How do personal problems arise, how are they maintained and what does it take to solve them? In the helping professions theories abound regarding all three of these questions. In this article we look at how relationship problems continue to flourish, despite efforts to resolve them.
Relationship problems arise from – and can be maintained by – circumstances outside our control, as well as from our own actions. In both cases, your behavior, attitude, thoughts and beliefs will influence your ability to resolve any problem.
Let’s examine just a few examples of how thought and behavior can maintain a relationship problem.
Obsessing. Stuck in this thinking pattern, the mind engages in non-stop thoughts about the other person. It prevents you from knowing what is good for you. It shows up especially when one person is dependent – financially or emotionally – on the other. The dependent person lacks the power and initiative to assert her needs and her rights. Rather, she constantly worries what the other person is thinking, doing or is going to do. Such a person cannot resolve her problem because she is unable or unwilling to identify her needs.
Rigid thinking. Years ago, as I led a communication workshop, I was trying to coach a man to use an effective communication technique, called “the reflecting statement.” This involves nothing more than repeating what the other person said, simply to communicate that you heard her and that you care about her feelings. He looked confused and stiff, as he said, “I can’t do that.” Not sure what he meant, I asked him to clarify, but he said again, “I can’t do that.” It seemed that he was not just unable, but also unwilling, to talk that way. He later told me that he was raised by a dictatorial father, who tolerated no back-talk, and enforced his power over the children easily. All he had to do was to begin taking off his belt.
Attachment to identity. A female client was having difficulty because her marriage was in tatters. She had been sexually unfaithful. Her husband was mean-spirited, negligent and abused drugs and alcohol. She had moved out and filed divorce papers. But her identity – in her own words as “someone who does not get divorced” – made it impossible for her to be clear about what was best for her. While I did not advocate divorce (and never do), it was clear that she was so attached to her identity as someone who would never be a ‘statistic’, that she continued to consider working things out, even while he dated other women, and their divorce was in process.
Refusal to accept reality. Insisting that things ‘should not’ be this way and one day ‘could be’ a certain way, is a huge obstacle to problem resolution. It blinds us to what is actually happening. Instead, we become fixated on how things should be or could be, and we hold out hope that something or someone will change, when that is highly unlikely.
Unwillingness to forgive. Letting go of anger, bitterness and hurt is one of life’s biggest challenges. The problem is that holding on to those negative feelings is tantamount to building a concrete wall topped with barbed wire between you and the person who hurt you. As long as that wall stands, resolution of a problem is impossible.
Self deception and sugar-coating. Many people are trapped by distorted beliefs, which are often be based in an old adage. Consider the saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” In some cases, that’s good advice. However, taken to an extreme, this can lead a person to believe that you should never say anything that’s not nice, even if it means being honest about your beliefs and feelings. Thus, asserting your needs and rights comes to be seen as being “not nice.” Contradicting a teacher who is teaching a falsehood is “not nice.” This is how selfish, ignorant parents bully their children so that the kids will be no trouble to them. This is how the victims of that abusive upbringing learn to lie to themselves about their feelings, and doubt their judgments. This is psychological poison and it destroys a person’s ability to resolve a relationship problem.
Many other behaviors and attitudes contribute to the maintenance of relationship problems. Fear of other people’s opinions. Self-defeating family traditions. Failure to understand the opposite sex. Inability to learn from one’s own mistakes. And … the list goes on.
Have you ever had difficulty resolving a relationship problem? How did you handle it? Were you and the other person able to meet each other’s needs? What resources did you use? There are so many options these days. Now, if you are the type who prefers working through problems with someone who is impartial, it might be worthwhile to consult a professional. In that case, if your are ready to get started, I can be reached at (219) 309-3928. If you are a reader, you might prefer my book, YOU CAN WORK IT OUT! Skills and Wisdom for Conflict Resolution in Relationships. The link is on my home page.
For more thoughts on this click here Trust, Fear, Love
Thanks for reading!