By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
All close relationships include some kind of struggle or conflict at times. While it’s understandable to want to avoid or run away from these, doing so prolongs (and probably exacerbates) the problem – even if it only affects us in less than obvious ways. This is especially true when there is a pattern of problems (of them either occurring frequently or of recurring struggles with a particular topic). Instead of trying to escape the negative, you would do better to somehow improve your relationship, such as:
Resolve the problem: Of course, this is something we all wish to achieve – though doing the work to make it happen is not always on our agenda. If you really value your relationship, then think seriously about whether it’s worth trying to resolve the problem – and possibly better the relationship – at the risk of creating a greater rift.
Prevent the problem: If you know that you have conflicts over particular issues or in certain circumstances, prepare ahead.
Do what you can to avoid them altogether. For instance, you might agree to meet a particular friend away from your boyfriend because he doesn’t get along with her. Of course, there are many issues that are best discussed and not avoided.
If you can’t or shouldn’t totally avoid a situation, come up with a way to handle it as best as possible. For instance, if your mother tends to be critical of your wife, agree to run interference when your mother starts in with negative comments.
Develop tolerance: Sometimes the problems we face are not resolvable. In this case, if you want to maintain the relationship, you need to find a way to accept the differences. This may mean thinking of the relationship in a different way; such as not as close, or just more limited in what it can offer.
Overwhelm it with positive: When problems persist and frustrations or distress mounts, you might find solace in remembering – and engaging in – the good. Take a breath; take a break; take walk around the block. Then once you have an opening for something good in your mind and heart, think of all the positives. Think of what you like and respect about your loved one. Remember a good time you once had and really feel the experience. Then choose to do something in the here-and-now to enjoy each other’s company again.
At some point in every relationship, you will run into difficulties. But because relationships are organic, always growing and changing, you can choose to respond to these troubled times in ways that make you happier. In a related sentiment, Wendell Berry (a noted and insightful author) has said, “The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”
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