Is Your Relationship Running on Empty?
Is your relationship running on empty?
“ I wish we’d come earlier” is a phrase I often hear from couples who’ve taken the hard step of coming for therapy. This is usually followed by “Then things mightn’t have got so bad between us”
It takes courage to start couple therapy, particularly when communication is breaking down, fingers of blame are poised and, as often happens, one of you feels that needing therapy is a shameful sign of failure.
So, how to gauge when it’s time to get professional help?
Cars have inbuilt warning systems to alert us when something needs attention. Ignore these at your peril!
But what if your relationship is running on a low, or empty fuel tank. To take the car analogy further, the consequences of the equivalent emotional fuel tank (trust, warmth, mutual emotional investment) in a couple partnership, can be painful, messy and inconvenient. Ignore the signals and the emotional and possibly financial costs of damage to the whole engine of your relationship can be huge.
Relationship warning lights?
-You feel increasingly taken for granted, ignored, worried that you don’t matter any more to your partner.
-You’re not talking honestly with each other any more. Important things are going unsaid, resentments becoming unmanageable.
-Rows are more frequent and repetitive. Nothing seems to get sorted out. What’s more, you’re worried about how this is affecting your children.
-You’re not as affectionate as you were and you’re upset that sex is not like it was, or non existent.
-Other relationships, or interests, are increasingly taking up the time that used to be put aside for each other.
-The fun’s gone.
-Managing differences, which you used to brush off, is causing huge rows. Parenting is one of these differences.
Romantic partnerships don’t come with an instruction manual.
We all carry an imprint of our parents relationship.Couple therapy with a specialist couple therapist can help you both look under your relationship bonnet at patterns of behaviour from the distant past playing out in the present. Your couple therapist will help you understand these complex dynamics.
Couple therapy gives you both space to be understood, taken seriously and help you move towards understanding why things have got difficult rather than point a finger of blame. This understanding can lead to increased insight, empathy and improved communication- all tools to equip you both for the road ahead together.
There’s always more going on behind the scenes, (under the bonnet) than you think.
Life cycle situations that can test couple partnerships:
*Dealing with a close bereavement, (recent or otherwise) or a tough life experience/ trauma that affects one or both of you.
*Adjusting to life with a new baby.
*Coping with job loss or significant illness.
*Managing family life with teenagers/ or life after teenagers (empty nest syndrome)
*Adjusting to life with step family.
*Extended family difficulties
How to keep your partnership fuel tank feeling topped up:
*Make deliberate gestures of care. Showing that you take what matters to your partner seriously can make a big difference.
*Invest in your physical relationship. Your sex life provides the vital, intimate binding ingredient that distinguishes a friendship from a romantic partnership.
*Pay attention to “threshold times”. These are times in daily life when you reconnect after being apart. Threshold times can be particularly important in shaping how things go between you afterwards.Try and approach these moments with care, effort and thought. Don’t assume you know what kind of day your partner has had and what his/ her expectations and needs may be.
*It takes two to make a row-one to press the button and other to react. But that’s the expected easy part of partnered life! The difficult bit is, when things have hopefully calmed down, to find the courage to say an unconditional “sorry” for your part in the escalation. The effects of saying a heartfelt sorry can be surprising and open up the possibility for more genuine, open kinds of exchange between you. Being more honest and vulnerable with each other takes trust but can open up real connection.
*Make a point of showing your appreciation when your partner has done something that you’ve valued. That way it’s more likely to happen again.
*When you ask how the other is or how their day went, really mean it. Be genuinely interested in their response and make room for the unexpected.
*It takes genuine effort and work to keep a relationship fuel tank topped up. The trust, intimacy and support that grows from this work, is the reward that speaks for itself.
Final word. If you think your partnership needs an MOT, or more in depth attention, look for an appropriately qualified clinician with a specific clinical training in couple therapy. Find the words “couple therapist” in their list of qualifications.