Why Isn't My Relationship Working?  by Shobana Nuland, LMHC

Are you frustrated because your partner doesn’t seem to understand your feelings?  Are money issues causing a lot of disagreements?  Is your partner so involved with work that you feel ignored?  Has the full time job of parenting taken the spark out of your relationship?  These are just some of the many issues that bring couples into counseling. 

So often when a couple first begins counseling, each partner begins by telling me that their problem is the other person’s fault.  When this blaming goes on for a long period of time, the relationship suffers. Instead of being a safe, loving place to problem solve, the relationship can feel judgmental, rejecting and hostile.  The very person that we thought was our best friend no longer feels like an ally.

I’ve been counseling couples for 30 years and in all this time, I have found that relationship problems, regardless of the specific issues, are basically caused by an inability to clearly communicate.  Individuals don’t know how to communicate because they simply don’t understand what their feelings actually mean. With lack of communication, resentments begin to cover up the heart-felt love that was once so strong and the foundation of the relationship becomes weakened.

The good news is that learning how to communicate effectively is a skill that can definitely be learned.  When we grow up in a family that communicates poorly, we learn to manage our emotional lives in that same way.  Our parents are our first teachers and we learn by copying what they do, including how they deal with their feelings.  It’s the old “monkey see, monkey do” metaphor.  I use easy, effective methods to help clients get in touch with what their emotions are trying to tell them.  

Guided visualization techniques helped Karen and Michael’s relationship improve quickly.  When they first came to see me, they were barely speaking to one another.  It had been 3 years since they had a child and from that time on, their relationship started to deteriorate.  Michael’s work schedule required him to work late many nights a week.  Karen felt so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being the primary caretaker of the baby, that she was no longer available to emotionally support her husband.  Each was blaming the other for not being more available.  

Using guided visualization with Karen, she learned to explore her uncomfortable feelings.  She realized how frightened she was of failing as a mother.  Feeling like a single parent, she also felt abandoned and sad.  Michael, on the other hand was angry because he felt there were too many demands being placed on him.  Although his initial reaction was always anger, he discovered that he was actually scared that Karen might eventually leave him.  Once the real issues and feelings were out in the open, they could begin to communicate effectively.  They had both been frightened by all the changes that had happened since becoming parents.  Rather than seeing each other as the enemy, new intimacy developed.  With time, both Karen and Michael learned not to react.  They began listening to one another.  Their relationship became a safe place in which to find solutions that would meet both of their needs.

When a situation or person doesn’t meet our expectations, we usually get an uncomfortable feeling in our body.  This negative feeling is our body’s way of telling us that life is not going as we expected.  Instead of examining these feelings, we most often react out of fear.  We try to control a situation or a person in order to regain a sense of calm, but this simply avoids the real issue.  Healing actually happens, not by running away from but rather by examining our feelings, discovering what they’re trying to tell us and then taking appropriate actions to get our needs met. 

Jeremy and Molly’s communication improved after I taught them EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique.  When Jeremy and Molly began dating, they enjoyed a carefree lifestyle of vacations, theatre and dining out.  After they married, Jeremy was quite surprised to find Molly obsessing about saving money to buy a home.  They clearly had not thoroughly discussed their long term goals.  Although Jeremy also wanted to own a home, it was not an immediate concern.  Their different expectations caused a fracture in their relationship.  They spent a majority of time arguing.  They both needed to calm their feelings before any worthwhile exchange could happen.  Once calm, Jeremy realized that his real concern was fear of losing his fun-loving partner and friend.  Molly, on the other hand was afraid she would never be able to have the financial stability she imagined owning a home would provide.  Using EFT to clear the intensity of their emotional upset, Jeremy and Molly set about creating a plan that would honor each others needs and values.  They were once again a team where each player was concerned for the good of the other.

When we feel hurt, it’s natural to try and protect ourselves.  Yet, indefinitely suppressing painful feelings creates an emotional barrier.  Although it might initially protect us from feeling hurt, it also prevents us from receiving love.  If we continue to avoid uncomfortable feelings, we keep ourselves from discovering that we have the ability to make positive changes for our own happiness.  Many clients report that once they’re successful at communicating with their partners, they also experience improvements with other family members, friends and work associates.

A relationship can only be successful if both partners are getting their needs met.  When there’s fighting about who’s right and who’s wrong, a constant battle ensues and there’s truly never a winner, let alone harmony and happiness.  A healthy relationship is all about creating a “win, win” situation.  In order to heal a relationship, each partner must have a sincere desire to commit to the happiness of both.  With this attitude and some powerful easy to learn techniques, the intimacy, the ease of communication and the joy of sharing in a mutually supportive relationship are quite attainable.  In fact, you may ultimately wonder why you ever wasted time trying to communicate in any other way.

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For more information or to make an appointment call Shobana Nuland, LMHC   206-546-5390

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