There’s an old saying: it’s very easy to get married, hard to get a divorce. Have you ever wondered why that is? For starters, we’re really never taught how to build healthy relationships, whether romantic or not. We’re also never taught how to build a healthy relationship with ourselves either. If we’re lucky, we grew up in a stable family with loving, connected parents who provided a model for a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, for some of us that just wasn’t the case. And even if we did grow up with parents who were in love, there is no guarantee their model will carry over to our personal life.
So, if we have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like, what are we to do? After all, there are no Self Esteem 101 or Communication in Romantic Love 400 level classes in high school or college. And what is a healthy relationship? How do you define that? In a session yesterday with a client, that was her exact question. So, we dove in, deconstructed the concept of relationships, and had some discourse. The truth is, navigating this intricate world of relationships is tricky and takes an incredible amount of time, finesse and commitment. It is not easy to create a healthy, deep, and fulfilling connection that stands the test of time. We are organic beings, always growing, changing and discovering more about ourselves. If we wish to establish a deep and meaningful connection with another human being, we need to start from a place of balance within ourselves. But that’s easier said than done.
Growing up in this culture of achievement, while always under pressure to be the best at all costs, leaves being in balance with one’s self low on the list of priorities. And, too often this imbalance is reflected in our relationships. We take it out on our loved ones and even blame them for the misfortunes we’re dealing with. It’s the classic victim mentality where we need circumstances to always go our way in order to be happy.
If we dare to look, our love relationships provide us with a mirror. They reflect how we really feel at any given moment. These relationships can also be our best opportunity to learn more about who we really are. Do you feel your partner is acting weird, unresponsive, distant, or apathetic? Maybe that’s a reflection of how you really feel, or it’s a sign that you’re not feeling present enough yourself. So, what do we do when things turn sour? When things go off track? With the lack of available courses on How to Repair Your Relationship When Things Have gone Massively Astray, here are a few tips and tricks that may help when you and your partner are feeling hopelessly disconnected:
1. Increase attention, not pressure
In a fast-paced world, we often look for the quick fix when it comes to our health, our education, our jobs, and yes, even our relationships. When something goes wrong, taking the easy way out is just so appealing. We want to quickly jump in and get to a resolution so things can be okay again and we can get back to normal! Or, so that we can skip to the makeup sex and pretend nothing ever happened. This is not an uncommon way to try and handle conflict, but just like in every other aspect of life, there is no easy way out. When we move too quickly, the underlying issue doesn’t get resolved. And there’s a high chance someone will either get run over or acquiesce and, as a result, may still harbor resentment. Instead, increase your attention, mindfulness, curiosity, and softness instead of pressuring your partner to explain what’s going on, to see your point of view, or to let something go.
No one ever actually calmed down when told to do so. Understand that it may be uncomfortable to be in the spot of no resolution. Resist the urge to jump out of the uncomfortable emotions and stay present with what feelings you’re experiencing. Those feelings may be the answer to what caused the conflict in the first place. Maybe you’re feeling sadness or disappointment and can come from a place of real understanding and compassion for what your partner has been experiencing. Maybe you can apologize and be vulnerable from a place of feeling the impact you are having on your partner. Increase attention on your partner. Try to feel and learn what’s going on from their perspective. Perhaps the reason for the argument is that they’re going through something intense and don’t have the words to express or ask for what they need, so they’re shutting you out. With increased attention, space, and presence, a feeling of safety and trust can emerge, and they may open up and let you in.
2. Look for where you’ve stopped seeing each other or aren’t being honest
Often when we’re at an impasse in a relationship, it’s because we’ve stopped being honest with ourselves. We aren’t being authentic, or we are out of alignment with what we really want or need. In that process, we’ve lost the ability to see our partner for who they are, another human being with their own challenging life experiences. We project what’s going on with us onto them. In my last relationship, I had gotten to such a disconnected place in myself that I was trying to fill my need for attention, love, and connection in all the wrong ways. I couldn’t see that it was right in front of me and inside of me and I couldn’t allow it in. It was damaging my relationship, and in that process, my partner and I became increasingly disconnected. My dishonesty about those needs, taking responsibility for meeting those myself, and finding where they could exist in connection with him caused us to be in the same exact argument again, and again, and again. It was deeply infuriating and left us both feeling powerless as to how to get back on track. I stopped seeing him as a loving, supportive partner and kept sending him further and further away. I even painted him to be someone who couldn’t get anything right. He was doing his own version, as well, and had been staying connected in a way that no longer felt honest to him. When you find yourself in a constant feedback loop of total defeat and disconnection, try and retrace. Where are you out of alignment? Where are you making assumptions or projecting falsely onto your partner? Where are you pushing for an outcome/objective that isn’t being asked for or doesn’t want to be met. It may feel incredibly uncomfortable to turn and look but there is a way out of the insanity.
3. Make an agreement to “stay connected no matter what”
Sounds like a tall order, but this one is key. When deciding to be in a committed adult relationship establish an agreement that even when your partner drives you absolutely nuts, you will do your best to stay connected and hear each other out. This might look like having an argument right before work, leaving for the day, and saying, “I know we haven’t found a solution yet, but I love you and I’m here and I’m connected, so let’s revisit this when we get home later.” This communicates to your partner, even though things don’t feel great, “I’m not going anywhere, and I want to hear you out.” When the threat of abandonment, leaving, isolating and disconnecting is off the table, you can establish a baseline foundation of trust to venture into deeper spots of intimacy together. If you know that you can be honest, that you can tell the truth when it feels confronting or ugly and the other person isn’t leaving, it will be a more open and honest relationship. When you know you can express emotions and be vulnerable in the presence of your partner, and you can ignore your inner critical narrator telling you that you’re looking needy, you’ll invite someone in to see you in places others never have. That shows trust. Decide to be in it for the good, bad, and ugly. This doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment, but decide if you’re both investing time, attention, and parts of yourself to a relationship. Be kind to each other and ride through the uncomfortable. There is so much expansion, depth, and growth on the other side.
4. Look to Give Instead of Receive
As with many aspects of interpersonal dynamics the answer is often counter intuitive. What you may not know is that when we hold someone as the object of our affection, think about their wonderful qualities, admire them, shower them with love and praise, we encourage from them the same in return. This is really what falling in love is from a purely chemical perspective. When you shower your love all over me, I feel good. This then encourages me to shower those positive thoughts and emotions back on to you. Round and round we go. If you don’t believe me, try it. Human beings are remarkably perceptive beings. We must be! It is paramount to our survival. Whether it’s the UPS delivery driver, a coworker in the office, or your partner, when you hold them in high regard, they sense that from you and will respond accordingly. Over time, however, rather than pointing out all the things we love about our partners, we begin to do just the opposite. We notice all the things we can’t stand! All the little things they don’t do, the ways we want them to be different. This is precisely how relationships lose their luster over time! Although I am not a religious person, good advice is good advice, and in the complex world of love affairs (that can lay you on your a** fast and furiously), you take it wherever you can get it! “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” may feel at times like a resignation. As though you are giving in, surrendering to something you don’t feel is right or just. The truth is, however, the words were meant to work for you, rather than against you. The most certain way to “get” is to give. Whether it’s money, or love and connection, when we give, when we hold the other person in a positive light, make them feel good, say nice things, forgive them, don’t sweat the small stuff, they respond by giving that back!