By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
You disagree, even fight, just like any other couple. But sometimes the disagreements seem so big – because of how loud you yell, or how deafening your silences are – that you wonder whether you can ever overcome them and be happy again. The answer to this question can be found, not in whether you resolve your conflicts, but in how you treat each other.
Ask yourself, does your partner:
Care about your thoughts and feelings?
Really try to understand your concerns?
Take your concerns seriously (even if he or she disagrees)?
Sincerely want you to feel better?
If you answer yes to all of these questions, then you will likely come through your tumultuous or uncertain times with a satisfying relationship. While there are some differences that people just can’t work around, most of the time, what’s ultimately most important in a relationship is that you feel truly understood, loved, and treated with genuine caring and concern.
However, your relationship is in deep trouble if you don’t feel genuine caring from your partner or for your partner. In these circumstances, your interactions might be marked by avoidance of important topics, defensiveness around them, or attempts by either partner to make the other feel needy or unworthy. What needs to happen then, if possible, is to join together again as a team.
Reconnecting as a couple can be particularly difficult. When problems have developed over time, each person likely feels hurt, lonely, and betrayed. So, they naturally want the other person to reach out to them before they are willing to risk themselves again. In the best of circumstances, one partner reaches out in a caring way to make amends and the other partner responds in kind. Together, they talk, listen, and take action toward rebuilding their relationship. Frequently, though, a couples’ therapist is the only real hope for helping this to happen.
Once mutual caring is established – or re-established – as a central part of a couple’s relationship, then it is important that the partners continue to nurture it. They need to show interest in each other’s lives – celebrate each other’s successes and commiserate over failures. And when conflicts arise between them, they must be willing to share complaints, listen to them with concern, and willingly work together toward each other’s happiness.
How do you work to overcome differences in your relationship? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Relationships and Coping Community.