Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

This is such a scary question. And if you’re asking it, it means you’ve probably been focused on trying to shift your relationship into a more positive track for quite a while. In fact, research shows that couples are usually in distress for at least 6 years before they seek professional help.

That’s a long time.

Long enough for some behaviors and responses to get entrenched. Have you ever noticed that you have begun to see your partner through a more negative lens and that suddenly almost every response they make seems to go in the same “bad” bucket. You’re not alone. Most distressed couples are the victim of a negative behavioral loop which begins as a defense and with good intentions but soon becomes automatic and self-reinforcing. So that every interaction becomes the same old argument and ends up in a bad place, with each partner feeling misunderstood and alone.

Research show that when the negative cycle has taken over it becomes like a black hole — difficult to prevent and challenging to step out of. There are 4 classic behaviors that go with this, that characterize extremely problematic behavior and one in particular that is strongly correlated with divorce:

  • Criticism

  • Defensiveness

  • Stonewalling

  • Contempt

The last attribute is the killer, a sign that the negative cycle has taken over and that each partner will consistently tend to see their partner through this intensely negative lens.

It’s often not too late to wrest control from the negative cycle and begin to create something new. Although these characteristics concern me when I meet with a new couple, I want to see if they still have some hope in their relationship – are they still connected to the idea of being together? Of course after years of the negative cycle they might have lots of ambivalence, but I want to know if they have a little part of each of them that’s still "in." That’s what tells me its not too late...

Being able to hope that your relationship can be different is often a small spark that can be fanned into the flame of mature love creating a new positive cycle of appreciation, kindness, and connection.

So what you can do? Begin by stopping the negative cycle before it gets going. When you notice yourself starting to feel like you’re sliding down that path – turn toward each other with we statement like "can we try this again?" or "I feel like we’re starting to go down that negative path."

The first step is to try and de-escalate the cycle, stepping out of it TOGETHER. Avoid blaming and shaming. Just speak for yourself and YOUR feelings. Allow at least 20 minutes to calm down before opening the discussion. And when you do, start soft – begin with your positive intention. “I want to be able to hear what’s going on for you right now” and work towards hearing and validating your partner’s feelings in an openhearted way. We often make the mistake of wanting to fix our partner, but to repair we need to keep the focus on yourself and your feelings when we speak. If you can own your own feelings and listen non defensively you’re more than halfway towards creating a new more positive cycle of connection.

suzanne mccarthy