Solutions for Partnership Conflicts 2 © Martyn Carruthers
Real partners have real conflicts
We help people manage relationship problems, restore their partnership,
build healthy partnerships – or gently separate.
Continued from Part 1: Partnership Breakdown
Part 1 was about the situations and events that lead to a partnership crisis. Useful first steps include assessing your partnership skills and managing negative emotions.
Step 2: Infatuation and Disenchantment
Unlike love, infatuation reaches a peak and then diminishes as reality intrudes, when couples make practical, everyday decisions. Although love can grow as partners fulfill their responsibilities together, romantic fantasies may be threatened by daily chores, and infatuation may be replaced by boredom and frustration.
For the infatuated, something wonderful may seem to be dying. One or both partners may feel cheated – their wonderful dreams may now seem unrealistic.
Our individual coaching is towards individual goals, while our couple counseling focuses on partnership goals. We use systemic diagnosis and couple goalwork to identify the real causes of breakup, checking for entanglements with family members and/or past-partners, to repair trauma and mentor damage or therapist abuse).
Step 3: Complaining and Nagging
A next step towards separation often involves complaints, conflicts and arguments. While all couples disagree sometimes, healthy couples resolve their conflicts quickly, while others can benefit from our help. Many couples lose intimacy in power struggles, focusing on the logic or emotional impact of their arguments – not on finding satisfactory solutions. Both partners may feel cheated by the other.
Couples who often disagree may have different values, unresolved transferences and/or entanglements with parents or past-partners. They may have values conflicts – perhaps about children, sex, career, property or money.
Many people assume that understanding can resolve conflicts: “If my partner really understood why I act this way, my partner would do what I want“. Many people try to resolve conflicts by repeatedly stating their ideas. Such nagging is rarely useful as most couple arguments reflect transferences, entanglements and values conflicts.
We help couples end transferences and values conflicts. We avoid taking sides – partners in crisis often try to triangulate each other by forming alliances. (Parental conflicts often damage children).
Step 4: Criticism and Contempt
One or both partners shows contempt for the other. Initially, the partners may ignore disliked behavior, considering it temporary or stress-related. However, if disliked behavior is repeated, partners may feel frustrated and call the other partner bad or stupid. The disliked behavior of the partner may be something he or she does, or doesn’t do, or something the partner believes or does not believe.
My husband owns a business but he isn’t very clever. For years I advised him on how
to run his business … but he isn’t grateful and he avoids talking about it with me …
What else can I do to help him? Chicago
If conflicts are not resolved, then tiny actions may trigger emotional outbursts. For example, if a partner suspects the other is having an affair, but avoids clarifying the issue, a wet towel left on a floor may precipitate an emotional volcano.
Childish emotions may surface – emotions hidden during past abuse or trauma. An adult may rage or sob like a child, perhaps making childish threats. (The risk of huge negative emotions seems to be higher if a partner has identified with someone, or suffers from codependence, passive-aggression or emotional incest.)
Step 5: Attack and Defense
Many partners pretend to ignore contempt, until they feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. They may stop trying to manage their differences, believing that attempts at resolution can only result in further suffering. They may respond with counter-attacks and defense mechanisms. Following some last straw criticism or insult, their relationship may seem over.
Partners in this phase often blame each other with complaints that can stretch back for years.
My wife repeatedly attacks me about things I am supposed to have said years ago.
If I cannot remember the events, that is proof of my deceit … I am sick of it.
How can I stop her attacking me? Hawaii
Step 6: Withdrawal and Avoidance
People who repeatedly defend themselves may stop trusting their partners, and withdraw. ‘Work’ may become more attractive than ‘home’. Sexual or intimate affairs may be considered. (Withdrawal and affairs allow unpleasant relationships to continue much longer than healthy people would tolerate.)
After six years of marriage I lack the energy to argue about stupid things like
the toilet seat position … I work late more … my office is friendlier than my home.
I don’t want to divorce but I hate all this criticism. Croatia
Psychosomatic symptoms, disinterest in one’s own health, compulsions and obsessions may become obvious – alcohol, television, food, computers or other distractions. Some people in this phase suffer eating disorders or dissociation – some eat compulsively and gain weight.
Partners with incompatible values may suffer seemingly irresolvable conflicts. The partners may fight about minor issues or stop communicating. If either partner is unwilling to solve their conflicts, then partnership may be over – perhaps with long years before they separate. (Many bonded couples stay together unhappily for years.)
Step 7: Death and Separation – From Denial to Acceptance
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the acceptance of death by people who are dying or grieving. If we compare the experience of separation with the experience of death, we can better understand and predict the behavior of separating adult partners who feel in crisis. (Kubler-Ross, E (1969) On Death and Dying, Tavistock; Kubler-Ross, E (1975) Death: Final Stage of Growth, Prentice-Hall)
Kubler-Ross wrote that many people first react to threats with denial. They deny conflicts and avoid discussing important issues. Next comes feelings of anger. One or both partners may become abusive to the other or themselves, or criticize the other, or condemn the other partner. They may try to punish themselves and each other in direct or indirect ways.
Since my marriage ended I don’t accomplish much. I get lost in memories.
Even bad memories are better than emptiness … I feel so terribly cheated. Wales
Next is bargaining, with promises to change. A person fearing separation may say, “I will spend more time with the children to save my marriage“. Such fears may lead to temporary reconciliation; but promises made under pressure are often soon forgotten. Reconciliation is a delicate time in need of mature mentorship.
Most grieving people mourn what they have lost. Separating partners lose their dreams and may fear lonely futures. They mourn the loss of partnership and perhaps parenthood, the loss of intimacy, and perhaps the loss of a home. Symptoms of depression are common among separating couples.
Partners who accept separation often behave in more mature ways. Rather than trying to rewind the past – they accept reality as it is and learn from what has happened.
You reveal your maturity whenever you communicate. Do you criticize your ex-partner or blame your ex for your problems? Do you punish your ex-partner or try to limit access to children or resources? Do you seek revenge with demands or threats?
While you may never feel close to your ex-partner again, how you separate will set a pattern for your next relationship … if there is one.
We seek solutions that benefit both partners, their children and future partners.