Is it too late to save my relationship?
Over and over again, I answer this question for people in my office. Repeatedly, I see clients who began their relationship the way most do – blissfully. Gradually, over time, the bliss that once prevailed was replaced by painful patterns that ultimately brought them to therapy with this question on their minds.
Blissful beginnings, as delicious as they are, blind us to the differences that attracted us to our partner to begin with. Falling in love began as an amazing, pleasurable ride courtesy of Mother Nature and your endocrine system. And ironically enough, those differences that were once part of the attraction now create intense challenges for you. In other words we become attracted to a person who is different from us, and yet those differences create disharmony. We feel hurt, disappointed, even devastated because we believe our partner has changed. News flash – Your partner is who they’ve always been. It is your experience of them is what has changed.
Let me give you an example: Erin fell in love with Adrian’s easy going, fun loving nature. This balanced Erin’s rather Type A, driven personality. Adrian loved the way Erin was always taking care of the details. Eventually, however, Adrian’s easy going nature became annoyingly irresponsible to the detail-oriented Erin, who Adrian perceived as tight, obsessive and controlling. Same characteristics – different interpretations, you see.
And so it goes.
Both people in the relationship are managing the pain and disappointment with their defenses up, which makes them unapproachable and difficult to love. Picture a cat hissing or a dog growling. This is how we look when we are defensive. As we defend our self over time, we hurt the other person. Because wouldn’t you know that our defenses are the very ones that hurt our partner the most. In our example, if Adrian fears smothering, and Erin fears abandonment, of course Adrian’s defense will be to withdraw, triggering Erin’s fear of abandonment, which will create the defense of pursuing.
All of the above happened unconsciously.
In Imago, we seek to live and love consciously and intentionally. We learn to listen with curiosity, empathy and compassion. We know that much of our partner’s pain is about the past, and we are our partner’s healer. We know that ultimately what our partner asks of us actually matures us and makes us better people. We live into the 80% or more that is going very well, and address the 20% calmly and maturely. We create joy, passion and connection by having fun again, and we do this intentionally and behaviorally.
So the answer to the question is: “It is not too late, and your relationship can and should be saved”. Conflict is supposed to happen because it creates new and necessary growth and a stronger connection as each conflict holds opportunity for greater understanding. Couples all over the world limp into workshops wounded by each other, and in two days time, walk out with restored connection, understanding and hope. It is not too late to discover the new way to live and love. Why not resolve to start the year with renewed hope and a strengthened commitment?