All couples have predictable ways of interacting that are unhelpful and keep their relationship stuck, repeating the same old cycle time and time again.
Sometimes all it takes is one word, or slight change in tone and couples find themselves repeating years old patterns they can never seem to break. These seemingly benign interactions can trigger an avalanche of emotion, and you’re right back to where you’ve been so many times that you often feel like you could write the book on dysfunctional relationships.
Unfortunately, when these patterns persist in a relationship, they can impact your whole life negatively.
Over time, if these patterns do not change your relationship will start to suffer. Leading to feelings of frustration, hopelessness and resentment towards your spouse. You want to stay together, but you question how you’ll make it work if things keep going the way they are.
Maybe it plays out for you like this…
Your partner tries to talk to you about something that isn’t working at home and your automatic response is to snap back. Next thing you know you find yourselves in the throes of a heated battle. Engaging in that same old argument. The cycle may go something like this: The more you criticize, the more they shut down. The more they shut down, the more you criticize, and so on.
Eventually, exhausted from trying to make your point, the fight comes to an end and you go your separate ways. Each of you feeling hurt, misunderstood and angry with each other.
You probably lost sight of what you were even fighting about or what the point was that you were trying to make. And you most certainly don’t have any idea what your partner’s concerns were.
In the messiness of these interactions there is no real listening or understanding each other. The content of what’s important is lost. You’re caught in a cycle of blaming, criticizing and defending. And you have no idea what is truly important to each of you, which reinforces the distance and disconnection.
If you and your partner don’t work on your relationship
Over time, these patterns become so entrenched in your relationship they seem impossible to change. You start to question the sustainability of your marriage and see your spouse as someone who is so different from you that there’s no way your relationship will get better..
But the truth is, lots of couples struggle with these exact same things. It doesn’t mean that you don’t belong together. You simply haven’t learned how to identify what’s not working in your marriage and come up with a plan for fixing it.
Even though you and your partner struggle with these painful patterns and they seem impossible to change, the two of you are capable of learning new ways to manage differences in your relationship in a healthy way that also keeps your relationship strong and connected.
When you learn new ways to deal with conflict and more effective ways to talk with each other around difficult topics, you can change these negative patterns in your relationship. You no longer have to be afraid of the next argument, or avoid difficult topics because you’ll know how to talk about tough stuff in a way that is helpful instead of hurtful.
What can happen when you seek couples counseling…
You have the potential to create new patterns and habits in your relationship that support the kind of partnership you desire. When you are willing to prioritize your relationship and put in the work to change these patterns for good, you can experience less stress, more peace and a stronger connection to your partner.
When you work on changing these patterns in your marriage you can stop just barely surviving and start thriving. You can create the strong, supportive, loving partnership you long for.
Move through conflict with more ease, repair conflict and reconnect much quicker and get back to loving each other. You no longer have to fear those difficult conversations because you now have the tools and strategies you need to navigate through them successfully.
It’s true no one teaches us how to have a good relationship but learning these tips can jumpstart your journey to a healthier happier life together.
Keep reading for my exact steps to identify the negative patterns and change them for good.
Three Steps for Identifying Negative Relationship Patterns
Step One: Identifying patterns & triggers
One of the reasons you struggle in these recurring patterns is because you haven’t identified what’s happening. These patterns persist because they happen automatically without conscious thought or awareness. Kind of like when you’re driving somewhere and when you arrive you wonder how you got there.
So the first step to breaking these patterns is becoming aware of what they are.
Sounds simple right?
Maybe simple, but not easy. This involves not just looking at what your partner does that bothers you but getting clear on what you do that contributes to these patterns. Staying in a place of blame is one of the ineffective things that lots of couples do that keeps them stuck in these repeating problems. When you start taking personal responsibility for your part great things can happen.
It’s easy for partners to know what their partner does that they don’t like. In fact you probably have a laundry list and stockpile of stories detailing all their missteps and undesirable ways. But what I’m asking you to do is think about what it is that YOU do in your relationship that keeps you stuck.
It’s much harder to look at how we contribute to the problems in our relationship.
And that’s normal. But I know that continuing to look in that direction is not getting you the results you want.
Here at Relationship Counseling of Walpole, I ask couples to describe a typical argument or what the patterns have looked like over the years so they can see where they are getting stuck in these arguments. I work with each of you in the session to identify exactly what your doing that contributes to the problem.
When you and your partner work on this you’ll become more aware and mindful of what is happening in the moments when you get triggered and start reacting to each other. When you become more mindful (noticing on purpose), you’ll begin to see how often these negative patterns are actually showing up in your relationship. Becoming aware of these pattern and taking personal responsibility for your part is a great first step to creating lasting change.
Step 2: Figure Out What You will Do Instead
Now that you’ve identified the the cycle and the ineffective things you each do that contribute to these patterns it’s time to identify what you will do instead that will help you develop more effective ways of interacting with each other.
Sometimes it’s hard for partners to figure out what they will do instead because they’ve been doing it the same way for so long and they’ve been focused on the thing their partner does that triggers them. You may still believe that it’s our partner that needs to do the changing. And that’s completely normal. But the truth is we can’t control what our partner does. No matter how hard you try, and we all do it, you cannot change another person. If that were possible you would have already been successful at doing it.
So let’s focus on the thing you can control and that is how you respond when you are triggered. The only thing you have control over changing is yourself. Let that sink in.
Pause for a moment and think about a stressful discussion or argument that you often find yourself in with your partner. Now think about how you would like it to be different. What is one thing you could do differently to help this discussion go better? What will be required of you? Focus on how you aspire to be in these moments if you are coming from your highest self.
In session, couples go through an exercise of identifying the characteristics they aspire to bring to these difficult times, or how they want to respond when they are triggered. For example partner A now recognizes that when they feel triggered they react by blaming their partner, criticizing, bringing up old issues, stonewalling, etc. Now you have the opportunity to learn how to respond differently when you are triggered.
The “what will I do instead” may look something like, I will listen more, I will be curious about my partner’s perspective and will ask questions to understand, I will work on staying calm. I know this won’t be easy. But growth doesn’t come from easy. Growth comes from getting outside your comfort zone and doing something different. Creating any new habit takes practice and a conscious, focused effort. It means becoming more mindful in your day to day interactions so you’re responding rather than reacting.
Step 3: Practice New Patterns
Now that you’ve identified the patterns, you know what your part in the pattern is and you’ve decided on how you aspire to be in these moments. It’s now time to start trying it out.
The third step is the most challenging one and requires taking action and putting into practice the information you now have. You can practice at home in your day to day life. Keep a journal and write about how you handled a stressful situation. This helps you keep track of your progress and is a reminder of what you’re doing that’s working.
If you’ve been married for years you can expect that these changes will take time. Creating lasting change requires working on your relationship daily. It’s important to look for the small changes in your daily life rather than expecting big changes all at once. At times you will likely slip back into old patterns. This is completely normal and happens to everyone when they are working on making changes. The important thing is to recognize the that you slipped back, don’t judge yourself and start working on it again.
When you schedule with Relationship Counseling of Walpole, you will have the opportunity to work on and practice these skills in session. If a conversation didn’t go well during the week, you may use the session to go back through the conversation and I will coach you to use the skills and strategies you learned in previous sessions. I interrupt negative interactions between you and your partner in the session and help you have a more successful conversation.
Being able to communicate better in your marriage or relationship is the number one thing couples seek help for. When you’re able to achieve this, you can reconnect with your partner in ways you never thought were possible. You can have the loving, supportive partnership you desire.
Having a Rock Solid Relationship is Possible!
Once you and your partner have identified your negative patterns and are on your way to making healthy changes, you’ll finally feel like your marriage is on solid ground.
If you’re tired of the way things are and you’re ready to start improving your marriage or relationship
Call today 617-694-7015 to schedule a free consult call.