A quick scan of books on the ins-and-outs of “relationships” reveals four primary problem areas: money, time, communication and sex. While your romantic relationships may not suffer at all of these points, they most certainly will be challenged by one of them.
Often times these challenges are not an indicator of something unresolvable. Rather, they are an opportunity to deepen our understanding of ourselves, the other person, and find new perspectives and solutions.
This article covers 4 common relationship challenges and offer ways to re-frame them. Often when we take the time to shift our perspective on what has seemed so difficult in our relationships, we can grow with our significant other and create a stronger partnership.
Challenge #1: Disagreements That Linger
Some of the things we fight about in our relationships don’t ever get resolved. Sometimes this is due to a lack of compatibility, which ultimately leads to the end of the relationship. Sometimes this is the result of poor communication. Yet, other times it’s the outcome of our perspective on the disagreement. Imagine if you always agreed with your partner. This might not be the most interesting. While some people are harmoniously syncopated at all times, for the rest of us, a little conflict goes a long way in keeping the spark in our relationships.
Disagreements can help us grow. They also help us understand our partner more completely. Often, it’s only when we disagree that we ask questions about our partner’s perspective and pay close attention to what they say. What if you saw your disagreements with your partner as an opportunity to get closer to them? Or at the very least, saw them as an occasion for you to get closer to your own truth?
What if it was more important that you learn something about yourself through your disagreements and less important that you and your partner come to resolution?
Challenge #2: Different Sex Drives
People in relationship shy away from admitting that their sex drives or sexual preferences differ from their partners. They just don’t enjoy the same things or share the same level of desire. This undisclosed discrepancy leads people to have sex when they’re not really into it or to meet their needs through an affair. It can also lead to resentment that acerbates the problem.
All too often couples look to their partner to fulfill their sexual needs. But, what if each person considered how they could express themselves as sexually whole person. In truth, a discrepancy in sexual interest is an opportunity to explore sexuality rather than a block to it.
Ask yourself this: How does my partner express his or her sexuality? Who am I as a sexual person outside of my partnership? And, do I feel like I’m able to feel my sexuality as essential to my life? Questions like these help use the circumstance of different sex drives to grow rather than as a block to our fulfillment.
Challenge #3: Getting the Chores Done
In a couple, one person is often cleaner than the other. Or, one person thinks that organized cupboards make a tidy home, while the other feels it’s clean counters. One person feels they “always” have to do a particular chore. This same person may think that no one appreciates their effort to tend to their shared space.
Chances are if you’ve cohabited with your partner, that you’ve probably been rubbed the wrong way by some aspect of how your sweetheart lives in your shared space. Constructive feedback in these situations can be hard to give. No adult wants to hear that the way they’ve been doing something for years is somehow wrong.
Too often we focus our attention on the negative. We see what the other person is not doing. Or we notice how they “did it again.” But, what if we looked at our partner’s frustrating habit as reminder of all the other things they do right? What if we chose to remember all that our partner does to contribute to your standard of living?
You could also re-frame it this way: would you rather have your partner in your life or be free from the problem of how they do – or do not do – a specific chore? The truth is that the dirty laundry on the floor, the dishes scattered around the house, or the foot prints on the floor are a sign that you have a special someone in your life.
Challenge #4: Lack of Time Together
Busy lives and work schedules take us away from the people we love. And while a little time away is supportive of a healthy relationship, a lot of time away can create problems.
In these instances, it’s important to check in with yourself and ask yourself if this lack of time together is an outright avoidance of intimacy or indication of some other problem. If this is not the case, and instead life has conspired to give you a bit of distance from your mate, then take the opportunity to make the distance work for your relationship. Plan special things to do together when your busy schedules allow you two to connect.
Whether you’re separated due to work or other reasons, it’s wonderful to have some time to focus on your own needs and not your partner’s needs. The time apart from your mate could be time that you dedicate to friends, family or studying something that interests you. Regardless of how you use it, take the time and give it to yourself!
Every challenge we face in a relationship is a portal of opportunity. Sometimes it just takes looking at it from another perspective to see how we can make it work for us rather than against us.
Relationships are the one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of our life. There are types of personal development that we are unable to do unless we are in relationship and there are ways that relationships push us to do work that we would not be otherwise motivated to do.
One of the greatest challenges in relationship can be our boundaries – maintaining a connection to our self, being open with another, and caring for the relationship that exists between us. We can run into challenges like losing our self in the relationship, over care taking, shutting down, passive aggressiveness, or saying things that are hurtful and can’t be taken back.
Any of these sound familiar?
In the 1980’s Melody Beattie wrote about co-dependence. This is the pattern of behavior that a person develops when relating to a loved-one who has an addiction. However, Beattie’s writing hit a chord with most people whether they were in a partnership with an addict or not. Chiefly, she focuses on understanding what is ours to deal with and what is another person’s. This level of clarity is essential for other relational skills to develop.
It is impossible to create healthy connectedness if we lack the ability to hold onto our self. Holding onto our self is the ability to stay connected to what we think, feel and want while being in a relationship with another person. This is particularly important when that person is under stress or in a crisis. In intense situations, it is easier to get consumed by another person’s experience. Even sexual intimacy, as positive as it might be, requires not only that we can deeply connect and even merge with another but that we can come back to ourselves as well.
The truth of the matter is, when we do not know or understand something, our ability to be in relationship to it is limited. This means we need to be able to see our self because the less we are aware of ourselves, the harder it is for us to know when something is us and when it is not. So, this is one of the many ways that personal development work serves you. The more that you know the easier it is to navigate relationships.
It is necessary to know our self to be open to a relationship in a healthy way. Being open in a relationship is both about the ability to connect and to disconnect. However, primarily it is about being able to choose when we want to connect and disconnect. This allows us to be consciously open or to consciously choose not put up a boundary when something is not healthy.
What I often hear people struggle with is determining what is healthy or not healthy for them so that they know where to put a boundary in place. Caring for yourself means doing that which is affirming of the entirety of who you are. Determining what is healthy or not healthy is guided by the same concept. Does it affirm or support who you are? If it does then it is healthy for you even if it is difficult. If it is does not, then it is not healthy for you. Your boundaries in relationship should honor what is healthy for you and, as I will get to later, also honor the needs of the relationship.
One of the greatest gifts that we can give in a relationship is our willingness to be as respectful with that other person as we have learned to be with our self. This desire to support another person in honoring and caring for themselves and learning and growing in their capacity to know themselves is a beautiful gift of a relationship that can blossom from our learning to respect our own boundaries.
The relationship, itself, is the third part of the equation. Relationships take care and time to be able to flourish. It is not enough for people to just invest in their own awareness and growth they also need to invest in the relationship. The relationship is another member of the total relationship triad –self, other, relationship- and also requires our attention. What can you give to the relationship? How do you give to the relationship?.
Developmentally, we are not able to give to the relationship until we have learned how to take care of ourselves. We are simply too immature to really be able to give what is required. That is why we need to start by doing our own work and understand what it is that supports us as we go through life. When we have done this work, the act of giving selflessly to a relationship is an additional joy rather than something that creates imbalance.
If you find yourself in a relationship and you are questioning your knowledge of your own needs or understanding of the different aspects of who you are, this is part of the teaching of relationship. We are all in a continual process of growth. As you move forward in your relationship you will be called to focus on different aspects of the relationship: you, the other person, and the relationship itself. There will be a natural tension at time that will challenge you to relate in ways that feel healthy and right to you. This process, if you choose to engage in it will be both challenging and deeply rewarding, ultimately offering you one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.
We often strive to create healthy and satisfying relationships. But sometimes, despite how much we may try, we’re unable to create relationships that are mutually supportive and fulfilling. When this happens, there are several things we can do to bring our best selves to our relationships, and in turn, bring about the positive change we seek.
To be your best self in your personal relationships you need to develop your awareness of yourself. What do you value? What do you dream of? What are your strengths? Where are the skills you want to hone? When we ask ourselves these kinds of questions we grow our awareness of ourselves and we can use that awareness to create relationships that are beneficial for everyone involved. Sometimes our personal relationships hit a rough patch. When this happens, your awareness will clue you into how you might be contributing to the difficulty at hand and whether or not that relationship should be maintained.
Learning to love yourself is such an important step towards creating healthy relationships. It’s cliché but true – to truly love someone else, you have to love yourself first. This is because we’re unable treat someone better than we treat ourselves. Our limits in loving others comes from our inability to love ourselves. Over the course of our relationships, these limits inevitably come to light. We may compensate for our inabilities by giving more to others than we have – or have allowed ourselves – to receive. Yet, this can set us up for difficulty. If we’re not loving ourselves then we’re likely looking for someone else to give us that sense of being loved. This can be the starting point for lots of problems like dependency, fear of abandonment, and fear of intimacy. To really love ourselves, we need to see the unique value and intrinsic beauty of who we are without any externally imposed definitions. To begin to do this, take the time to tell yourself all the things that you like about yourself. And do it often.
Part of showing up as our best selves is to be in the present moment as much as possible. This means that our previous experiences need to be left where they belong – in the past. To do this, people typically undergo a process wherein they remember the past, understand how it affected them and then disentangle themselves from it. There are a number of different tools that people can use to clear themselves of aspects of their past that no longer serve them. For example, there is EFT, Access Consciousness, energy work, Core Energetics, and the list goes on. If you want to create a different baseline for yourself, it’s helpful to find a method that you can use to continually reinforce your new way of being.
To clear your history, try on a few methods that you sense would be a good fit. Then keep an open mind while you see if they’re effective for you. It takes a little while to clear your past from your present, so give this process some time. As you do this your awareness will increase and old feelings might come to the surface. When in a relationship, sometimes it’s helpful to let the other person know when something from your past has been activated and communicate what you need when this happens.
Nothing makes a relationship stronger than integrity. The biggest gift you can give yourself is know and own your contributions to your relationships – both in the positive and in the negative. When things get difficult in a relationship, look for the ways that you’ve contributed to the problem. Simply ask yourself: “Is there anything that I would have done better or differently if I had remained in full integrity?” If the answer is yes, then do your best to make right on what you know you could have done better.
When we’re unclear about how our own issues influence our relationships we’re likely to do unintentional damage. When we’re unconscious of our unresolved feelings about our past, we’re more likely to blame, shame and guilt others when those unresolved feelings are triggered. It’s only when we’re aware of our contributions to the state of our relationships and able to stay in our integrity that we can create environments in which our relationships can thrive.
It is often the case that the people we love most are those that we have the worst conflicts with. Our most intimate relationships can touch upon our deepest places of hurt, mistrust and wounding often leading to misunderstandings, distance or fighting. Although these bumps along the path of relating may be inevitable, we can smooth the ride (or at least manage to stay on the path!) by remembering to return to a place of love in all situations of conflict.
What does this mean? Well, It means that no matter how you are triggered, how right you feel, how hurt you are there is nothing that will support your relationship (and you) more than being able to stay connected to the deep love that you feel for the person with which you are in conflict.
There are lots of ways to practice this but today I want to give you the step by step of how you actually make the physical, mental and emotional shift from negative emotion to a place of love. So, that you can be more effective at solving the conflict and building trust and intimacy. These are the steps to take when you start to see red while engaging with someone you love. Whenever possible, as soon as you become aware that you are getting agitated, take a breath and a moment to do the following:
Step #1: Recognize where you are. See your desire to hurt, blame or separate from the other person.
Step #2: Switch your perspective. You don’t have to forgive, agree or accept them, anything they say, or what they are doing. Just remember what it feels like to love that person.
Step #3: Think of what you would do or how you would act if you were feeling this love. In other words, if you were to choose loving connection over hurt, blame or disconnection what would you do.
Step #4: Decide what you want. Now that you have seen each of the options, which is the one that you want to choose?
Step#5: Love yourself for making the best choice you can in the moment regardless of what it is.
It is really easy in the heat of the moment to lose sight of everything that we valued and believed when we were not in the conflict. Simply by reconnecting with the memory of being loving towards the other person, it frees us up to find new options for resolution and connection.
Join Dr. Kate Siner with her guest, relationship expert, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Romantic Alchemy, Tabatha Bird Weaver as they discuss ways to connect with compassion no matter what situation you are in on this weeks hour of Real Answers Radio. Tune in for the tools to reduce conflict and create deeper levels of trust and health in all of your important relationships. Thursday, March 12th at 12pm EST. Learn more here.