As a couple therapist, I have noticed three main reasons that bring couples to my clinic: boredom, perpetual conflicts, and thirds. I call them the “three amigos” of couple therapy, because every couple therapist knows them very well.
Most people don’t want to be hurt. Yet being in an intimate, long-term, committed relationship (read marriage) has its dangers. In every relationship, you will get hurt, insulted, ridiculed, abandoned, betrayed, and even ignored.
One way of protecting ourselves is by fuzzy communication-not showing too much of our vulnerability and soft belly. We avoid hot topics that might increase tensions, such as sex, religion, parenting, in-laws, money, power, and death. Such careful communication indeed protects partners from overt conflict and pain but slowly corrodes the relationship. The biggest tax of this partial, edited, and careful dynamic is boredom.
Over time, there are fewer and fewer topics that can be discussed openly. Twosomes find themselves eating silently together, escaping to screens or other activities because they have little to talk about. And when they do talk, it’s about the same topics: kids, logistics, current events, or other “safe” topics.
And although we all continuously change and evolve, boredom prevents partners from growing within and with their relationship. It is a sign of stagnation. It shows that partners are not growing within the dyad.
What can you do about it?
“The way to keep passion alive is by telling the truth.” Terry Real
If you are feeling bored, stuck in place, indifferent, or feel that you and your mate don’t have much to talk about, here are a couple of resources that can help.
- Say The Thing to revitalize your relationship. Try being open and clear with your partner. Use simple, bold, one-dimensional communication.
- Present-tense your communication. Dare to speak in the here and now, not hiding behind past realizations. Then embrace the inevitable consequences of speaking clearly.
- Talk to your partner in numbers. Speaking in numbers lifts the vagueness and introduces more vitality to your communication.
Own your shadow. Dare to bring more shades of yourself, especially the ones you may be less proud of — because if you really want to be loved, you have to show your shadow.
- Verbalize your aggression. Dare to bring more of your aggression in a respectful and generative way to your bond. You will be surprised to discover the price of being nice and the pain of being a pain.
- Master the art of Into-me-see(intimacy). Dare to share more of the backstage of your mind by “broadcasting live”. Incessant fighting
All couples fight. Some do it better than others. Contrary to the bored couples, conflict-filled couples can’t stop arguing and fighting. When conflicts, arguments, bickering, name-calling, and other aggressive (or violent) behaviors are the norm, that’s when couples finally head to therapy.
When couples can’t stop arguing, they feel helpless and trapped. Your home begins to feel like a gladiator arena. Over time, your relationship will drain you and not serve as a source of energy, strength, or power. It is then only a matter of time until you both will start looking outside the relationship for some solace.
What can you do about it?
If you recognize that you are overwhelmed by never ending battles in your relationship, then it’s time to learn how to harness the power of conflict for personal and relational growth. Here are some initial directions that can help you:
- Recognize and regulate flooding. Feeling overwhelmed and not being able to operate rationally is unavoidable and yet ruins relationships.
- Master the art of conflict. Conflict is the ignored path to personal and relational growth, therefore it’s crucial to learn how argue more constructively, and make up more warmly.
- Subjective is the only objective in relationships. Learn to let go of your need to be right, and to allow two narratives to live side by side, thereby lowering the frequency of conflict.
- “Let it land” and open yourself to your partner. Stop getting defensive or insulted by your partner’s truth, but rather open yourself to their truth (which usually has a grain of truth in it).
Thirds and other external threats to the dyad
There are always external threats to the dyad. They increase in cases of long-term boredom or continuous fighting. Thirds come in a myriad of ways. The obvious one is a romantic or sexual affair, but it can also be someone or something outside the dyad that partners outsource most of their libido to: sports team, hobbies, work, money, porn, exercise, friends, screens, book club, and more.
Couples come to the clinic after the Third has either taken over one partner, or Thirds have entered the dyad and threatened to end the relationship.
What can you do about it?
If you recognize that you or your partner has outsourced too much of your energy out of the dyad, then here are a couple of resources for you:
- The most stable dyad is a triad. Understand that thirds are unavoidable and take stock of where each of you is overly outsourcing.
- Utilize “the power of the third” generatively in your relationship.
- Block your exits in order to grow. Actively try to block outside distractions that prevent you from being more present in your relationship.
All three of these dyad issues are normal and inevitable. Yet if they are not monitored and talked about openly, they can stunt and damage your relationship. When approached right, the three threats can be leveraged toward growth and relational maturity; you just need to know how to work with them.
Have an open conversation with your partner. Discuss openly whether any of the three have become an issue for one of you recently. Then read the relevant resources together in order to prevent your relationship from slowly eroding towards a negative dynamic. If that isn’t enough, then perhaps it’s time to go together to a clinician who can help you work through the issues.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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