This is the second post in our “Working Alone to Improve Your Relationship” series
Working alone on a relationship problem can mean that you have to take a look at your own issues and your contribution to the difficulties with your partner.
While this challenge is not always easy, the payoff in terms of your own emotional wellness can be enormous, both for your own future personal happiness and for the success of your relationship. Working solo on a relationship may mean coming to terms with the anger you have fostered (perhaps for years), taking responsibility for your own happiness, breaking out of your old ways of seeing the world, changing your expectations about how you should live everyday, and accepting the good in your relationship as being good enough. It may mean letting go of some of your most entrenched behaviors. You may even find that letting go can bring you tremendous rewards that you never expected.
Think of a relationship as a system with two parts which strives to achieve balance. It can be compared to a see-saw. When one of the partners makes a shift, the other partner has to make a comparable shift to maintain the balance. This often works negatively.
For example, if Karen reminds Michael to take out the trash, Michael, feeling controlled, might back off and stop communicating. In turn, Karen then criticizes Michael even further for breaking off communication – and Michael retreats even further. A balance is achieved in this case with a pattern of blame and withdrawal.
How can the balance shift in a more positive direction? Karen might decide to stop reminding Michael to take out the trash. In fact, Karen starts taking out the trash. Michael does not feel controlled in this case and has no need to break off communication. Showing appreciation to Karen for doing this chore, Michael starts taking out the trash.
Both parties win in this case, and a positive balance is achieved in the relationship. (Of course, this could backfire on Karen, who may end up taking out the trash all the time. But at least the old pattern is broken, communication now has a chance to succeed, and Karen can assess whether it is more important to maintain the relationship with new ground-rules, even though it is flawed and far from ideal, or to continue the old pattern of blame and withdrawal.)
A qualified couples therapist, marriage counselor, or relationship therapist can help you to develop effective relationship skills.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT