Getting Relationships to Work

Relationships are the single best predictor of our overall happiness in life. They can also be one of our biggest sources of distress and disappointment.

It’s not you, it’s me

Being able to look at ourselves and the part we play in relationship difficulties can be very threatening. It is natural to feel defensive when told some home truths about ourselves from someone who is close to us.

Imagine the conflict between this couple: One says “I hate arguing. Whenever there is a conflict, I walk away. I couldn’t bear the shouting at home when I was a child, and I’m not doing that myself”.

The other says “In my family we said whatever we felt. We might have yelled at each other but we got it out, and we resolved it. No-one held a grudge. I don’t know what to do when my partner won’t engage with an argument, and I’m left with all these angry feelings”.

What can we do if we recognise that we have habitual ways of responding that are less than helpful in our current relationship?
  1. Perhaps we can try and find a partner with a more compatible style. This is tempting, however we can tend to forget that they may be compatible in that aspect but it is likely there will be other aspects of their personality that we will find difficult.
  2. We can really question whether the old pattern of relating is helpful in this relationship. Old patterns are hard to break, but sometimes the fear of what might go wrong can be out of proportion, because it stems from very early feelings.
  3. Experiment with other ways of responding and see what feelings emerge. Sometimes the fear of what may go wrong is something separate from what actually happens, and the only way to get past this is to actually have the experience of nothing dreadful happening, - by actually doing the thing you fear.
  4. If you find yourself getting stuck consult a professional. Your relationship is too important to not invest the effort in.