1st Step In Saving A Marriage. Family pathology rolls from generation to generation like a fire in the woods taking everything down its path until one person has the courage to turn and face the flames. That person brings peace to its ancestors and spares the children that follow. – Terry Real
There’s a way of immediately improving your relationship that passes down to your next generation. It takes awareness of one aspect of your relationship: patterns.
Here’s what I mean. A pattern is a combination of qualities, acts, or tendencies that form a predictable sequence of outcomes in your marriage. The outcomes can be positive or negative.
First, start by becoming aware of recurring
actions and reactions.
Here is what a negative pattern would look like.
Jane gets ignored by Jim.
Jane feels hurt and unimportant when ignored by Jim.
Jane reacts by snipping and getting critical of Jim.
Jim reacts by snipping back, getting defensive and then emotionally disengaging (shuts down) from Jane.
Jane feels ignored even more by Jim. Jane grumbles to friends and the friends are supportive of Jane. Janes stops snipping and emotionally withdraws from Jim.
Jim is glad Jane stops snipping. But is puzzled why Jane is distant. All they talk about are kids, work and responsibilities to manage their complex lives. The discussions are important but both partners end up feeling emotionally shallow.
Neither takes an emotional risk
to say what they feel and miss.
Wash, rinse, repeat for twenty two years. Kids leave home. Jane and Jim feel like they are strangers or roommates
And they are.
What can break this pattern?
It starts with awareness
Here’s what I mean. They each think, “When I feel X what do I do about it? Do I take the risk and speak up directly? Or do I communicate what I feel indirectly? When I communicate indirectly (for example, by snipping), what is the response I get (defensiveness)? When I get a defensive response from my partner, how do I respond (withdrawal after snipping back)?”
And then, “What happens when I stop snipping and withdraw?”
“Oh, we are civil but have no emotional connection.”
Now comes the big question. “Do I choose to break MY pattern?”
Basically it is very difficult to break old patterns and sustain new ones when there is no awareness about them.
Being aware is a crucial first step. The vast majority of couples in my practice have total clarity about what their partner does that is dysfunctional. But they have little awareness of the impact of their own dysfunctionality on their partner. They simply keep repeating the dysfunctional pattern and hoping the partner gets the message and responds with new and improved response.
So here is a three step approach to a better relationship.
- Be aware of what you both do that keeps getting repeated in a negative way.
- Decide you want to break your part of the cycle.
- Tell your partner what you have observed and what you are going to do differently and why you are going to do it. Your motivation is going to be for one reason only, which will keep you out of a trap. You are going to be motivated by the desire to become a better person when faced with adversity. You are going to become bigger than the problem instead of the problem being bigger than you are. You are going to do it because you will feel better about yourself and not criticize your partner if they don’t immediately jump on your bandwagon of change.
In Couples Counseling this is the first and most effective step to creating a better version of you and a healthier relationship. In addition, I hear parents say they love their children very much. Yet they continue to exercise unhealthy behavior. We are what we lived. Unhealthy childhood patterns don’t discriminate. I provide Individual, Couples and Family Counseling in San Diego and its neighboring communities. Please call me at (858) 735-1139 if you would like help with your relationship. I offer in-person, telephone or internet counseling.