Successful relationships use their energy wisely, many of us don't.
If I am getting the phone call to work with a couple in trouble there is a pretty good chance that damage has already happened and therapy is often the last resort to saving the relationship.
The truth about relationships and my line of work is that my phone is not going to be ringing off the hook with a line of men calling me to ask if they can book an appointment.
If I am going to have any success in shifting a couple back on course and restoring their connection, then I will need significant buy-in from both partners.
Being a male therapist has its advantages, when I see couple it starts with getting men to step up the plate and get interested in their relationship dynamics and become more self-aware. This is an over generalization of course but the reality is the playing field just isn't even when it comes to men and woman; men in general are just not as skillful with communicating their emotions as woman.
Most of the men I see in relationship counselling have the right intentions, but if I am really honest they have years of indirect training to fail at being emotionally responsive and available in today's relationships.
Bettin Arndt describes this dynamic as "Woman marry men hoping will change. They don't. Men marry woman hoping they won't change. They do. "
The good news is that even the most hard-nosed, stubborn and closed off man can rediscover his feelings and become more attuned, emotionally available and re-discover his own relationship needs.
Couples need Love…They need Passion…A Good Sex Life…Humor and playfulness…Connection and most of all they need intimacy.
The question then becomes was it ever present and if it was we begin upon a path of recovery and if the answer was no, it's a path of new discovery. In either case the couple will need to re-connect for this journey.
Most relationships will refer to that time in their lives when love was in abundance, filled with passion and intimacy. Sustaining that level of connection is rare and when the curtain falls most couples are left with good intentions and poor relationship recovery skills.
Teaching men and woman relationship skills to mend from negative patterns begins with getting both partners on the same page. The old model for relationships is long gone, but the residue of old paradigms still exists.
The men I see in relationship counseling struggle with vulnerability, they don't want to talk about their feelings and most of the time they just want their partners to be happy. Restoring the relationship means both partners will have to accept the challenge of shifting old behaviors, while holding the vision for a new and mature connection.
Learning to listen, negotiate with respect and re-connect with more passion takes the right kind of support, energy and commitment.
When the gloves are off finding responsible language and hearing your partner's point of view can feel impossible. Mature relationships are about being able to engage in healthy dialogue when you are triggered and emotional. Recognizing that we all act out from time to time is critical to moving back to mature space when in conflict.
Self-Awareness is key to knowing your weak spots and developing the capacity to not get hooked into a downward spiral. Conflict is inevitable in relationships, how we react and engage is a choice couples need to own.
"Respect is about being seen and heard by another person."
If we can develop our own self-awareness to a level where we can differentiate between what is my beliefs, thoughts and emotions and what are those of the partners …then we can come to a place where a couple can see each other with fresh eyes.
Teaching couples to go beyond the cliché of conflict like dishes, chores and rolling eyes to having real dialogue of the dynamics going on is the beginning of addressing the core issues.
In order for real dialogue to be effective partners need to be able to hear out the other person and have an empathetic understanding for each other's point of view.
Knowing what to do in conflict is very important. Equally important is knowing what not to do.
Here is the short version of the don'ts…
All of the above are ways we manipulate, exaggerate and demonstrate immature behaviors to get our way and not always consciously.
If a couple can both agree to put the integrity of the relationship on a higher platform it will be much easier to recover from conflict. Trust helps individuals be more flexible, listen with more openness and work through difficult conversations by being able to count on your partner.
The difference between a couple doing damage to their relationship and a couple moving through a conflict proactively is always going to be about how quickly individuals can own their insecurities, immature comments and build the bridge for common ground again.
Reacting without awareness is a recipe for crisis, if your partner throws something on your lap like "You will never change" or "What's the point of asking you are going to do it your way" these are all small chipping away at the relationship comments that contribute to damaging the connection.
The difference between a reactive partner and a partner that has flexibility is one that knows how to move away from taking it personal and moving towards a retrieval attitude.
The flexible partner will not take the attack personal; they will invest their energy into support and understanding and stay clear of defending and explaining. This step takes work and patience.
These dynamics are not exclusive to heterosexual relationships but are rather the result of fixed roles; often they are defined through masculine and feminine qualities, but are always about damaged trust.
If your relationship has been in a stalemate for any length of time a professional Calgary therapist might be the right option.