Relationships are sometimes hard. It can be difficult to mesh two personalities into one reciprocally beneficial bond. Often in working with couples in counseling, there seems to be a presenting issue, which one partner is displaying and the other has grown weary in figuring out how to deal. Very rarely is a relational issue one-sided and lying fully responsible to one person. As individuals, we may take an approach to our relationships that is more “me” focused than “us” focused, meaning we say “what is this relationship/the other person doing for me?” instead of “what can I do for this relationship/us?”
Being hurt by people is a part of life we all face, as is hurting people. This is not to say we all walk around with the intention of hurting one another and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Instead, it means that as individuals we all have past wounds, current stresses, values, beliefs, feelings and thoughts that differ from those with whom we have relationships. If only our feelings were only hurt when someone intentionally did or said something, it would be easier to navigate.
It can be difficult to know how to address the person who hurt us and say what we are feeling and thinking for various reasons. These may include a lack of knowing how to communicate the thoughts and feelings, an expectation that the other person should simply know what you are thinking or feeling or the idea that the problem will go away and/or resolve on its own. Despite the reason we put off addressing our feelings, an impact takes place in the relationship that creates distance, disconnectedness, pain and misunderstanding. Taking responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions as an individual, and allowing our partners to do the same, takes a great deal of practice and requires the perspective shift from “me” to “us.”
Practical ways to begin taking ownership in our relationships is to share what we are experiencing in the moment, and avoiding holding onto past hurts. When we work together in healthy communication, we often find that the act alone has cathartic power to alleviate hurt we have been experiencing. Lack of healthy communication is one of the most prevalent issues that couples face and can have the most devastating effect.
Communication is equally knowing how to speak and knowing how to listen. Couples often struggle with one or both roles in communicating with their partner. For the speaker, it is important to check in first with the listener to see if they are mentally, emotionally and physically able to listen, and for the listener, it is vital that they are honest and fully able to invest in active listening. When conversation is invited, the speaker is best advised to remain factual and use “I statements” which reflect ownership of one’s own feelings and thoughts. The listener is encouraged to clarify understanding with the speaker by reflecting what they hear the speaker saying and asking if it’s correct. If the speaker is making a behavioral request, it is important that the listener acknowledges understanding and only agrees to make behavior changes if they intend to follow through. Both partners should take turn being speaker and listener, and simplify conversations by addressing only one issue at a time.
Seeking help can become “last resort” when a couple feels like they have tried everything else. My encouragement would be, if you notice a drift in your relationship, act now. Working with a professional to facilitate healthy communication and address issues that have gone unresolved for far too long can instill hope, renewal and re-connection that your relationship has been missing for far too long. Relationships are a human issue that everyone struggles to fully navigate and understand, and the good news is, we do not have to do it alone.