Your relationship just doesn’t feel right, even when it is difficult to articulate the problem. It seems like you and your partner don’t “get” each other like you used to. You feel alone. You want to be closer, but there is a sense that you cannot fully trust one another. It can feel like you are slowly starving relationally.
Little things feel like big things. You two argue about the small stuff and end up damaging the relationship faster than you can repair it. You are frustrated because it doesn’t seem like these things should be a big deal, but they are, and you have difficulty moving past them. The lack of follow-through or lasting change adds to the emotional distress.
When approaching a problem, there is a winner and a loser. You have trouble figuring out who is responsible for which need, so the needs of one or both of you go unmet. There is an unequal distribution of time, money, compassion, and accountability. One of you is taken care of at the expense of the other. There is a lack of mutuality.
You are stuck in a negative cycle. The more upset one person is, the more the other withdraws. The more withdrawn, the more upset, and so it goes. The negative pattern takes on a life of its own, and it ends up consuming the goodwill and trust that the couple once shared.
If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Perhaps the initial problem was your partner’s lack of empathy, but you respond with exploding and yelling. This creates even more problems, but you may not have other responses.
The tools we have on hand are often those we learn in childhood. They may include anger, withdrawal, unbridled self expression, chasing someone who walks away, and stonewalling. We pick up these tools we see, and – over time – they become our primary way to solve problems and try to get our needs met.
Often, partners have unspoken expectations of one another and feel disappointed when reality does not match that vision. This may lead to resentment, fear, and anger. We settle into patterns that keep us in survival mode but halt the growth of the relationship.
A combination of self-discovery, new ways to try to get our needs met, and accountability all lead to a better chance of connection with your partner.
The first step is discovering your history and identifying how it is playing into your current relationship distress. Uncovering these patterns entails an emotionally honest look at how each partner is contributing to the disconnection. When the patterns are accurately identified, they can be changed.
Understanding the origin of the negative pattern can also grow compassion for the problematic behavior. While the behavior itself should not be tolerated, compassion and knowledge enable meeting the underlying need. Having a healthy respect for each person’s needs requires that you share about how you came to behave the way you do.
The final step toward connection is learning new ways of relating. As we practice connection and protection in a healthy way, we invite our partners to do the same. Instead of using anger or withdrawal to protect ourselves, we can request our desires with honesty and clarity.