In many ways, relationships are governed by the routines the partners establish for themselves. These patterns create a dynamic and good healthy partnership, or can undermine a couple’s chances for happiness and longevity.
When I interview couples in my practice during couple counseling, most of them complain about toxic patterns of arguments and mutual criticism. Unfortunately, these patterns often lead to withdrawal and can jeopardize the stability of your union. For example, Carolyn and Todd have bitter disagreements over money, which creates chronic tension every weekend as they pay bills.
As Carolyn puts it, “I used to spend too much and run into credit card debt, but that was a few years ago. We fight a lot because Todd doesn’t trust me with money. He manages my expenses and it feels like he’s controlling me. “
In tough conversations like the one Carolyn and Todd have about money, it helps to choose battles wisely and distinguish what is worth addressing a topic. Many experts, including the author Esther Perel, believe that arguments can lead to the breakdown of a relationship. It’s like chronic warfare that undermines the quality of a relationship and makes difficult issues to discuss. When dealing with differences with your partner, it is important to listen carefully, understand the other’s perspective, govern defensively and stop criticizing and accusing one another.
Tips for overcoming hurdles in relationships
Stop trying to prove a point
In intimate relationships and marriages, one of the biggest hurdles for couples to face is approaching difficult conversations without becoming defensive or proving a point. This creates an unfortunate pattern of attack and defense where both partners believe they need to prove they are right and defend their positions.
After all, it takes two people to contribute to any miscommunication or argument. According to psychologist Dr. Daniel B. Wile, if this pattern continues over time, can diminish love and respect between partners. The following are ways you can curb your immune system before they become a major problem.
4 ways to curb defensiveness
1. Maintain a calm serenity
While it is natural to raise your voice and get excited when you feel attacked, lower your voice and adopt a friendlier tone. When you feel like you are taking things personally, hit the pause button and suggest a 10-15 minute break for your partner before continuing a conflicted conversation. You might say, “I’m trying to listen but I can feel myself getting defensive. Can we start this conversation again in 15 minutes?
2. Listen to your partner’s site and validate it.
Instead of focusing on your own agenda and points, you want to get across, ask your partner what is bothering them, and really listen before you respond. When you answer, check their perspective and use a soft start-up like, “I appreciate your input and would like to hear more from you.” Be sure to use good eye contact and a calming touch to comfort your partner.
3. Focus on the issues at hand.
If you focus on switching partners, you are missing out on the opportunity to work together to find a solution. You are no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand to meet your two needs. Stay in the moment and resist the urge to bring up old issues or touch your partner’s rough spots.
4. Take responsibility.
When you focus more on your part of the problem, the less likely you will be pointing your finger at your partner or taking things personally. Think about how your words and actions can make your partner feel and know that you have your share in a disagreement. By taking responsibility for his part of the argument, even for a small part, Todd acknowledges Carolyn’s feelings and they can begin to restore healthy communication.
In a recent article for his website, writer Kyle Benson unpacks what he calls “2 hidden ways we sabotage intimacy in the relationship we want”. Benson breaks down what he calls “breakup behaviors” that are at the core of these destructive patterns and that can mean the fate of a relationship. Relying on a laundry list of relatable and all-too-common behaviors – from overworking, withdrawing, drinking, withholding affection or your opinion, to lying and secrecy – Benson believes these patterns drive a wedge between couples.
And the number one cause of these challenging patterns? They are the result of “deeply ingrained beliefs about ourselves”. In other words, a partner may establish a negative pattern based on an instinct for self-protection or even decreased self-esteem and self-worth.
Next, Benson goes into a related but distinct set of behaviors that he calls “push”[ing] our partners away. “Born out of fear, these patterns are also likely to sabotage a potentially healthy relationship. Benson suggests that some people fear that “getting too close” could lead them to lose their “freedom” and “individuality”.
The other side of the same coin, according to Benson, are those who fear that vulnerability and the exposure of their true selves will turn their partner off and that they will not be loved for who they are.
In both cases, the solution to these subversive behaviors is clear: Open, honest communication must be supported by an equally honest self-assessment. Indeed, realizing one’s fears and weaknesses is one of the greatest keys to gaining a deeper understanding of a relationship, and only through this confident inventory can couples truly avoid the kind of self-sabotage that plagues otherwise promising relationships.
Here are 5 strategies for increasing communication and creating loving intimacy.
- Make sure you understand first and then try to be understood. Respond to what your partner is really saying right now. Be focused on their experience more than your own. Listen to their point of view and say something like “I see your point of view” even if you disagree with them.
- Freely communicate your admiration and preference for your partner. You could say, “You are such a special woman (man) and I am happy to have you as my wife (husband).”
- Let your partner do something “right” and compliment him or her for it
- Practice offering mutual gratitude regularly. For example, you might say, “I am so grateful that you are working so hard, and I can see that you had a tough day. I want to get you some iced tea and see how your day went. “
- Contact your partner when they bid for attention, affection, or any other form of positive communication. Overtures often show up in a simple but powerful way, like a smile or a pat on the shoulder.
Hurdles in relationships can be difficult, but learning how to overcome them is important. Communicating love and admiration with your partner is a trademark of advertising. However, as couples grapple with everyday stress, these comments may become less and less common.
You may not say thank you out loud for your partner, as this may not be a given. Instead, you could be doing a big deal on trivial questions and missing out on the big picture. However, couples who manage to avoid divorce and overcome the challenges of marriage have the “we are together on this” stance and are generally positive in their words and actions towards one another.