Have you ever been through a relationship crash?
It might have felt like a relatively minor fender-bender. Maybe a disagreement arose between you and your partner that lead to tension, irritation and harsh words spoken.
It might have seemed like a full-out crash that seems to demolish you and your relationship. Perhaps one of you said something or did something that broke core agreements that you and your partner have made.
You may wonder if the damage is irreparable or if divorce or breakup is imminent.
Relationship crashes can occur in varying degrees. The effects can vary as well.
But even the seemingly minor incidents that crop up between you and your partner can have significant effects– this is because smaller disagreements tend to be swept aside and ignored. Neither you nor your partner want to make a big deal out of something that seems petty or inconsequential.
From our own lives and from working with countless couples in coaching sessions, it’s clear to us that resolving relationship crashes– big or small– as they come up is essential.
The solution for resolving these disagreements, arguments, broken agreements and upheavals is, of course, where it gets tricky.
Denice doesn’t understand how it’s come to this. She always thought that she and her husband Kent had a great marriage. Like any other couple, they have had their moments. But it usually seems that they quickly come back together again after some bump in their relationship.
Kent blew up at Denice last night after dinner and she can’t figure out what she did wrong. To her, it seemed that, out of nowhere, Kent began to rail on about how she spends money, is irresponsible and selfish. Denice felt angry and hurt by the words that Kent said to her.
She is wondering not only where all of those feelings came from, but also what happened to the marriage she thought they had.
Living life on auto-pilot can lead to a relationship crash.
In a huge number of cases, one or both people feel that the relationship turmoil sneaks up on them and comes from “nowhere.” But, to someone looking at the relationship from the outside, warning signs and signals for the turmoil to come were evident.
The reason that people inside a relationship are often surprised by the relationship crash is that they are sometimes living life on auto-pilot.
This happens to the best of us.
The demands of your everyday life begin to pile up.
Work, finances, home care, child care, personal health care and more possibly pull at your time and energy.
And then, of course, there’s your relationship. It’s likely that you are trying to create time for connection and even romance for you and your mate. In many relationships this, unfortunately, gets put on the back burner.
In essence, life takes over. You are merely trying to keep up and you possibly feel overwhelmed and not in control. This is a common experience.
And this is the environment in which an auto-pilot existence occurs.
Despite your best intentions, you stop paying as much attention to your relationship and to the possible warning signs that are emerging.
Denice decides to take the morning off from work (which she hardly ever does) because she is so upset by Kent’s tirade last night. Before facing him again this evening, she would like to attain some clarity.
As Denice sits at her kitchen table drinking coffee, she realizes how great just sitting and thinking is. She acknowledges that she does not slow down and relax much at all anymore.
Denice directs her attention back to memories of the night before and to Kent’s hurtful words. Some of what he said seems downright unfair and inaccurate. But, she begrudgingly can see how some of the other things he said fit.
It seems like a very long time since Denice paid much close attention to Kent and their marriage. Her work and community volunteering have been her main focus for quite some time. She feels sad about this.
She plans to talk with Kent about making some big shifts in their marriage– ones that will hopefully bring them closer together again. She also wants to know more about what specific things triggered his anger and outrage.
Trace the crash back to the habits.
Living life on auto-pilot is certainly a habit that can lead to a relationship crash. Simply going through the motions of being married or in a love relationship without much intention, direction or attention can most certainly create disconnection and distance.
This is almost always contributed to by both people, not just one.
If you’ve been through a relationship crash, start to look at the habits that you have fallen into. Acknowledge your personal habits and also those that pertain to your partner and your relationship.
For example, how do you tend to communicate with your mate? Do you wait until slight irritation turns into full-blown anger? Do you do whatever it takes to keep the peace with your partner– even if that means you stuff down how truly feel?
Try to step outside of a judgmental or blaming mode. Instead, become as much of an observer as you can.
Your efforts to make changes that will help you and your partner re-connect and move closer together again can be far more effective if you recognize what you’ve been doing that contributed to the crash.
As we said above, a relationship crash is almost always due to dynamics that involve both people in the relationship.
We encourage you to identify what your habits are that might be driving a wedge in your relationship. Then, listen with openness to what your partner is able to see in his or her own habits.
If there are specific behaviors of your partner that are upsetting to you, remember to use “I feel” statements to communicate about them.
As Kent and Denice talk about Kent’s angry outburst from the night before, they both try to use “I feel” statements.
She says to him, “I feel angry when I hear you call me ‘selfish,’ because I perceive myself as a very giving person. But I also am starting to see that I often neglect you and our relationship.”
You can follow up an “I feel” statement with an acknowledgment, as Denice did. You can also follow up an “I feel” statement with a request for an agreement about a change in behavior you’d like to have happen.
That agreement might involve your partner being more honest and open with you about where he or she has been. It might pertain to the way that the two of you communicate. It could also be an agreement that you will go together to seek help from a coach or counselor
You don’t necessarily have to fully understand why the relationship habits that have developed came into being although it can be beneficial to know the needs that the habit possibly fulfilled for each of you.
What is most important is for you and your mate to figure out the tendencies that are driving the two of you apart– and contributed to the relationship crash.
From there, you can create agreements and come up with strategies that can help you repair the damage and re-connect.