Ending the vicious cycle
Do you and your partner constantly argue about the same issues? Perhaps it’s time to resolve those communication problems.
‘Everyone goes through bad patches in their relationships,’ says intimacy and relationship coach, Tracy Ziman
Jacobs. ‘At some point, you might look at your partner and probably want to strangle them,’ she adds. Something may happen in your lives that results in a period of difficulty, such as the kids moving out of the house, the loss of a job or infidelity. However, there are those smaller issues that keep creeping up over and over again. While these hurdles may not seem like a big deal at first, if they go unresolved, they have the potential to develop into bigger problems. Every time they happen, you’ll sort them out and things will get back to normal for a while, but one trigger can cause the same issues to resurface and take you back to square one. It feels like a vicious circle. It may be that one of the partners has a bad habit that tends to develop into a bigger issue and hinders progress in the relationship. It becomes a constant topic that causes arguments and unhappiness.
Identify the problem
According to Tracy, an example of a trigger that keeps recurring can be unresolved sexual issues that the couple keeps sweeping under the carpet. This is never the solution to any problem because it doesn’t get rid of it. Instead the ‘dirt’ under the carpet keeps piling up until it’s out of control. For instance, a husband’s diabetes could cause impotence and therefore affect the couple’s intimacy. When his wife tries to address the issue, he shuts down and avoids the topic. Another example is perhaps a wife’s constant splurging on shopping sprees, even when the couple’s finances don’t allow it.
Melanie* finds herself experiencing a similar situation with her partner. ‘My partner and I have been together for almost 20 years and we always argue over the same issues,’ she says. ‘There are several disputes that come up over and over again. Each time it happens we manage to work it out and things are fine for a while. But then the same topics creep up again, and so it becomes a constant pattern. We have the problem, we deal with it, and then get back to it all over again. When I let him know how I feel, he makes comments such as “here we go again” or “so it’s my fault again”. Sometimes it seems as if he’ll only understand the extent of the issue when I “shock” him, which usually involves giving him an ultimatum. I do ask him to be open with me and talk to me if ever he’s unhappy about something. When we do finally resolve things, he promises he’ll try harder, and then does for a while, but he doesn’t maintain it. Then we’re back in the same situation all over again.’
In Melanie and her partner’s case, the trigger is poor communication. ‘This couple is clearly stuck in a rut,’ says Tracy. ‘Melanie’s partner refuses to own up to his bad habits. It sounds as though he’s not showing up in this relationship
because she constantly has to remind him that he’s part of a team. Where is he? Why does she have to keep pulling him back into line? However, we’re not quite sure why he keeps checking out. Is she too demanding? Perhaps she’s not addressing the problems in a conducive way that’ll make her partner understand and be willing to change. This
issue can definitely be sorted out, but only if he’s prepared to own up to his actions and be present in the relationship,’ adds Tracy.
Don’t avoid the issue
The danger of a recurring setback is that it may become so serious it results in a crisis or tipping point for the couple. For example, the woman who keeps splurging money the couple doesn’t have could cause a financial crisis, or result in them not being able to buy the house they’d planned for. And the problem with impotence and its effect on the couple’s intimacy could result in infidelity. In Melanie’s case, her partner’s refusal to discuss his actions and how they make her unhappy could possibly lead to a break-up.
How did we get here?
- Constantly avoiding an issue instead of talking it through and finding a resolution.
- Sometimes the couple may not be aware something is an issue. For example, a partner who inwardly resents his wife because of her spending habits.
- Taking each other for granted and getting to a point of not caring enough to address the issue.
- Couples stop working at the relationship and the ‘blame game’ begins.
Find a solution
1. Instead of only addressing issues as and when they occur, find a different time to bring up the topic. Wait until you’re in a relaxed environment and then calmly raise the issue.
- Try going on a date night at least once a month. Ask friends or family to babysit the kids for the night. ‘I’d also suggest doing something more intimate such as dedicating one night a month to giving each other a full-body massage, but without sex being the end goal. This is the time when the couple should work on being close again, and on connecting on an emotional level,’ says Tracy.
- Enjoying physical activities together can also promote closeness, for example going to gym together, walking the dog, or a Sunday hike.
- Tracy also suggests other types of activities that encourage spiritual intimacy, such as going to church together or a peaceful yoga retreat.
2. If you feel you’ve tried everything but still haven’t managed to work things out, then therapeutic intervention could be the next step.
- If you’re dealing with a stubborn partner who doesn’t feel therapy is necessary, ‘there’s still work that can be done without their presence’, Tracy assures. ‘The willing partner can see a professional on their own;
sometimes changing something within themselves will be enough. However, in other cases, the partner’s absence could be detrimental to the survival of the relationship. Usually an effort from both parties is
essential for the success of the relationship.
A therapist can assist you in finding ways to communicate methods to overcome challenges. Tracy Ziman Jacobs (intimacy and relationship coach) can be reached at her website Totallymetracy.co.za or [email protected]
FEATURE: NOLWAZI DHLAMINI PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM *NAME HAS BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT IDENTITY