Many couples beginning therapy in my practice are stunned that their relationship and their love are in such disrepair. Once the best of friends, many couples now find themselves at odds over so many things, big and small. What happened? Where has the love gone?
Most of the answers to these questions reside in the accumulation of anger and resentment in one or both partners caused by the couple's chronic inability to resolve the inevitable conflicts which arise in all marriages and deep relationships. Couples who are not able to address and resolve their differences tend to develop persistent and predictable communication patterns and negative behaviors which prevent solutions while inadvertently promoting increasing conflict. Instead of feeling connected and safe together, couples begin to experience their relationship as lonely and empty. To "save" their relationship, many couples begin to fight more often. Others, to avoid open conflict, minimize the problems despite their growing heartache. Many simply withdraw into other interests - even dysfunctional ones which further destabilizes their relationship.
The most important issues in repairing their relationship include identifying each partner's persistent problematic communication pattern and forthrightly challenging any hurtful, pain-giving behaviors or attitudes in either partner. Usually, when a relationship is going badly, each partner's problematic communication, attitudes or behaviors are inflaming the other's, causing a downward spiral which exacerbates their unhappiness. Good relationships are characterized not by the absence of problems but by having the ability to know how, when and even whether to address the issues troubling them.
Where do problematic patterns come from? More often than not they emerge from our past experiences and from our earlier relationships, especially within our early life families. Many loving and caring people who came from painful backgrounds are inadvertently repeating the patterns they once swore they never would repeat. What people don't see is that while their particular patterns look very different from what they once experienced, they are nevertheless promoting a similar bottom line in their own present life relationships. Until these patterns are identified, acknowledged and turned around, the same familiar and unresolved conflicts will continue with the same familiar results. Nothing is changing for the better and everything is getting worse. The most common casualties of this include a marked decrease in rapport, trust, sexuality and the sense of working together.