Relationships don’t come with manuals and the training that most of us get is from those around us as we are growing up.
Rightly or wrongly we learn our coping strategies and how to get what we want from our relationships by absorbing the behaviour of those closest to us in our formative years, and more often than not without even being conscious of doing so.
I call this our ‘relationship blueprint’- the beliefs and understandings about how to relate to others. We absorb this blueprint throughout our childhood and adolescence. And it’s this blueprint that goes on to be the building blocks for the relationships we form in the future.
According to Terry Real, a prominent Family Therapist and author of a number of best-selling books on relationships, including The New Rules of Marriage, when it comes to our intimate relationships there are 5 main losing strategies that couples employ that push them apart rather than creating greater intimacy. And many of the losing strategies are formed from our relationship blueprint.
Have a look and ask yourself whether you are using any of these “losing” strategies in an attempt to improve your relationship. If you are you may just be wondering why they are not working and you stay at loggerheads with your partner.
1. Being right
Being right is a bit of a slippery slope and it often comes down to being right according to whom? Sorting out differences in a relationship is not a matter of who is right or wrong and when you are trying to be right. It may be according to your value system without taking into account the values of your partner.
Nobody wins when the discussion or argument tips over into self-righteous indignation. In fact, you may end up hurting the person that you love by shaming them according to your values and applying this “scientific method” to your relationship.
Remember that you are both right. Each of you can have different experiences of the one event because you are different people with different perspectives. Every relationship has multiple truths
Trying to assert your version of events as the right one only seeks to create greater distance between you and your partner.
2. Controlling your partner
People don’t like to be controlled and the reality is that it’s never a successful strategy and is likely to foster resentment and mistrust.
Whether it is direct or indirect (manipulation) controlling, it crosses the boundaries of the relationship and may create more distance between you and your partner instead of working to bridge the gap.
Letting go of control is hard for some people as they want to feel they have a say or input in everything their partners does.
But remember this; control is an illusion.
None of us can control anyone and the longer you think you can, the faster you start to lose your relationship intimacy.
3. Unbridled self-expression
Unbridled self-expression is often couched in one of you saying ‘but I’m just being honest!’
Some couples think that it’s OK to just share everything that crosses their mind, without reflecting on the impact it will have on their partner.
Honesty is not always your best policy, particularly if it leads to you hurting your partner through you ‘speaking your truth’.
Try authentic sharing that speaks to the heart of what you are feeling to communicate accurately with your partner instead of unbridled self-expression that rarely prompts generosity in others.
Whether the retaliation is large or small, direct or indirect, you cross a boundary when you “offend” from the position of a victim.
Offending from the position of a victim means if you feel you have been wronged or hurt in some way by your partner, you retaliate from the position of the underdog. And you believe that your retaliation is completely reasonable.
While you may feel justified in retaliating from this position, particularly when you feel hurt, the reality is you rarely get the result you want.
It’s important to understand the distinction between retaliating and simply standing up for yourself – you can stand up for yourself without attacking. And if you can learn to develop that skill, you’ll find that you can create greater intimacy between yourself and your partner.
Withdrawal (also known as stonewalling) can mean a number of things. It may be that you are giving up, using it in a passive-aggressive manner for retaliation or maybe signalling that you don’t wish to invest any further energy in the relationship.
Withdrawal creates resentment and makes it impossible for differences to be resolved.
Withdrawal is painful for you and your partner.
Nobody like to be shut out, and in fact, it’s often a much more damaging way to respond to your partner than staying in contact with your partner and sharing your anger or upset.
If you feel the need to withdraw from your partner, let them know what you are doing and make an agreement to stay in contact and reconnect to discuss things further. Doing so will promote trust, safety and good will in your relationship.
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photo credit: Jack Zalium
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.