The beginning of an intimate relationship is passionate, exciting, and full of romantic gestures. The desire to keep this level of romantic love is understandable, yet unrealistic. Over time the pedestal upon which we placed our partner, and vice versa, disappear and we see each other, flaws and all. When things become comfortable and safe, we drop our façade and allow all parts of our character to become known; and this is how it should be. Once we get to this wonderful place, why do we both get so easily triggered? Why are there power struggles? These are some of the typical questions I get asked in the therapy room. Oftentimes in a relationship, there are topics that cannot be discussed without generating a heated exchange between the couple. Discussing those certain ‘heated’ topics can be done with a therapist who can help the couple facilitate a gentle conversation, which allows each partner to be heard, assisting the couple to understand the ‘why’s’ of each other’s reaction, with the goal of helping to deepen the emotional connection and strengthen the relationship; but most importantly learn effective tools to repair.

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5 Losing Strategies in Relationships

Unfortunately, relationships don’t come with manuals, but there are enough research findings on how to succeed and fail in marriage. According to family therapist Terry Real, author of several best-selling books on relationships and creator of Relational Living Therapy, when it comes to our intimate relationships there are 5 main losing strategies that couples may utilize in their relationship. 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, see if you can pause, reflect, and react differently. These 5 losing strategies are:

1. Being Right - objective reality has no place in personal relationships. You can be right, or you can be married. This is where the majority of us fall. Want a way to get out of this pitfall? Here is a step-by-step procedure: apologize <pause>, thank them for sharing their experience <pause>, ask them if they would be willing to hear were you were coming from (not from a place of “this is what happened, or this is what you did…”) that explains your feelings vs. facts.

2. Control – there are two kinds of control: Direct control and indirect control (manipulation); either way, “you can win the battle, but lose the war.” The reality is that people don’t like being controlled and it is not in your interest to try to control your partner because there will be payback in the form of resentment. Need something from your partner? Ask them and explain why you are needing ____ in an honest and kind manner. If this request may be a deal breaker and your partner says no, then it sounds like it is time to contact a couples counselor.

3. Unbridled expression – this sounds like, “you did this today, you did this yesterday, you did this 5 years ago, you always, and so on and so on." If you choose to keep blaming and talking incessantly without pause, your partner will start to feel helpless and resentment will set in. As Terry says, “it’s like you barfed in a bag and handed it over to your partner and told them to hold it. If your talking is not helping the relationship, then stop talking." If this is you, it’s time to start learning how to have a container boundary.

4. Retaliation – this is offending from the victim position. Another word for this is self-righteous indignation. It’s being a perpetrator while coming from the victim stance. There are two forms of retaliation: direct (rage) and indirect (passive aggression). This vicious cycle does not end well.

5. Withdrawal – this is when one partner refuses to engage. It can be thru communication (e.g. we are not going to talk about ______) or withholding physical touch or intimacy. If this is you, take responsible distancing which sounds like this: “I’m taking distance and I’ll return at (time), and here is why I’m taking distance."

Just to reiterate, the 5 losing strategies are: being right, control, unbridled expression, retaliation (revenge, get even), and withdrawal.

Each of us is one imperfect person in a relationship with another imperfect person. We all need help at times to step out of the dance of the relationship and use different tools to connect and repair.