follows is a map of the landscape of rehabilitating couple trouble, with tips and tricks for getting there.
Step by step
- Go slowly.
- Address sleep deprivation first, then
- Work to feel like a team,
- Lean into a feeling for yourselves as one entity, and
- Think and act like people who usually get treated well by their partners.
- Prepare for difficult conversations.
- Practice self-soothing techniques.
- Learn to focus on emotional process.
- Together, agree to begin.
- Use the 10-minute rule: If the guy or girl in the relationship hates opening up emotionally, or isn’t good at talking, or feels s/he gets interrupted all the time, or shouted down, then it’s worth working to the 10-minute rule. Sit down together to discuss things calmly and you each have ten minutes of uninterrupted talking time to put your case. Neither of you must interrupt or swear, or shout, or flounce out. You just talk when it’s your turn and listen when it’s not. If you need another 10 minutes each, then have it. But agree before you start that you won’t let this discussion go on all night. Guys in particular hate the idea of an open-ended row that goes on and on. So, agree that after, say, half an hour, you’ll go and get a pizza or something.
- Balance this with a 2-minute drama or monologue as needed. Stamp your feet, howl, scream, blame the government, whatever… Okay you’ve got 15 seconds left… get it off your chest… Now, back to teamwork, after offering appreciation for the time given to letting off steam.
- ‘When women say, “let’s talk” every man runs for cover.’ The trouble with ‘we have to talk!’ or ‘I have a question’ as openers is they don’t invite our partner to lean into the conversation and leave the person asking the question, believing the other won’t talk or doesn’t listen.
- Assume that each is acting in good faith and with a good heart.
- Your partner is likely doing their best and carrying the most they can bear as well.
- Choose tiny steps. Intend the smallest imaginable change first and together.
- For example, turning toward bids for connection rather than away,
- ensuring the first four minutes of coming together after work offers meaningful re-connection,
- turning every complaint into a request.
- Intentionally expressing appreciation and gratitude to each other.
- Err on the side of using ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘you’ and ‘me’ language.
- Organize your lives, cooperatively around these intentions.
- That is a mammoth task for many couples but
- even a tiny speck of light changes the very nature of darkness.
- A strong friendship and one of fondness and admiration are key.
- Most marriages can mend if a tiny spark of fondness and admiration remains. Become well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, quirks, hopes, and dreams. Make a habit of enquiring about these.
- Ask both yourself and your beloved what surprised you today? What inspired you today? What touched or moved you today? What strength did you draw on to pull yourself through a difficult moment today?
- These can be about work, home, and life. Note them in a shared diary.
- Deepen your knowledge of each other by asking how, what, where and when questions.
- Avoid ‘why’ questions when a ‘how’ will do.
- Express appreciation and gratitude – I can’t repeat this enough.
- Talk with tact, and scan ahead.
- React if you must but with forethought and later.
- Put good manners first, rehash garbage last.
- Don’t get caught in the criticize/pursue/attack and defend/placate/withdraw cycle
- The above are also the ground rules for a dignified co-existence in a broken relationship.
- Communication change makes a difference.
- Change saying, ‘you make me feel’ to saying, ‘I feel … when you …’.
- Change ‘don’t wants’ to ‘would likes’.
- Change hoping and hinting to asking directly with ‘I …’
- Change guessing or assuming to making it explicit.
- Label your feelings – verbalize emotions instead of acting them out.
- Give up the struggle to change them into someone you want, and they are not.
- Forget the idea that all problems can be solved. Many issues are not solvable, they are perpetual.
- Solve the solvable ones and work around the irreconcilable differences.
- Apologize even if you are right (the “right” or “happy”, “proud” or “close” dilemma) or turn your marriage into a courtroom: “I’m right, you’re wrong and I can prove it” by using the deal breaking trump card that I keep in store for these occasions.
- Sometimes both of you are exhausted by an absorbing yet divisive negative interaction cycle. Unable to find the positive cycle that will draw you together again?
- The negative interaction cycle is the problem – not your partner.
- The pattern is the problem.
- Finding it hard to believe that you contribute equally to the cycle? It is a dance remember!
- If in doubt read Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight”, and her demon dialogues here CLICK HERE
- First, agree to consciously manage the space and time given to recycling reactive emotions like anger, jealousy, resentment, despair, and frustration.
- These create isolation and push you further apart.
- This is not recommending censorship nor silencing but intentional and kind management of difficult emotions by
- changing difficult conversations to learning conversations.
- If you can’t work as a team at this level, then get help.