"But what if it happens again?"
This is the question couples want to know when they are in my office and they are scared with the idea that even with all the tools they have gained, all the efforts they have made, that they will fall into the grips of conflict and disconnect.
The answer is simple. It WILL happen again!
Stop waiting for the shoe to drop. I tell them with certainty that they will one day, maybe sooner than later, find themselves once again disillusioned with their partners thoughtless response, angered at the lack of appreciation, or feeling distant.
All is not bad news, however.
My greatest hope for these couples, as well as all other couples, is that they learn to pick up the shoe quicker. That they can recognize when and how they have derailed the relationships into old, painful but familiar territory and pull out some repair tools that can help them get back on track.
Getting back on track sounds like…
“Ok, here we are again. I don’t like how we are communicating and I feel lonely with this distance but I know how we can repair this.”
You see, marriages get off track. Humans get off track all the time and humans are the principal component of marriages and relationships. Don’t despair. Don’t start running for the door... figuratively and metaphorically. Once you start flirting with the idea that you have an OUT, soon that will be the only option you see.
What if you stayed IN? What if instead of putting the energy and focus on what doesn’t work, we began to think of how to get the relationship back to a place where we feel connected, seen and heard?
These tools I am sharing are to help pull you out of those “bad” moments and start doing some needed relational repairing.
1. Apologize. Seems like an obvious one but so often the ego gets in the way with this one because we all just want to be “right” and have the other person see our point. This is human nature telling you to look out for “numero uno”, which is you, but in a relationship the goal, even in times of conflict is to look out for each other. If you can bypass the ego long enough to take ownership of the mean words you said, forgetting to call home or for not picking up the milk, the quicker you can see the defenses start coming down for yourself and your partner.
2. Check your tone and demeanor. What is your body saying and your facial expressions. Are you guarded and defensive or are you open and receptive. Attack mode leads to defense mode. Receptive leads to more receptivity. Watch what your body is communicating.
3. Take a break. Let the other person know you need a moment because you feel yourself getting defensive and you come back when you are more able to hear and understand them.
4. Check-In. Ask your partner questions that evoke curiosity and deeper understanding and not assumptions based on the story in your head. Often the story in our head is that our partner is being malicious and attacking us when in reality they just want to be heard and understood. Ask them what they are feeling and thinking versus trying to influence their response.
5. Touch them. Literally, reach out and touch them in a gentle manner. Come from behind and hug them. Allow your foot to wonder underneath the sheets and touch their foot while in bed. These little acts help to regulate some of the anxiety your partner might be feeling by communicating, “I want to connect.”
Every part of our lives require maintenance, including our relationships. During the course of our journey, we will be called to get back on track many times. Our only hope, is that each time we get better at it.
Catalina Fortich, MS, LMFT
For more information, or to schedule a session with me, please contact me at email@example.com