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A Care Package for Your Relationship.

A Care Package for Your Relationship. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

“For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks… the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
– Rilke

I want to share my perspective on relationships with you:

Relationships are hard.

Relationships are never, ever perfect and require huge investments of time, energy, a willingness to compromise, and a willingness to be influenced by the other regularly.

Combine this with whatever unique triggers, differences, trauma, preferences, needs and wants that any two people will inevitably experience over time together, and then throw in the stressors of life such as commutes, work, finances, loss, illness and more, relationships can hold the potential for maddening frustration, disappointment, grief, and soul-trying challenge.

A Care Package for Your Relationship. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

A Care Package for Your Relationship.

Do either or both of these beliefs feel familiar? Would you say that maybe – just maybe – they sometimes keep you feeling confused, stuck, or unsatisfied in your romantic relationship?

If so, today’s blog post is for you.

Do you come from a childhood trauma background?

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And, while I don’t believe that relationships complete us per say, they do indeed help us to grow, heal, and become more fully who we were meant to be.

Relationships give immense meaning and anchoring to our fragile human lives.

Quite a paradox isn’t it?

Relationships can be our source of greatest frustration, pain, and challenge, but also our greatest source of growth, joy, and healing.

And, while no two relationships will ever look the same — the universe constellated between two people will always have a unique topography, a wholly original landscape, language, spoken and unspoken contract between the pairing — I do believe there are some fundamental principles and tools which can support most people in navigating the paradox of pain and joy in relationships.

So in today’s blog post, I want to offer these principles and tools up for you in the form a veritable Care Package for your relationship.

And while I frame this article from the lens of romantic relationships, I believe the principles can apply to any kind of relationship: friend, sibling, parent, coworker, etc.

So read on…

Rupture is inevitable; It’s the repair that counts.

Have you ever noticed that when you have incredibly high expectations you’re inevitably disappointed?

I certainly have.

That’s why I think it’s critical for anyone in a relationship to have reasonable expectations and deeply understand that:

“No matter how much you love each other, no matter how long you’ve been together, no matter how skillfully you try to communicate, rupture in relationship is inevitable; it’s the repair that counts.”

Rupture — or, in other words, conflict, disagreement or misses — is absolutely bound to happen in relationship.

Most likely every day. By understanding this, we can possibly have more realistic expectations about the challenges of being in a relationship and avoid making up stories like “we’re not meant to be together!” when conflict occurs.

It’s going to happen. Period.

And while I do have some recommendations about how to fight well when rupture occurs (see next bullet point) it’s the repair — the coming back together after conflict that really counts (see the third bullet point).

So, in order to recalibrate your expectations, let me repeat: In relationship, rupture is inevitable; it’s the repair that counts.

Fight well.

Given that conflict in relationship is inevitable, I believe it’s helpful (if not critical) for partners in relationship to learn the skill of how to fight well with each other.

Fighting well can look like those Classroom Rules posters you (like I) might have seen in elementary school:

  • Listen. 
  • Be kind.
  • Respect each other. 
  • Use “I” statements. 
  • Share how you feel.

All of this sounds wonderful and ideal, but what happens when you or your partner are emotionally flooding or your fight/flight/or freeze impulse is triggered to the point where the above feels impossible?

Try this:

Take structured time outs.

I talked about this at length in point #3 of an earlier blog post, but to recap, when one or both of you are flooding, initiating a structured time out can be an excellent way to help your nervous system calm down.

A structured time out can be initiated by one or both partners, and there is a clear agreement around the duration of the time out as well as who will initiate the end of the timeout/continuation of the discussion.

Explore alternative ways to move through a fight.

I’ve had couples in my therapy practice who cannot discuss challenging topics face-to-face/eye-to-eye with one another. For many reasons, it’s just too triggering.

For these couples, I recommend alternative forms of communicating such as texting, or walking side by side and talking versus looking right at each other, or talking on the phone but in separate rooms.

Get creative about how you can create greater safety and reduce triggering in fights so you can aim for kinder, more effective communication with one another.

Process skillfully.

After the fight ends or even during a fight when you’re both feeling more regulated, skillfully processing the rupture that occurred can help both individuals feel seen, heard, acknowledged and attuned to.

Doing this has the potential to help bring you both closer together, re-establish your connection, and help you move forward in your relationship.

I’ve written about this at length in earlier posts, so I’ll link the steps to skillful process for continued reading:

Build up your relational bank account.

While rupture is inevitable, I also believe that when we have a strong, robust, and resilient emotional bank account in our relationships, we can better weather the challenges of rupture.

What do I mean by an emotional bank account? I like this definition from Stephen Covey, Ph.D. in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families:

“An emotional bank account is an account of trust instead of money. It’s an account based on how safe you feel with another person.”

Like with a real bank account, in relationships we’re constantly making deposits and withdrawals on our “account.”

Since “withdrawals” are inevitable (aka ruptures), ensuring we have a good-enough balance in the account helps buoy us and our relationships over the course of time.

So how do we build up our emotional bank account with another?

Practice understanding each other.

Taking the time and emotional and mental energy to understand your partner, their likes, dislikes, triggers, fears, hopes and dreams, can greatly increase the level of emotional intimacy between the two of you.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman – renowned couples therapists and researchers – have created a process called Building Your Love Maps which does just this.

The Upward Spiral Gratitude Practice.

In nearly all of my couples counseling sessions, I lead partners through The Upward Spiral Gratitude Practice.

This is a simple (but not easy) exercise of two people taking turns thanking one another for something their partner did that day and how it made them feel when they did it. Example:

Don: “Thank you for making me dinner tonight (and every night this week!) because it made me feel taken care of.”

Betty: “You’re welcome.”

Betty: “Thank you for being on time coming home when you said you would. It makes me feel like I can depend on you.”

Don: “You’re welcome.”

(Side note for any fellow Mad Men fans out there: As a therapist, I can only *wish* Don and Betty Draper would have gone to couples counseling!)

Pop culture fantasy examples aside, the practice of taking the time to notice what went well in the relationship that day and thanking your partner for their contributions and efforts starts to build an upward spiral or gratitude which can profoundly help build up your relational bank account.

Turning towards vs. away from when bids are made.

The Gottmans have identified another key factor in helping couples build up a relational bank account: how often people turn towards each other versus away from when bids for affection are made.

A bid is an attempt from one partner to another for some kind of attention or positive connection.

Bids can be simple (“Hey honey, what do you think of this JCrew buttondown in the catalog?”) or complex (“I really want you to come with me to visit my brother over Christmas. I know it’s not easy but it would mean a lot to me.”)

The more we turn towards each other when bids for affection are presented, the more we build up our proverbial relational bank account.

Learn about relationships.

Like I said earlier, relationships are hard.

They require work, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and so much more.

I personally think that relationships should be an experiential and academic subject from Kindergarten onwards because let’s face it, most of us are never taught how to healthily, skillfully be in relationship.

But the good news is that it’s never too late to learn. That’s why I recommend that you:

Study it.

Literally, make the topic of relationships a self-study course.

Learn about how you show up in relationships, what kind of relationships you seem to attract, what your defaults are in times of conflict, learn your unique triggers and what your deepest fears and needs and wants are.

Study what qualities and characteristics seem to contribute to long-lasting, healthy relationships.

Pick up a book (or more!) from my recommended resources below or book a session with a skilled therapist and start your studies.

Get help.

Please seek help when you need and want it! Individual psychotherapy and couples counseling can be hugely supportive in healing and strengthening your relationship.

A good couples counselor can help you both re-establish an emotional connection and learn skills about how to navigate triggers and conflict.

Become a connoisseur.

Even if you’ve never directly experienced or witnessed great relational models, it’s not too late.

I invite my clients – both individuals and couples – to seek out relational models from afar — a friend’s parents, a Hollywood couple, neighbors down the street — who seem to model and embody the kind of relationship you want.

Seek these models and examples out, allow yourself to be inspired, and to get curious about what you can create for yourself in your own relationship.

Moving Forwards.

We’ve covered a lot of material today but before we wrap up I want to leave you with some inquiries to help you deepen your understanding of how you relate to yourself and to others:

  • What did you learn about relationships growing up? Did they feel safe, scary, dangerous to you? Which part of my intro felt most true to you? The frustration or joy piece? 
  • Growing up, did you have healthy models of relationship? Did you watch your parents, other family members, or maybe even your friend’s parents be able to have conflict and move through it? 
  • What are your expectations about relationship? What are some of your beliefs about what having a thriving relationship will be/give/do for you? Are these expectations reasonable? 
  • What do you imagine is a growth edge for you in relationship? What do you know you do well in relationship?

Now I’d love to hear from you: Which part of this article felt the most surprising or helpful to you? Do you have any tips, suggestions, or lessons learned from relationship that you want to share? What’s been most helpful for you in the course of navigating relationships?

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a message in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.

If you would like additional support right now and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

Resource Recommendations:

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  1. Jamienne Koehler says

    This was very helpful I’ve taken a turn in my life recently empowered for self development all around the board. First and foremost my relationship with God ,I’ve attacked the hardest. During this journey to better myself in and out and live to serve God and others unfortunately my relationship is severely suffering. It’s almost line my man is jealous of God if that makes sense. He’s jealous of my relationship with God and I know we love each other and I believe he’s who I’m supposed to be with its just not a part of me I’m willing to give up. I’m finally finding myself and my purpose, how can we grow together?

    • Annie says

      Hi Jamienne,

      I’m so glad to hear this post felt helpful to you. Conflict, jealousy, and growing apart in a relationship is a painful and frustrating place to be in and very common for many people. And I’m sorry to hear this is happening for you personally. A good couples counselor can help facilitate communication and restore emotional intimacy and safety with partners who feel they’re growing apart. You may want to explore couples counseling as a support for you both at this time.

      Again, thank you so much for writing in and I’m wishing you all the very best on your journey.

      Warmly, Annie

  2. marinir seo says

    Thank you for any other great article. Where else may just anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect manner of writing?

  3. Niki Williams says

    Love this blog and agree wholeheartedly with the points you cover. What I find tough is when I am aware of all this because I’ve studied relationships and how I show up in them but my dating partner is not so aware and doesn’t like me raising his awareness!

    • Annie says

      Hi Niki,

      I think that’s a tough situation to be in – when you are partnered with someone who may disagree or have a different perspective on relationship. If it’s a struggle for you guys to see each others’ perspectives when you dialogue about it alone, I wholeheartedly recommend even a few sessions with a couples counselor who may be able to support you guys in better understanding one another.

      Sending you all my very best, Annie

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