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How to End the Destructive Loop in Your Relationship

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistDecember 20, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

It’s easy to get so used to the way you communicate with a partner or friend that you are no longer even conscious of the dynamics between you. The way you interact is just the way it is. But when you are upset more often than happy, take that as a sign to pause and reflect on your relationship.

My book, Insecure in Love, suggests that you can gain some important insights by noting the thoughts, feelings, and actions of you and your partner. To help you understand how to do this, consider the following excerpt:

Jill feels hurt that Paul doesn’t spend time with her on the weekends and instead hangs out with his friends. She thinks he doesn’t care. She expresses this by crying and telling him he’s selfish. Paul feels attacked, thinks she is overreacting, and reacts by withdrawing. Jill feels hurt and the cycle repeats.

With this in mind, think of a conflict that tends to repeat in your relationship. Now consider the following questions related to it. (Although these questions assume that you are the one initially upset, you can modify them to accommodate your partner or friend initiating the conflict.)

As the conflict is going on…

FEELING: How are you feeling about what’s happening?

THOUGHT: What are you thinking about your partner?

ACTION: How do you express the problem?

FEELING: What do you imagine your partner is feeling on the receiving end?

THOUGHT: What do you imagine that your partner is thinking about you?

ACTION: How does your partner respond?

Note how the interaction continues and how it finally ends (for instance, there is an explosion; or both withdraw). For the questions about your partner’s or friend’s experience, it can be helpful to ask what he was feeling and thinking—but only if you can talk about this productively. Otherwise, try empathizing with him to imagine his responses; or ask someone you trust for help.

It can also help to review the patterns of interaction in the relationship:

  • How do you and your partner affect each other’s feelings and actions?
  • What patterns do you notice?
  • How does this interaction reinforce your beliefs about how worthy of love you are? How does this interaction reinforce your beliefs about how emotionally available your partner is?

At an appropriate, calm time, you may want to talk with your partner about this exercise, sharing your insights. You might also ask your partner about how the interactions affect his sense of being worthy of love and his sense of how emotionally available you are. There is a lot here to make sense of within yourself, as well as to try to work through with your partner. So this is an area that you might find helpful to spend some time reviewing. You might also find it helpful to think this through a bit now, then return to it again at a later time.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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