One of my aims with clients is to give them the skills they need to navigate their way through relationship problems, the inevitable challenges that occur having found a relationship. The truth is that all relationships are going to involve a degree of struggle and at points squabbling. It’s totally normal, if you’re currently having relationship problems or begin to there is no reason to panic. In NO way does the fact you’re fighting mean you’re with the wrong person.
If you’d like to know more about how to avoid destroying a potentially great relationship then read on.
Every relationship, even yours, will go through a painful stage where we could potentially begin to worry about whether we’ve made a big mistake. Relationship problems are confusing. Maybe Prince Charming is actually a lot more like Prize Chump or maybe Ms. Perfect has turned into Ms. Perfect Pain.
Hopefully you’ve noticed that your better relationships start out in infatuation where everything about the person is great, including the bits that aren’t so great. Even the way they snore is kinda cute. It’s a great phase and I’d encourage you to love it for as long as it lasts.
The struggle for power
Next up is the power struggle, sorry but it’s going to happen whether it takes two days or two years to arise, it’s a given, so buckle up because it’s going to get rough. There will come a point at which you begin to feel you’re not getting quite as much out of the relationship as you hoped you might. This is where you are very likely to start to get into arguments including raised voices and potential door-slamming. Your relationship problems have arrived and you’re thinking of leaving.
I’m not a great fan of letting it all hang out, I think some things are just better off not being shared. I’m continually amazed at how it can take 10 seconds or less to say something that you will have a really hard time living down. A classic is threatening to throw someone out of your shared home or even threatening to leave. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving- years later that threat will be giving your relationship problems and continue to be raised as ammunition in any argument.
Step away from the edge
So here’s the most significant and easily mastered tool I’ve ever found when it comes to having discussions that would previously have become major fights. It comes from a body of work by Claude Steiner called Emotional Literacy. In a romantic relationship there is a tendency for us to regress to a mental age somewhere between three and six years when we start to argue. You know how sometimes you totally forgot how the argument started but you know you’ve got to win- well at that point you’re out of control and would do well to call a time out. Just walk away from each other with a commitment to talking about it later.
When you come back together the challenge is to remain adult and responsible. For most of us this can feel like a new language, but if you persevere it will lead you to new territories with a lot less turbulence. It all hinges around this one sentence structure:
When you do X, I feel Y.
How simple is that? Personally I don’t think it gets any simpler. It cuts through all the tendencies to blame, shame or ridicule your partner. It forces you to take responsibility for being clear about what is going on for you and what you’d like to stop.
So instead of :
‘You are so lazy, you really piss me off, I can’t believe that you forgot to send that parcel, you promised me you would. You are such a jerk!!!!’
You’d say something along the lines of:
‘I thought we’d agreed that you would post that parcel. When you break an agreement with me I feel sad and like our agreements don’t matter to you.’
Throwing petrol at a fire
The great thing about the second approach is that it doesn’t inflame the situation. I also like it because it forces the other person to take responsibility for being a lazy jerk. Ok, maybe that’s not quite the spirit, but if you’d used the first sentence then it’s like throwing petrol at a fire to try and put it out. They get mad at you for calling them a jerk and nothing gets resolved, which means they can skip taking any responsibility for their behaviour.
What are 3 things guaranteed to light you up if people do them to you. You tell me yours in the comments box below and maybe I’ll tell you mine. Do you have any great examples of things to say that would guarantee you’d never get what you want?
See my tips below for other specific examples about how to limit the impact of your disagreements.
5 minutes to a better relationship.
I say this time and time again. It’s unlikely that you two getting together was a mistake. If you’re seriously wondering ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ then why not take a look at the fr** quiz. It’s also very interesting to take a look at past relationships because you’ll see where you went wrong. It’s one of the better uses of 5 minutes surfing the net.
Time outs are a very valuable tool, just make sure that you have both agreed to using them. If the argument starts to get heated it’s ok to call a time out, walk away and figure out exactly what it is you’re trying to say. As a quick clue it’s generally that you feel mad, sad or scared.
People can actually behave their worst with the ones they love, it’s normal but you really do need to protect the relationship. Rule number one is to never, ever, threaten the relationship as a negotiating tool during an argument. It’s very traumatic for all concerned and takes away a level of trust that will take a long time to rebuild.
Emotional literacy only works if both parties care about how they make the other person feel. If you tell someone that you are hurt by something that they are doing and they continue to do it then you have a significant problem. It’s referred to as a boundary violation and that’s an article in itself.
My granny used to ask me to think about whether a tricky comment was true, nice or necessary before making it. It still works for me and is easy enough to remember. I still get a little hot headed at times but haven’t injured anyone for years now .
For those of you playing spot the keyword phrase today’s phrase is relationship problems so if you said relationship problems you win. Please visit the website and take advantage of all that is on offer for easing your relationship problems.