How to Fix a Damaged Relationship
If you want to know how to fix a damaged relationship you are in the right place. You would do well to be aware of what you are bringing to your relationship and how you communicate with your partner.
Women and men are so different that often we seem incompatible.
I know generalisations are not necessarily true in every case, but please bear with me.
Typically men tend to be interested in sex, their career, and sport.
Oh, and did I mention sex?
On the other hand, women tend to be interested in emotional connection, having a sense of purpose, and fashion.
Of course, having a sense of purpose often includes their career.
John Gray’s book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” was extremely helpful in 1992.
It showed what each person means when they speak and how the other gender interprets it.
However, nowadays we can go further in our understanding.
Deep down, we are similar:
We all just want to love and be loved.
Everyone wants and needs to be respected.
Although we are adults, each individual still has a child inside an adult body.
Nobody exists who has never experienced emotional pain and been affected by it in some way.
The baggage we bring
If someone is going downhill skiing, they will bring their gloves and woolly hat.
Anyone taking a vacation at the beach will bring their swimming costume and sunscreen lotion.
However, when we get married, we bring all kinds of baggage that may not be appropriate for the journey.
When we have suffered trauma in childhood, we are oversensitive.
We bring our tendency to take everything as a criticism.
While some people are aware of their trauma, others bury it deep down inside them.
These people bring a fear of intimacy with them.
4 Things that Damage Relationships
According to John Gottman of the Gottman Institute there are 4 things that destroy relationships: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Because we learn these behaviours from our parents, they are usually deeply ingrained habits.
Life is not always fair. As a result we take things out on the nearest person to us, usually our spouse. Criticism is something that we do when we feel hurt. It may be hurt from our past, but we get into a habit of blaming our partner for everything that is wrong. We direct our complaint about a situation AT our partner. We use words like “why can’t you…?” and “you never” or ” you always.”
For example if the garbage is smelling out the kitchen, we blame them for not taking it out. Perhaps we have not even asked them to do it.
Behind the behaviour: There is usually a deeper hurt behind the criticism. So in this example, there could be the feeling that we have to do everything without help. We might feel like we are being taken for granted, or that our partner is not invested in the relationship enough to contribute to the household chores.
When we feel like we are being criticised, we can become defensive as a result. We deny any wrongdoing and portray ourselves as an innocent victim of a vicious attack. It can include blowing off their words with excuses, changing the subject or blaming them for the problem. The effect this has on the person expressing their complaints is that we are not prepared to hear them out.
Behind the behaviour: The defensiveness may be hiding the feeling that we are not good enough, which may stem from our childhood experiences.
Contempt for a person is what we use when we feel powerless. It can include ridiculing, acting superior, talking down to the person as if they know nothing, or name calling. It attacks the worth of the person instead of focusing on their current behaviour.
Behind the behaviour: Insecurity and inadequacy are behind contempt. There is a subconscious desire to make ourselves feel better by putting another person down and acting superior.
Stonewalling is when we refuse to listen to our partner. This behaviour is when we stop responding, using closed body language that shows we have stopped paying attention, such as crossing our arms and turning away. It can include walking away altogether.
Behind the behaviour: This behaviour can be a symptom that we are emotionally exhausted or that we are frightened of conflict. It often happens when we do not wish to make things worse by our response.
Things to try when learning how to fix a damaged relationship
Just avoiding criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling is not enough to fix a damaged relationship. These behaviours need to be replaced with positive habits.
Alternative to criticism:
We can avoid criticism by learning to express our needs in a healthy way. We can state our needs clearly and use “I” statements. Instead of criticising our partner for not taking out the garbage, we could initiate a conversation about allocating the household chores in a way that feels fair to both of us.
Alternative to defensiveness:
Instead of being defensive we could try not to take their words personally. We should also accept responsibility for the truth in what is being said and try to understand why it is being said.
Alternative to contempt:
Instead of talking down to our partner we can try to communicate with them in a respectful manner. We can look for and appreciate what they get right.
Alternative to stonewalling:
Instead of stonewalling, we can ask for a short time out so that we can calm down and return to the conversation when we are able to listen and be rational.
4 Habits that Help to Fix a Damaged Relationship
These 4 habits go a long way to fix a damaged relationship. They might not feel natural at first, but with practice they will become second nature.
Better communication of our needs
Communicate your feelings and needs in a gentle way that is respectful to your partner and makes it clear that you don’t want them to feel under attack. Let them know that you are on their side. Use the “I don’t, I do and I feel” method.
“My intention is absolutely not to upset you or make you feel like you are under attack, and I do enjoy your company, but I feel it’s important to me that we are both free to express our feelings and be heard.”
It is only when we take responsibility for our part that we can improve things. Accept responsibility for your relationship and know that you both got you to where you are now. Be proactive and be the change that you want to see. Be intentional about your behaviour and conversations.
At the start of each day write down 3 things you will do to make your day wonderful.
At the end of the day write down three things you are did well.
“I am committed to [doing what it takes] to make things better.”
“I am responsible for my own happiness.”
Practice Gratitude and Praise
You can express gratitude for who they are and their qualities. Write down what you appreciate about your spouse and where you see the evidence of it. Every day, add to this list of reasons to be grateful for them and what you like about them. Make a habit of actually telling them these things in writing and out loud.
“You are very hard working and I appreciate that in you.”
“I am grateful that you are generous – you always give me expensive gifts.”
“Thank you for going for a walk with me”
Get to know your partner better
Asking open ended questions shows that you are taking an interest in your partner. Ask them how they are feeling and find out what their dreams and aspirations are. Use follow up questions to clarify and learn more about them. Listen attentively to what your partner is saying without trying to fix your them. Also pay attention to what their body language is telling you.
“So, how do you feel about that?”
“What are you most worried about?”
“If you had all the money in the world what would you do ?”
“What have you always wanted to do?”
In my relationship coaching, I will guide you through this process of replacing bad communication habits with good communication. To sign up for relationship coaching click here.
If you are only interested in Confidence Coaching please see womenwhowincoaching.com