A romantic relationship is like a long journey in a car: sometimes, you travel on straight, smooth roads. At other times, the roads become narrow and treacherous, filled with potholes, barriers, and roadblocks.Your car may break down, and you and your partner may think about leaving the car and going it alone.
As a couple, how can you cope with life’s unending detours? Here are five steps to help you navigate an ever-changing, obstacle-filled road:
Survey the road. The road you’ve been traveling on may be damaged from anger, frustration, and disappointment. But as you survey your surroundings, are you absolutely sure there’s nothing positive left? Look at your partner as a whole person -- not as the person from your last argument or fight. Think about the good times you’ve had and the qualities you still like. Then use these positives as fuel to make the first move. Reach out to your partner with your body language: make eye contact, relax, uncross your arms, and perhaps even smile. Have a pleasant conversation.Make small gestures that show you still care, and that you want to make a commitment to move forward together.
Unearth what’s causing the damage. The majority of issues in relationships aren’t caused by the relationship itself -- they are caused by hidden emotions and unconscious ties to the past. Our views of love and relationships start in childhood and stick to us like an ever-present shadow, following us from one relationship to the next. By exploring these shadow emotions, through self-reflection and by paying attention to your dreams and unconscious, you’ll be able to identify the true source of your problems -- and move from blaming your partner to communicating and talking about the issues instead.
Unpack and sort your baggage. Once you are able to identify the emotional baggage you’ve been carrying, you’ll see that it’s time to leave some of it behind. This is the time to sort through the memories, hurts, feelings, conflicts, wishes, and fantasies of “what could have been.” This process involves several stages, from feeling depressed and lonely; to feeling betrayed, angry and overwhelmed; to slowly reorganizing views of yourself, your partner, and your relationship; and then integrating these views into a new view of the two of you, together.
Rebuild trust for the journey ahead. To weather the rest of your journey together, you and your partner need to become emotionally available to each other again. When your partner shares what he or she is feeling with you, respond with empathy. Feel what your partner is feeling. Confirm that you feel the same way or can understand your partner’s emotions. Talk about how to deal with similar situations in the future, and follow up at a later time to make sure your partner is still in a good place -- and that nothing needs further exploration. By repairing problems as they surface, you and your partner will learn how to become emotionally available to each other again.
Access the emotions that fuel your relationship. Intimacy is at the heart of every relationship, so you need to foster actions that bring the two of you closer together. Spend time being intimate physically (by touching or expressing affection), philosophically (by talking about your life purpose, shared values, and goals), and socially (by fostering ties with your family, community, or the world at large). A successful relationship also balances intimacy with the need to be your own person. One way to achieve this is to talk about your lives, including your life together, and your individual lives before you met. This will reinforce what each of you brings to the relationship, both as a couple and individually. And, above all, let your partner know how important he or she is, and that you appreciate all that your partner does for you. Make your partner feel special by leaving a love note, sending flowers, or just by calling to say “hi.”
Dr. Daniela Roher is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist with nearly forty years in a career that has spanned three countries and two continents. Dr. Susan E. Schwartz is a Jungian analyst trained at the C.G. Jung Institute, who lectures worldwide. This article is adapted from their book "Couples at the Crossroads: Five Steps to Finding Your Way Back to Love". To learn more, visit www.CouplesAtTheCrossroads.com.