Taking Responsibility in the Relationship

One of the hardest things I see couples struggle with is the idea that each person in the relationship is responsible for his or her own part of the problems that surround them.  It’s not uncommon for people to want to blame the other person for how they feel as if the partner did something to cause the upset.  Something bad happens and people start pointing fingers at the other person.

Many couples actually live this way for a long time; looking at their partner as if he or she is the tormentor.  When couples live with this pattern it keeps them feeling helpless to change anything in the relationship.  Each person keeps waiting for the other person to do something different to make them feel better.

It’s as if both are waiting to feel more appreciated, valued, important to their partner and loved.  But the longer they wait, the more tempting it is to blame the other person for not supplying those good feelings.  Sometimes couples will even spend the next few years building cases against each other.

You know you’ve done this if you say these kinds of things to your mate, “You did this to me so I had to do this to you.”  “You didn’t do this for me so I did this to you.”  “If you had only done this than I wouldn’t have had to do that.”  All these phrases hold the partner responsible for how you feel.  They leave the person blamed feeling helpless and the accuser feeling empty, a sad place for both.

When the relationship has turned into two separate camps, I like to encourage couples to think about a couple of things. The first has to do with intent.  What is the intent of your partner when he or she does something that makes you cross?  Do you know?  Sometimes people just assume they know what their partner intended and it’s usually not very good. I like to encourage people to find out if there is any ill will coming from the mate.  To do this all a partner has to do is ask.

It could sound something like this, “Hey, when you left those dirty socks on the bed did you do that to make me mad?”  I know this probably sounds silly, but chances are if you got mad because your mate left dirty socks on the bed you might want to find out if he or she did it on purpose just to piss you off.  If they didn’t, don’t they deserve to forget, make a mistake or just be oblivious once in a while?  Find out what they were trying to tell you, if anything, with the action before you explode. 

The second thing is understand how you impact your partner.  If you accuse him or her of doing something to harm you, you are blaming them for something.  Ask yourself what it feels like when you get blamed.  It feels terrible.  Usually we get defensive and want to argue back.  Try and put yourself in your partner’s shoes before you level the criticism.

If you say something you feel bad about, apologize.  That’s what considerate people do.  This does not make you weak.  This makes you a good person.  It also sends a message to your mate.  It tells them, “I don’t want to stay mad at you.  I want to get closer to you.”

And that’s what all couples want, closeness, connectedness, love.

Send your comments linda@lindanusbaum.com


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When One Person Is Unfaithful

Can a couple survive an affair?  I get this question a lot as a marriage and family therapist.  I’d like to say yes, but that is not always the case.  And yet, sometimes yes is absolutely the right answer.  Couples can survive an affair; an affair of the heart, an affair of the flesh, and an internet or phone affair.  Not all couples survive.  Sometimes there’s just too much pain to overcome.

But for others, two people sometimes find a way to move closer together.  They don’t ever put things back the way they were.  How can it ever be the way it was after one person finds interest in another outside the relationship?  A couple can’t go back to a place of innocence where true love blossomed and each believed in fidelity for ever and ever.  Something is irrevocably broken.

In many cases when an affair is discovered the person who finds out becomes devastated.  Often the first response is anger and disbelief.  How can this happen?  How can this be?  It’s almost unforgivable.  How could their partner have lied to them?

It’s also possible the person who finds out begins to worry what they might have done to create a situation where the other one left.  They also might wonder how they just didn’t know what was happening.  Often they feel stupid and duped, foolish and embarrassed.

If the other person is remorseful and wants to keep the relationship together he or she probably feels terrible seeing the pain they have caused their partner.  This guilt and shame can cause this mate to spin out of control.

Both are hit with something that feels like an explosion in their house.  They used to rely on things being a certain way.  Now everything is turned upside down and nothing is familiar.  What does a couple do when their world has been rocked with an affair?  Couples counseling can be a good place to start.  First it helps to have an objective individual listen to each person.  Chances are there have been a lot of conversations, and lots of tears and heartfelt apologies and promises.  Even so this is not enough to mend the damage.  That’s why a trained counselor is probably needed.

The first session is usually about figuring out what foot to put in front of the other.  Both people are in such a state of shock and the marriage or relationship has just imploded.  Slowly each person will unload what he or she has been feeling.  This is very helpful as many deep feelings get stirred up in this kind of crisis.  It’s helpful to talk about what one is feeling.  When you are guided by a trained professional you might even feel better.  That’s the first step.

What happens next is up to the individual couple.  Each person will have to decide what they want to do.  What would be right for them?  Sometimes both want to work on mending the relationship or marriage.  Sometimes one doesn’t know if he or she can.  This can also be explored in counseling.

If a couple decides to stay together this type of crisis often makes way for deeper understanding and compassion.  Couples learn to move more openly into their emotions and say a lot of the things they have kept hidden from their mate.  This allows a stronger relationship to emerge.  It’s possible to even heal from deep wounds.  It’s possible to build something better and become even stronger.

Interested in free counseling?  If you are dealing with infidelity in your marriage you may qualify.  Send me an email linda@lindanusbaum.com

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