Relationships are not easy for one simple reason…we are all human and therefore by that very nature, fallible. Relationships involve work, compromise and sometimes, yes you are going to upset, anger or antagonise the other person, but actually that’s OK and very natural. Disagreements are part of a relationship, it means the relationship remains healthy, it means you care enough to put your point across and it means you still place an emphasis on your own happiness. However the key focus needs to be on how a disagreement is handled to prevent it from escalating into an amplified argument. Whilst disagreements can be healthy, a relationship based solely around arguments is going to impact the happiness and stability of the individuals involved.
It is true that in most instances a therapist has no concept of what happens when a couple leaves their counselling. It is one of the most challenging parts of the role, however, within my practice the main thing I do with couples is to facilitate and initiate discussion between them. When emotions are running high, it is common for individuals to be more focused on their response rather than what the other person is saying, which makes active listening almost redundant. Effectively, when you simplify a scenario like this, it becomes 2 people having a one way conversation and in theory, you could remove one individual from that situation with little impact.
What I find most interesting as a therapist is that when people come to me and highlight a problem, in most instances, that is not the main or the sole problem. This is a pattern which can be utilised in relationships as most often, when an individual highlights something that has frustrated them, it is not the real issue or certainly not the only issue. I liken this in therapy to holding a bucket filling with water. If we are able to empty the bucket regularly it becomes more manageable. However if we allow it to fill to the point of overflowing, when we ultimately drop the bucket, the impact will be less controlled and more impacting. So the point here is when the little things frustrate us, how are we able to have a conversation at that moment, which allows us to address the issue? How do we mitigate against simply repressing it, meaning that when it does eventually surface (more than likely with other things also repressed), it does so with such greater magnitude?
If you are anxious about having these conversations, one of the exercises I use with clients in couple therapy, is for them to have an initial conversation and forge an agreement about how best to approach each other. So to simply turn to your partner and ask them what is the best way to approach them when you have something you need to externalise? How will they best receive that message? This not only gives you a platform on which to build, but also a mutual agreement, which is the first step to feeling comfortable enough to communicate with each other.