8 things all couples can do to fix their ‘Broken’ relationship


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Despite the most terrible of betrayals, the
most anguishing of hurtful behaviors, or the
most discouraging of disappointments, these
subtle but crucial revelations can predict
whether or not they can find their way back to
the love they once knew. When I see them, no
matter how infrequent or indistinct, I know
that we can work towards resolution.
1. Attentiveness
When one partner is speaking, however his or
her tone of voice, the other partner is looking
and listening to them. Even if there is
disagreement, it is evident that what the other
has to say is still important. The partners may
have a history of interruption, over-talking,
dismissing, or minimizing, but will stop those
behaviors when I ask them to and redirect
their attention to what the other is saying. If I
ask either of them to repeat what the other
partner has communicated, they genuinely try.
When I ask them what they think the other is
feeling or meaning, they want to learn to tell
me. When either partner begins to cry or can’t
talk, the other stops the interaction until that
distressed partner can resume. I see that both
are capable of stopping their own drivers-to-
be-the-righteous-one and to remember that
there are two of them in the room.
2. Concern
Couples who have lost each other’s trust and
support, whether just recently, or over a long
period of time, still may show concern when
either expresses authentic heartbreak. If they
are not able to use soothing words or
gestures, especially if being blamed in the
moment, they show consideration for their
partner’s distress by their body language or
facial expression. It is as if they know where
the breaking point is and do not want to go
there. Compassion rules over dominance when
the other partner drops into a genuine place of
heartache.
3. Shared Humor
There are times when I’ve been with a
distressed couple where it appears that the
hostility between them has taken over the
relationship. They are arguing about the way
they are arguing. They are unable to find
anything in the other worthwhile to listen to.
They are interrupting, invalidating, and yelling
at one another. I feel like a referee in a
professional emotional boxing match.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, one of them
refers to an experience they’ve shared in the
past, or something that is happening between
them, and they both start to laugh. The
tension is immediately gone, even for just a
moment, and both are looking at one another
as if they are really just good friends playing
at hating each other. Even if the fight
resumes, it is evident that what they are
talking about is not all of who they are and I
know I can get them down under their self-
destructive interactions.
4. De-escalation
Every couple knows how far is too far. Sadly,
that underlying knowledge does not always
keep them from walking too close to that cliff
and many relationships end because of that
sacrilege. The de-escalation ray of hope
happens when I see a couple recognizing
when they are too close to saying or doing
something that the other cannot get past.
Seemingly out of nowhere and certainly out of
character, one or both stops the interaction or
takes it to a more caring place. They have a
shared knowing that certain words or ways of
being may hurt too much to ever heal, or some
actions from the past cut too deeply. It is
clear to me that they have an invisible pact
that keeps them from going over the edge.
5. Immediacy
It is natural for most people to use the past or
other people to add clout to whatever they
point out as valid in the moment. That is
especially true when one partner feels he or
she is losing the argument, and feels that
fortifying it with examples from the past or
endorsements from other significant people
will bolster its effectiveness.
Couples who are good communicators stay
with one issue at a time and talk about what
they need from each other in the present. They
don’t try to persuade the other of a position
that will be satisfying for them at the expense
of the other. If one of them begins to falter,
the other brings them back to the problem at
hand and that tactic is not only accepted, but
appreciated.
6. Basic Trust
No matter how angry, hurt, or vengeful a
couple acts towards each other in that first
session, I can see that their distress with the
situation at hand in no way suggests that
their partners are basically flawed or
unacceptable people. Challenges of acts of
behaviors are very different from character
assassinations. The issue at hand may have
sorely undermined the relationship in their
current crisis or long-term distance, but they
would never state that the other person was
unworthy of their love or basic respect.
7. Self-Accountability
Pointing fingers as to who is to blame is a
power play. There is a bad guy who is properly
dealt with, and the good-guy victor wins the
battle and loses the war. So many fights
between couples sink in this assignment of
accountability and whatever “appropriate”
consequences result. There is that magic
moment in therapy when both partners realize
that they’ll play a winning game when each
owns their individual contribution to what has
gone wrong. It sometimes takes some skill
building, but it is unmistakably remarkable to
witness when the interaction turns in that
direction.
8. Energy
There is no hope where there is no life. I’ll
take a passionate, angry, upset couple any
time over two people who sit in the room
wishing they could be anywhere else and
disappearing in to two-dimensional cardboard
cutouts. The door to the outside office might
as well be made of concrete and bars as a
room I treasure as a haven begins to feel more
like a prison.
A once-loving couple who allows their
relationship to diminish into a lifeless,
complicated set of rituals has the biggest
burden by far. High angry energy can morph
into high loving energy. Deadness is hard to
revive.
Sometimes, it is hard to visualize an angry or
wounded couple showing any of these eight
rays of hope in the midst of their anguishing
conflicts. But if you don’t overlook them, they
are often just under the surface waiting and
wanting to emerge. I know that a couple
wants to get beyond their distress when they
get excited about those “aha” moments when I
identify them, and immediately commit to
replacing their old behaviors with the new
ones.
They quickly realize that those repeated
negative patterns have been the culprits that
have gotten them in trouble and they both
want them gone. That couple is likely to find
their love again, and know what they now
need to do to regain their commitment when
they identify and challenge those negative
patterns. Though it may take many new
moments to leave the darkness behind, the
light is on.
You don’t need therapy to identify and
strengthen these responses in your
relationship. You can find these rays of hope
within your relationship if you are willing to
put yourself aside and make your relationship
more important than your need to prove who’s
right. But, if you feel lost and unable to
identify them on your own, find a competent
observer to help you find your way.

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