by Todd Creager
You’re having relationship problems. This doesn’t mean everything is a mess in the relationship; some aspects of it are fine, maybe even wonderful. But other parts don’t work so well. Maybe your sex life could improve or maybe you have a lot of conflict regarding co-parenting. Or maybe you function and cooperate well together but every time you try to communicate something meaningful or emotional, it is unsatisfying and ends up in disappointment and frustration.
Here’s a suggestion- don’t resign yourself to the relationship problems, nor should you keep on reacting to it. Instead- take a closer look at yourself, yes you, not your partner. Of course you can ask your partner to do the same. If he does, great, if not, let it be for now. Get curious about your own past especially what was missing. Let me explain this further with a few examples with totally made up names.
How the Past Might Lend Clues about Your Relationship Problems:
Example # 1- Mary was the oldest child in a family with 2 other siblings. Her mother was an alcoholic who was rarely emotionally present and the father was out of town a lot on business. He had few interpersonal skills. Mary learns to be self-reliant at a very early age out of necessity and also takes care of the other 2 children when she senses that her mother is incapable.
Now, Mary is in a marriage where she feels that he does not care and she has to do everything and think of everything. Mary is frustrated and feels like a victim. She comes into therapy with me and I help her to get curious about her own patterns that may have led to these relationship problems. She sees that she rarely if ever experienced the feeling of relying on someone else. What is missing for her is the feeling of trusting that a person will come through for her.
She realizes that she does not allow herself to relax and that she is repeating a survival pattern from childhood in a current marriage. She now knows that she must practice being more dependent in a healthy way to get past her relationship problems. She needs to leave the misery and familiarity of being always the giver and now must practice being a taker. As she practices that, her husband is now taken out of his comfort zone since she is beginning to ask things of him. He now has to adjust to that and in truth; the probability of him changing his patterns goes up because she has unbalanced the previous status quo of the relationship that was creating the relationship problems.
Example # 2- Craig is frustrated with his wife who has no desire to have sex with him. She complains that he is judgmental and can even be a tyrant. He comes into therapy perplexed. He claims he has no malice towards his wife; he just wishes she’d be more efficient at times. I encourage him to look at his past to see what may be going on in his psyche. Craig had a very critical father who would often say- You will never amount to anything. He starts to realize how much pressure he puts on himself unconsciously to “prove his father wrong,” creating his relationship problems.
He is wound up, has a short fuse, and is as hard on his wife (and kids) as he is on himself. His task is to practice being kinder to himself, take the pressure off and ultimately be gentler with his wife. She just may want to have more sex with him if that happens!
Further Clues for Your Relationship Problems:
Other things to look for in your past include but are not limited to: How were feelings communicated (or not)? Were you listened to by your parents? How much attention did you get? Was there verbal, physical or sexual abuse? Were your parents affectionate with each other? What were you praised for? Did your parents have relatively equal power or was one dominant and the other more submissive? Was your household relatively permissive or strict? What was the attitude in the house about sexuality?
How you answer these above questions gives you clues as to your automatic perceptions, attitudes and behaviors that might be creating your relationship problems. The key is to become aware and then creative (as opposed to reactive) as I described in the two examples. As you shift from the survival patterns learned in your past to more creative, nurturing acts, your opening the door to possibility of not only you but also your partner. If both of you are doing this simultaneously, you can often see results rather quickly. I am here to help if you need some guidance with this. So, pay attention, take responsibility for your relationship problems and be open to a more satisfying relationship future!
From Sarah: Todd Creager is an accomplished Speaker, Therapist, Consultant and Author. At his website: The Todd Creager Center for Successful Relationships, you can find out more about how to have a successful relationship and avoid those relationship problems.