If you have ever been in any relationship, you know that relationships will have their ups and downs. You may have a bad day at work and say something snappy to your partner at home as a result. Sometimes there are external stressors that have the potential to negatively impact our relationships, such as someone receiving news that they are sick or that they lost their job. All relationships have conflicts and challenges. How we handle these will determine whether our relationship remains healthy or not. It is important to remember that no relationship is perfect and sometimes we need some extra support through therapy to stay on track or learn how to respond to keep our relationship going strong. Below are the three most common relationship issues I see with clients and ways to work through them effectively.
1.) Communication Issues
It is not surprising that communication is the number one problem we see. Often, we see that communication has become more negative, is lessening, or has completely stopped. Communication can be challenging, especially when feelings are involved and those feelings give us the urge to yell, lash out, or be disrespectful. Communication does not just include verbal interaction. Communication may be that we no longer show each other physical connection through hugs or touch. Body language accounts for 55% of communication. How we say it through volume, tone, rate of speech, etc. makes up 38%, leaving only 7% of communication being the actual words being said. While this is a common problem, it can be challenging to change the communication habits we are used to. This is why having an openness to change and willingness to try new, more effective skills are essential in couple’s therapy.
In therapy, we talk about what the goal of communication is and how to make it more effective. If my goal is to have my spouse participate more in household chores, telling him that he is being a lazy bum and throwing a ketchup bottle at him is not going to get me what I want. We educate on types of communication styles and ways to be respectful and assertive. We will make fair fighting rules to follow so that we must hold ourselves accountable during arguments where the tension may be higher. This may include taking a twenty-minute timeout to cool off if we typically stonewall. We may be practicing sticking to the topic at hand instead of bringing up all the things our partner has ever done wrong. We also work on how we communicate love and affection. Sometimes we need to get creative in order to carve out time to make sure we are honoring our relationship and communicating. For example, I had one married couple who had difficulty finding time to communicate during the day due to having two young children. They decided to start “bathroom time”. After putting the kids to bed, they would spend 15 minutes in the bathroom talking. They choose the bathroom because their kids were old enough to have boundaries set about not interrupting mom and dad in the bathroom unless there was an emergency. This gave them time to talk about their day, any conflicts, or have some time for intimacy without interruptions. Communication and confrontation can be difficult no matter how healthy the relationship is. However, willingness to try and work as a team to overcome these issues tend to have the best outcomes and most content couples.
2.) Poor Boundaries
The second most common conflict in the relationship that I see is with inappropriate boundaries. These boundaries can look different depending on the culture and relationship. I have seen couples due to one of the clients showing enmeshed behaviors with their child. Boundaries may look like a partner spending too many hours at work or using technology. Sometimes poor boundaries lead to affairs, both physical and emotional. The couple as a unit may struggle with boundaries with a sick family member or other external stressors. Additionally, I often see poor boundaries with one another where codependency is formed. Codependency is when a couple excessively relies on one another for their identity. These couples display unhealthy attachment and tend to experience a lot of chaos as a result.
Boundaries can take on many forms such as physical, sexual, emotional, and intellectual. In therapy, we look at what types of boundaries the couple are finding difficulty with and identify behaviors that create healthy boundaries. We look at the limits and barriers to setting healthy boundaries too as a way to troubleshoot potential issues that may arise by forming healthier boundaries.
3.) Lack of Self-care
A healthy relationship consists of two independent individuals connecting as a team to form interdependency. When that occurs, we bring our baggage with us to the relationship. Whether that baggage (or as my clients know me to say, “Our emotional bank accounts”) came from a bad day at work or a triggering event that brought up emotions from our past, it is going to impact the relationship. In order to keep our relationship healthy, we need to start by making sure we are keeping ourselves healthy.
Therapy offers a space to be able to sort out the “we” problems from the “me” problems. Depending on the clients and reasons for coming into therapy, I will often refer clients with self-care concerns for individual therapy. Sometimes we use our partner as a defense mechanism. If my spouse is the problem, then I do not have to face my own stressors or past. It is one way we commonly avoid feeling vulnerability or shame. In doing so, we may destroy our relationship in the process and never find the peace we need and deserve. I will often recommend clients go back to looking at boundaries as well and identify healthy self-care activities for both individuals.
About Sam Nabil
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