Real Relationships are Work
When two people connect, sometimes something happens to both of them.
When what happens feels good, and seems like it might last for a while, we call it a relationship. As human beings, we are wired up to crave relationships and to find joy in them. In the beginning, relationships often feel simple, easy, and fun.
And in ten weeks, or ten months, or ten years, people change. The relationship changes. It gets more complicated. It becomes harder to overlook things. Frustrations that used to seem minor get more important, more annoying. That's when work is required.
Relationship problems are as diverse as people.
You may have been wonderfully open and honest with each other, and that has somehow slipped away. Even beyond that, openness and honesty are wonderful when they happen, but what do you do when what you think is an open and honest remark triggers an angry response or hurt withdrawal?
The anger that comes because he wasn’t sympathetic may come on top of her fear that she’ll be alone for the rest of his life. In his family, people yelled a lot and that was OK. In hers, a raised voice meant something pretty bad was on the way. In his family, people asked each other for help. In hers, that was a sign of weakness, dependence, failure. Where do you go from there?
What can you do?
There are a lot of things that you can do for yourself. The notion that an intimate partner can sincerely and honestly have different perceptions – even different memories – of your relationship might be new, but it's at the core of healthy communications. And, the book stores are full of books with advice that often works, if you can remember to take it. Here are a few examples:
Slow down the conversation.
If you have something important to say, deliver your message in small chunks, not all at once. You may find this difficult. It can be satisfying to deliver everything you’ve been holding inside in exquisite detail. The problem is that after about a minute the other person isn’t really hearing much. Slowing down the exchange may make room for understanding to happen before anger can set in.
Check for understanding.
After each chunk, ask your partner to tell you what you just said. If it didn’t get through clearly, try again, slowly. Remember to keep the chunks small, and to give your partner time to respond.
No matter how long you’ve been together, you don’t really know what your partner is thinking, especially in a stressful conversation. Did they really mean what you thought you heard? Your guess may be correct, but you’d better ask. You may be surprised.
Ask for help when you need it.
All of these useful tactics may sound simple, but it takes work to remember to use them in the heat of the moment. If the emotions and frustrations are too tangled to sort out by yourselves, sometimes a third party can help.
It’s OK to have problems. That’s called being human. And, we are social animals. You don’t need to carry your problem by yourself. Don’t be isolated, either individually or as a couple. Talk to a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor. But talk to someone who can help you remember that it takes work to keep relationships healthy and joyful.
When you do talk to someone, pay attention to how you feel afterward. How you feel after you talk is an indicator of the quality of the resource. If you come away more convinced than ever that you’re right and your partner is wrong, that might be a caution flag about that resource. If what you’re doing isn’t working, you don’t need to be encouraged to do more of it. On the other hand, if you feel like you’ve learned something constructive, or noticed something that you hadn’t noticed before, you probably have a good resource.
At Depthworks, we help restore the connection in relationships.
We give people tools and help them remember to use those tools when they need them. Does that take work? You bet. But you can get a real relationship out of it.