Unresolved problems in a couple relationship – what are the consequences?

A healthy and harmonious couple relationship doesn’t work by itself, but it’s necessary for both partners to get involved. Many times the relationship deteriorates because the partners come to think that the other one belongs to them, they aren’t honest with each other, they stop communicating, they stop spending quality time together, they focus on their flaws and shortcomings and stop appreciating each other, they stop making efforts to win back their partner every day, and the way they manage conflicts triggers true "wars" that lead to frustrations, resentments, revenge plans etc.

If you are not willing to work on yourself and your relationship, the problems or dissatisfactions that already exist will grow. These unresolved issues may lead us to adopt:

-avoidance behaviors – because we run away from our unpleasant or painful feelings that are closely related to our couple problems, we may find refuge in other activities, fleeting fun or compensatory behaviors. For example, alcohol use and abuse, drugs, food; excessive time spent on TV, on the phone, laptop; the refuge in work or any other activities that keep us apart from our partner and through which we avoid facing the existing problems in order to try to solve them;

Another way we avoid facing the existing problems in order to try to solve them is by occupying our mind and focusing our attention on:

- past mistakes or wounds that we recall and relive in our mind over and over again and bring them up when a conflict arises (instead of resolving the current conflict, we amplify it by bringing up past mistakes);

- our partner's flaws - we focus on what we don't like about them and on their mistakes, we get angry, we blame them for our unhappiness, we criticize them, we complain;

- our negative feelings which we make worse than they already are – for example, we remember that we felt rejected at a certain point and we start to analyze this rejection, we amplify the situation, exacerbate our emotions, get angrier and angrier, we get angry with our partner, we use bad language, we basically start a new conflict out of nothing by not solving a previous problem that is still bothering us;

- worries about the future - we make all kinds of negative scenarios in our mind and we waste our time and energy with hypothetical unfortunate or catastrophic situations.

All of these things listed above keep us trapped in our own mind, in our own reality, as if the thoughts and emotions we feed create a thick layer of fog between us and our partner.

- impulsive behaviors – because we are already tense, like a pressure cooker, and because we have so many resentments or frustrations, we react automatically instead of consciously responding – we don't take the time to think about what we say and do and the consequences of our words and behaviors, but rather react in a pattern we are used to. For example, if our partner is late, we automatically get angry and reproach him/her or have a meltdown, instead of thinking about how else we could approach this situation - through assertive communication and clearly communicating our limits: "I feel..." instead of "you are...", "I want in the future to..." instead of "you always do that, why do I bother telling you anymore".

- emotional distancing behaviors or emotional detachment – we are rather absent and thinking elsewhere than present or attentive to our partner and what he/she has to tell us; we close ourselves off and refuse to communicate, we seem bored, we become irritable or "difficult" to set a distance between us and our partner.

When we get caught up in our own thoughts, live on autopilot, react impulsively instead of responding rationally and constructively, or when we reminisce and relive past mistakes and hurts, we do nothing but further neglect our present needs and wants, both individual and as a couple. We lose the opportunity to develop and evolve, to strengthen and improve our relationship.

When we give up putting any effort into our relationship, but continue to live the same way, out of habit, fear of loneliness or a new beginning, we doom ourselves to a future full of rejection, frustration, resentment, hostility, unfulfillment.

If you are in a similar situation, I invite you to think about the following aspects:

- what avoidance behaviors do you adopt or how do you run away from unpleasant (painful) feelings that are closely related to your couple problems? What about your partner?;

- when do you react impulsively/automatically? What about your partner? What are those behaviors?;

- how do you disconnect or emotionally distance yourself from your partner? How does he/she? When does this happen? Do you notice any patterns?;

- how your wellbeing (your vitality, physical and mental health) is affected if you refuse to work on your relationship, i.e. if you run away from problems, you look for people to blame, you get lost in negative feelings, criticism and reproaches, you deceive or delude yourself;

- what consequences existed (on an emotional and relational level, in terms of wasted time or energy etc.) following the fact that you chose an avoidance behavior, an impulsive behavior or an emotional distancing / detachment behavior;

- what did you do today for improving your relationship and your own wellbeing?

Once you realize that you are running away from confrontations, from your relationship problems, you begin to notice and identify the way you do this and you can actively change those behaviors.

If you lie and delude yourself that everything is perfect, when it isn't, the problems you're trying to run away from won't magically disappear or resolve themselves, but will grow over time.

If you want your relationship to improve, it is necessary for both you and your partner to be honest and take responsibility for this process.

Think about what you can do, how you can contribute to improving your relationship. Beyond all that you perceive as not being ok, there are certainly many positive things that you can appreciate about your partner. Tell him/her what you appreciate and admire about him/her, give him/her positive feedback, say "thank you" and show your gratitude and appreciation for who he/she is and what he/she brings to the relationship. Notice where your focus is most of the time – on what you think he/she is not doing properly, on what is not ok, on his/her flaws and your dissatisfactions? Also notice what happens if you aim to also focus on the positive aspects and show your appreciation for them.

 Dr. Ursula Sandner


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