Q & A – General Relationship Issues

General Relationship Issues

Q. My partner and I always argue. Does that mean we don’t have a good relationship and that we should break up?

A common belief is that a good relationship is a relationship without arguments, a relationship where both partners always agree. However, a relationship always exists between two different people, people who must have differing views about something. The quality of a relationship is not decided by the absence of differences. The quality of a relationship is measured by how the relationship deals with the differences in a constructive, positive manner.


Q. What? That’s wrong! No disagreements have to mean that the relationship is a good one!

Not necessarily. A lack of disagreements can mean many things. For example:

-The existence of a power imbalance where one person controls the conversations and only allows certain issues to be discussed;
-One partner bullying/intimidating the other partner into silence;
-One partner being scared of causing a confrontation, keeping their opinions to themselves;
-One partner feeling so bad about themselves that they automatically assume that they are in the wrong.


Q. So? What’s so bad about these scenarios? At least there would be a peaceful home!

True, but this peace comes at a price. The partner who does not speak up often starts to feel increased amounts of frustration, resentment and/or anger. Such an increase will eventually lead to that partner feeling depressed, or exploding in rage (usually over a minor incident). If the two of them cannot discuss their disagreements then they are both going to find it even harder to talk about the depression or the angry outburst.


Q. So what? Things will eventually settle down and their relationship will peacefully continue!
Yes, until the next blow up or depressive period. The relationship will keep going through cycles of apparent peace with internal frustration until one (or both) of the partners has had enough. They need to develop a better way of communicating or risk losing the relationship.


Q. What would a better way of relating involve?

Finding ways of discussing frustration, resentment or anger. There are always two opportunities to discuss issues – at the time when the issue exists, or later on when the individuals are calmer. So, for example, if a couple were out for dinner, and one felt hurt after the other had said something, the hurt one could speak up then. If unable to because they were too emotional, or scared of making a scene, the person could decide to speak about it later, at a time when they were more relaxed and had the time to discuss the issue in a calmer and more detailed manner.


Q. Is there a way to discuss sensitive issues that is better than other ways?

There are no hard or fast rules. Different things work for different people at different times. One suggestion is to be aware of the difference between “You statements” and “I statements”.

“You statements” typically sound like “You hurt me and you made me feel so bad”. The person hearing this will usually become defensive and angry and then find a way of attacking the other person (“the best form of defence is offense”) –

Person A -“You hurt me and you made me feel so bad”.

Person B – “You are so over-sensitive. Don’t be ridiculous!”

Person A – “Now you are calling me ridiculous. You always make fun of me!” etc, etc.

This conversation quickly escalates into a fight involving personal attacks, which ignores and devalues the feelings of them both.


Q. So what would an alternative be?

Something like –

Person A -“I am feeling very hurt.”

Person B – “Oh really, what’s the matter?”

Person A – “When I heard your comment, it sounded to me like you think I’m a fool!”

Person B – “I am so sorry you feel that way. I really do value your opinion. What I was trying to say was……..”

Here the first talker’s feelings are validated and the other person gets a chance to clarify their comments. There is no defensiveness.


Q. Anyway, why do people get so defensive?

The answer to that is complex because there are really many answers. People become defensive when they feel the need to defend themselves. People defend themselves when they feel attacked. The more often a person has felt attacked during their lives, the more defensive they can be in response to feeling attacked.


Q. So, being defensive must be bad!

Not necessarily. We all need to be able to emotionally protect ourselves in certain situations. We do so in many ways. The problem arises when we lose control over when, and with whom, we emotionally protect ourselves. This occurs when we constantly feel unsafe on a deep level, so that anything that remotely sounds like a criticism automatically raises our defensive shields. Often we defend ourselves in two ways – either withdrawing and not responding (retreating) or responding angrily (attacking).


Q. Why do some people so often feel attacked, even if they have been in a loving relationship for many years?

Usually because their life experience has taught them on a deeper level that relationships can be unsafe. Such people have had early relationships with family and/or friends who have often been negative or critical, often at unpredictable times. Such people are very sensitive to anything that smells remotely like a criticism because they have experienced so many criticisms in their lives.


Q. So do early experiences of relationships effect the way we have relationships, even when we are adults?

Definitely. We bring to each relationship our experiences of past relationships, especially our experiences of our very first relationships. Our first relationships were with our parents. What we learn from our relationship with each individual parent, as well as by observing our parents’ relationship with each other, greatly influences our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. For example, if we grew up with a parent who constantly acted as if they were having a power struggle with their partner and others in the family, we would very easily behave as if we were trying to win power struggles in our adult relationships. So instead of working with our partner, we try to control them.


Q. So how can we change old patterns of relating?

The first step is to become aware of our patterns.

The next step is to remain aware of our patterns.

The next step is to become aware of what thoughts and feelings triggers off these patterns.

The next step is to remain aware of what triggers off these patterns.

The next step is to accept a need to change the patterns.

The next step is to develop different ways of responding to these triggers.


Q. This sounds so easy AND so hard!

Yes that’s true. People who find it too hard often meet with a relationship specialist to help them if they still feel some hope that their relationship can improve.

The first step of this journey is to try to develop new behaviours without specialist help.

If that is too difficult, the next step is to realise that the work is too hard without help, and not feel self blame for not succeeding in creating change.

The next step is to accept that the work is too hard without help.

The next step is to stay motivated to change.

The next step is to search for the right person to work with.

The next step is to contact that person and make an appointment.

The next step is to keep that appointment.

Step-by-step, change has already started.

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