April 2016: First Aid for Relationship Pain
It’s unfortunate, but I see a fair number of couples who are experiencing pain in their relationship. Whether it’s from a breakdown in trust, a crisis of some kind, or just a lack of vitality in the relationship, it’s real. When I see these couples, the first thing I want to say to them is: don’t give up hope! Marriages and relationships can be healed. But it takes intention, effort, and time. It may also require outside help, whether from a relationship coach or a couple therapist (see #6 below).
But sometimes, you need to do something right now; some kind of “first aid” for hurting hearts. Following are some suggestions that you can implement immediately to “stop the bleeding” until you can get the help you need. Some of these may seem counter-intuitive at first, but remember these are just temporary stop-gap measures, so go ahead and try them:
- Talk Less.
The majority of couple problems involve poor communication. Eventually, of course, when you have learned how to communicate positively with each other, you will need to talk more. But for right now, it’s likely that the more you talk, the more trouble you will get into. So temporarily keep all conversation to a minimum. Concentrate on being civil and polite, treating your partner like a guest or a visiting dignitary (in other words, with respect). Live by your mother’s advice: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
- Think more about yourself, and less about your partner.
When relationships get into trouble, we have a tendency to focus all our energy and attention on our partner and what they have done wrong. But for the moment, forget about your partner – stop thinking about what he or she did or said. Instead, think about yourself. How are you reacting to the situation? How might your behavior be contributing to the conflict or tension? It’s easy to blame it all on the other person, but deep down we all know we have some faults. Start thinking about what you can do to become a better person. Start a “makeover” list for yourself (lose weight, stop smoking, dress better, start a hobby, go back to school, etc.) and begin making changes that will have a positive effect in your life no matter what happens in the relationship.
- Begin a “Relationship Journal.”
Get a notebook or journal and begin recording only positive things about your mate and your relationship. It might include good memories, traits of your spouse that you fell in love with originally, or little things that he or she occasionally does right. DO NOT use this for any kind of sarcasm, criticism or complaining. Make a note of anything you observe that could possibly considered a positive thing, for example:
“He smiled at me over breakfast. I love his smile.”
“She made my favorite dish again tonight. She’s a great cook.”
“We didn’t argue much today. And we kept our cool about the car thing.”
“Watched him play with the kids. He’s really a pretty good dad.”
Get the idea? Anything positive, nothing negative. Try for at least 2-3 entries a day.
- Avoid making major life-changing decisions.
Unless you or your children are in physical danger, this is generally not a good time to pack up and move to Wisconsin, quit your job, start an affair, or get a tattoo. When we are anxious, angry or upset, we often do not use our best judgment. So put off, as much as possible, doing anything that will have a long-lasting impact on you, your mate, or your relationship. Note: if you or your children ARE in physical danger, call the Domestic Violence Hotline IMMEDIATELY: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or call 911.
- Pray for your mate – and yourself.
Even if you don’t believe in God, just do it anyway, as a mental exercise. (God hears you whether you believe in him or not, so go ahead – it couldn’t hurt!) God believes in you. He also loves you and your mate, and wants the best for both of you. Ask for healing, for patience, for tenderness and self-control. Be sure to thank him, while you’re at it, for all the good stuff (the things you’re writing in your Relationship Journal).
- Get help.
First aid is just that – it’s what you do first. It is damage control. But don’t stop there! Get the help you need. Make an appointment with a relationship coach or a counselor. Go to a marriage workshop or a weekend retreat. Talk to your pastor or spiritual advisor. Read a good marriage book – together. One thing is sure: you have to do something that involves change. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” Building a healthy marriage takes commitment, effort, and time. But it is well worth the investment. Start now.
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Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director
Above image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net