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Relationship Conflict

"I often feel alone in my marriage. Like my spouse and I aren't that connected.  I don't want a divorce but is this all there is?"

"Whenever I get into a relationship I lose myself.  I stop spending time on my activities and hobbies and get distant from my friends.  I know this isn't healthy but I can't stop."

"My husband cheated on me and I can't get over the feelings of rejection and betrayal.  I genuinely want to forgive and move on but I get these thoughts and images in my head of him with the other woman and it triggers the pain all over again."

Raise your hand if you learned how to have a successful relationship in school? No? Okay raise your hand if your parents had/have a great relationship and were great role models to you on how to navigate conflict? Also no? Well then, don't be so hard on yourself for ending up on this page. 

We are taught from a young age via popular culture (ie. movies) that when you meet the "right" person, you will magically fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. Though we may look around as children and see a dearth of relationships that fit that bill, unconsciously, the seed has been planted that one day we will be complete, be fixed, be happy. When we meet "the one".  Our psyche clings hard to this fantasy because how great would that be if all it took was to fall in love and all our wounds, insecurities, dysfunctional coping methods would just, POOF, disappear? Ultimately, people that hold onto this belief are destined to a life of conflict, divorce, dissatisfaction and loneliness. Real love and real human  beings can be complicated. There are a variety of other situations that can make achieving a secure and fulfilling relationship more challenging:

  • You lacked a secure attachment to at least 1 primary caretaker

  • You witnessed abusive relationships

  • There was divorce in your family

  • There was infidelity in your family 

  • One or more of your parents were/are addicts (drugs, work, gambling, etc.) or alcoholics

  • You yourself experienced any sort of abuse (emotional, verbal, sexual, physical)

  • You struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder

This is all to say that perhaps you didn't grow up with any illusions about romantic love or any of the above situations. Perhaps you grew up in a fairly secure family system who had at least one healthy and happy relationship to look towards.  Relationships will still require work (or effort if you dislike the "work" terminology) and require learning new skills when it comes to this particular relationship (ie. learning how your partner feels loved); but overall you are more likely to have stable and long term relationships. In my ten years of helping individuals and couples the people that usually find their way to my office do not come from a stable and secure family system for couples work. 

Human beings are wired for connection. When that wiring is damaged by dysfunctional experiences, this sets off a host of signals to our brain and nervous system about relationships. This wiring doesn't just go away simply because we no longer live with our parents. In fact, it often lies dormant, as we are in survival mode, until we grow up and fall in love.  Then boom, there it is. All the ghosts of our past here for showtime! Do you recognize yourself in any of the following struggles?

  • You are afraid of conflict/being honest/rocking the boat for fear of rejection, agression, abandonment or some combination of the three. 

  • You get triggered to anger/rage easily when logically it doesn't make sense

  • You isolate yourself when there are problems in your relationship

  • You feel like you're too needy or clingy

  • You shutdown during conflict and can't find your voice

  • You deal with your anger/resentment through passive aggressive behavior

  • You don't even know what your needs are you've been a people pleaser all your life

  • You don't talk about your feelings or feelings aren't okay or you were raised to feel like only positive emotions are okay to express

  • When someone starts to get too close you run away or sabotage the relationship in some way

  • Deep down you don't feel like you're good enough or worthy of love

  • You are cynical about lasting love and/or marriage

  • You think love means loss of power and control

  • You lose yourself in relationships

  • You look for validation and completeness outside of yourself

  • You feel like you have to be perfect to be loved and struggle to really be yourself in intimate relationships

  • You have a pattern of choosing emotionally unavailable or geographically unavailable partners

  • You have a pattern of choosing troubled souls (active alcoholics, addicts, etc.) in hopes of fixing them

  • You have a pattern of choosing abusive partners (physical, emotional, verbal, sexual abuse, possessiveness, controlling, etc.)

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