YOUR RELATIONSHIP/MARRIAGE NEEDS RESCUE IF…
- You’ve tried to work through a number of issues a number of times
- Instead of helping, most of those attempts have just made things worse
- You have been in a downward spiral of unhappiness for some time
- Instead of the relationship being a safe haven of mutual love, respect, and support, it is awash in disagreements, resentments, and misunderstandings
- You seek to be understood and heard by your Partner, but you have been doing this through a power struggle that continues to compound resentments on both sides
- You believe negative things about each other and the relationship, such as that your Partner no longer cares, that he/she is a bad person with nothing but character flaws, that you would be better off with someone else, that you are mismatched and will never connect, and so on
- You are locked in a negative cycle due to poor communication and conflict resolution skills
- Your interactions have become some combination of fight-or-flight, aka demand/withdraw in couples counseling terminology
- The most common negative cycle is demand/withdraw, with two additional possibilities:
- Demand/demand, also known as hot conflict (e.g., overt hostility, talking over each other, negative emotions escalating in intensity…)
- Withdraw/withdraw, also known as cold conflict (e.g., a combination of icy silence and passive-aggressive exchanges, speaking to each other only when absolutely necessary, fuming in silence while running an internal script of negative thoughts about your Partner…)
- It is possible for an individual to go back and forth between demand and withdraw, perhaps even during a single interaction (you will learn the most common reason behind this)
- You have reached the stage of chronic emotional disengagement. While one of you may actually be ok with this, most commonly you are both unhappy. Here are some examples of what goes on at this stage:
- You feel lonely and alone in the relationship
- You feel there is an emptiness in the relationship
- You have lost a sense of closeness and friendship and are emotionally unavailable to one another
- You lead parallel lives
- You do not feel loved by, appreciated by, or important to your Partner
- There is an absence or very low levels of affection, joy, shared humor, active interest in one another, support, empathy, or comforting
- In addition to some or all of the above, there is a recent discovery of one or more affairs
According to longitudinal research on heterosexual marriage…
- If the main dynamic between the Partners is escalating negative conflict, the marriage may end in divorce after an average of 5.6 years
- If the Partners avoid issues and reach the stage of chronic emotional disengagement, the marriage may end in divorce after an average of 16 years
WHAT IS RELATIONSHIP RESCUE?
Relationship rescue is change through doing that helps couples work away from negativity and work toward positivity.
While the first process typically involves conflict management, communication skills, and resolution of hurts and resentments, the second is commonly used to (re)build the relationship into a safe haven founded on trust, commitment, friendship, and fondness.
True change takes time. It will happen only if both of you are willing to…
- Give the process your best effort
- Lower your defenses long enough to listen to the other person’s perspective
- Look at your own behavior, motivation, and emotions
- Take personal responsibility
If the process is successful, you will become Partners who are able to talk to each other about anything in a caring, respectful, and productive manner—which will go a long way in helping you maintain a healthy, enduring relationship. Just in case you are wondering, this does not mean that you are expected to become perfect people who are in a blissfully perfect relationship and who never, ever argue or disagree.
RELATIONSHIP RESCUE IN FOUR STEPS
Step One - Assessment: Identify Challenges & Strengths
Assessment is the first and crucial step in all counseling and psychotherapy.
- Online assessment(s) filled out by both Partners.
I currently use Prepare/Enrich (P/E) and the Gottman Relationship Checkup (GRC). Depending on each couple’s unique needs, we may use one or both of these questionnaires. While the assessments may address all of the issues in some cases, they are more likely to serve as a gateway to a deeper exploration of interpersonal and individual functioning.
- Relationship history interview & supplemental questionnaires.
During the initial session, each Partner will have the opportunity to explain his/her point of view as to the nature of the problem. I will listen to you in an unbiased, impartial, and nonjudgmental way. In addition to your individual narrative, I will also have some specific questions about your history as a couple. To this, I may add one or two paper questionnaires designed by me to help facilitate as well as speed up assessment.
Step Two - Intervention: Learn Conflict Management
This is a structured process that introduces conflict management skills. It includes the following:
- Examples and scripts to help you understand and identify negative cycles
- Instructional step-by-step handouts with practical, skill-building tools
- Easy-to-understand diagrams
- A collection of proven, research-based alternatives to ineffective, damaging patterns of interaction
Although the specific guidelines for each intervention tool do not have to be followed rigidly, you will find them to be extremely helpful as you begin to practice new skills.
Step Three - Intervention: Process Past & Current Conflict
The goal of this step is for you to understand each other’s points of view and move from gridlock and hurt to dialogue and resolution. Lasting improvement can only happen if both of you feel heard and understood. Otherwise, any behavior change will feel coerced and will not survive more than a few weeks or a couple of months.
In this step, you will use your newly learned conflict management skills to process unresolved past and current arguments, incidents, resentments, and differences—without getting back into them all over again. Handouts from Step Two provide a framework for the process in which you take turns being the Listener and the Speaker.
A structured approach to the processing of conflict is beneficial because it (a) facilitates greater objectivity; (b) breaks down problems into smaller, more manageable parts; (c) encourages the Listener to put aside his/her own thoughts and feelings in order to truly hear the Speaker; and (d) encourages the Speaker to practice self-awareness in order to address specific elements of the step-by-step process.
Step Four - (Re)build Friendship & Shared Meaning
Even if you learn how to constructively manage conflict, the process of relationship rescue will be incomplete unless you are willing to make time for each other.
This step will help you intentionally create emotional connection, positive sentiment override, fondness, admiration, and a system of shared meaning. The latter includes areas such as shared goals, narratives, mission, symbols, culture, and legacy.
Specific handouts and exercises are available to help you in this process.