Implementing Change Working to improve the Relationships we depend on
The decay of a struggling relationship doesn’t magically sprout new growth when the branches have been dormant—pruning may be required. Changing ingrained patterns demands time, effort and patience and perhaps professional guidance. Because of the work and lack of immediate feedback, we must rely on external evidence of effective; otherwise, we waste precious resources chasing idealistic garbage.
The path of change includes momentary slips—relapses. Old habits die hard; but with patience, new patterns can become normal. The slips gradually decrease and deeper intimacy is obtained.
Embarking on new territory spikes fears, laced with uncertainty, each slip challenges our resolve. Newness demands attention fatiguing our mind. Changing patterns of interactions requires closely monitoring expressions and personal awareness of triggered emotions—following the old destructive patterns of explosion and name calling is much easier, requiring no thought, no repression—just relationship killing reactions. Constant mindfulness drains the dreamy intentions of intimacy of life. We want immediate results to justify the work.
Are things changing? When attempts to change fail to provide noticeable rewards, we sour on the investment. Struggling with change isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s normal. The patterns continue to roll; trajectories fight to maintain. A little high-minded hope for something better cowers beneath the weight of habits. But there is hope; change is possible.
Our hopes must comply with reality. The dream must comfortably fit within the limitations imposed on the relationship by ourselves, our partners and the natural imperfections of human interaction. Rich rewarding relationship are possible; but not without flaws. Relationships require acceptance of the normal discomforts—including the occasional pangs of guilt, sorrow, regret, and sadness. Relationships are emotional. In the bounds of connection, we feel and incite emotion. When impaired (from painful pasts), the magnified emotions of a relationship crushes our stability, drowning us in a constant flow of magnified feelings. Expectations that a relationship will provide an escape from negative emotion are impractical. No change will achieve these lofty hopes—all real relationships will disappoint when measured with these lofty hopes.
This skewed sense of a possible pain free reality poisons the reality of relationships. Successful relationships require especially when previous relationships have failed.
Driven for connection, we march forward, seeking guidance and implementing relationship skills. We hope that a new technique will simultaneously transform a partner as we work to transform our self. Techniques fail. People resist change.
The magical belief that immediately resolutions are possible permeates our culture—perhaps from the influence of the sixty minute sitcoms. These drifts from reality, wrapped in magical thinking, contribute to the problem rather than resolve it. When our initial efforts don’t immediately force a change, discouragement replaces the hope and new motivations fade; the old habits return and we bemoan our lot in life.
Healthy relationship behaviors help soften attitudes, prevent destructive fights, and encourage growth; but misguided motivations for healthy behaviors may poison the effects. The nasty attempts of manipulation are often wrapped in kindness. Overt actions disguised as empathy and compassion but intended to gain compliance fails to force intimacy. If confirmation of the effectiveness of a technique is measured by increased control over a partner, then scientifically proven techniques designed to increase empathy, understanding, and compassion will fail.
When we seek selfish results from techniques designed for healthier connections, we will dismiss techniques as in effective. Just as the recovering addict must learn reality will fail to provide the same rush as a narcotic fix; it can, however, provide a richness that surpasses the ever diminishing rush of an artificial high. No matter what magical changes we implement, our partners will still do what they want—it’s their prerogative. Subtle manipulations fail to create intimacy. A healthy relationship requires trust built through a pattern of honesty. And trust creates vulnerability. Building a life together implies that security depends upon a partner who we don’t control. Our security must be partially placed in trust; trust that our partner will fulfill their commitment; but also in trust that we will survive if our partner fails. Until we are willing to trust a partner, we will struggle.
Manipulation doesn’t work. We can’t force a relationship to provide security by molding a perfect partner. Even if the perfect partner does exist, they are either taken or not likely to find interested in our imperfectness.
We may in efforts to change conceal emotions. The hidden emotions continue to communicate—sometimes purposely. Revealing comments such as, “I’m trying to remain calm,” expresses all the anger but allows for a tinge of self-righteousness. Often designed to fix blame for triggered emotions, and then frost with a sweet covering of taking the high road. The end expectations haven’t changed. The partner is expected to pacify the emotions by bending to our narrow minded will. Anger, sadness, fear or disappointment simmers underneath.
Strengthening of relationship bonds demand a different approach—honest communication instead of disguised goals to manipulate. Healthy communication motivated by compassion, respect and understanding. The goal of intimacy guides couples through the twisting roads of conflict resolution.
Compassion doesn’t preclude us from being angry, sad, disappointed, or even jealous. We can honestly express feelings. Compassion isn’t trembling with anger and blurting out, “it is okay.” The forced and insincere message is lost in the larger message of disapproval. Silent anger still communicated creates more anxiety than honest sharing of the feeling experience.
When we commit to change, we embrace proven skills that invite harmony. Instead of engaging in power struggles, we open to the complexities of connection, inviting a deeper understanding of pasts, hurts, and emotional triggers. In pursuit of change, we achieve success not from mutually exploring each other’s emotions. The understanding engenders compassion—exposing the anger, hurt and fear as cries for healing; not threats to security. Discomforting feelings, rather than being the enemy, become guides, pointing to tender spots begging for greater attention and clarity.
Compassionate communication is a skill. Relationships with histories of name calling, blame, and disappointment will continue to spark these emotions. When past discussions hurt, we’re programmed to respond defensively. We learn to protect. Because of habitual default responses, we must slow down, recognizing the harmful pattern stimulated by the past; and not conducive to the present. When a couple fails to transcend the unconscious power struggles embedded in their conversations, discussions will break down, further deteriorating the relationship. One partner must be first to change, courageously embracing compassion through honest expression, opening themselves to vulnerability to the unknown reactions to this new approach. Change doesn’t simultaneously occur in both partners. One partner may never cooperate with the healthy changes, forcing much more difficult decisions.
Some relationships have run their course, succumbing to the habitual negative responses, embedded labels, and hurtful patterns—too much hurt to overcome. Even when this is the case, don’t continue with mutual unkindness. We need relationship skills. If our partner uses openness to their advantage, you set the boundaries. If they ignore boundaries then enforce your rights—leave if needed, Seeking professional help to move forward safely. Two people must work together to establish intimacy but only one to destroy it.
Through all our relationships, whether they are healthy or not, our emotions are magnified. In a relationship, we can become familiar with personal feelings, triggers, and tender spots. This personal knowledge becomes the foundation for intimacy.