Repairing your Relationship
Although I enjoy the Christmas and New Year break as much as anyone else I can also appreciate that for some people it is a challenging time. I have been spending time with some of my clients in private practice reflecting back over the festive season as a time when stresses and cracks appeared in their relationships with arguments and conflict taking centre stage.
The mix of more time on our hands to be around those we love, high expectations for the season and over-indulgence in food and alcohol can provide a volatile environment where arguments and long standing resentments are aired. Likewise for some people the holiday period can be a lonely and isolating time especially if you are a migrant, single or separated.
However the fact that arguments arise at this time of year gives each of us an opportunity to repair our relationships and get grievances and hurts out into the open. All couples fight and even as individuals we often find we are at war with ourselves; the most important factor is whether we can make up or repair what's been said or done.
Being alone can also give us the space to reflect on our lives and repair our self esteem so that we can start a healthier, more open, honest dialogue with ourself and our loved ones.
According to John Gottman, an accomplished researcher and contributer to the field of marriage therapy, "Every couple in their daily life together messes up communication and every marriage has a 'dark side'. It seems that what may matter most is the ability to repair things when they go wrong".
Gottman emphasises the point that it is not the couple's ability to avoid conflict but the crucial factor as to whether a couple will stay together lies in their ability to repair their negative interactions.
Likewise spending time as an individual repairing our self esteem or battered sense of self can be a healing experience as we retreat into ourselves for a little while to self-soothe and recuperate. If we can withstand the pain of our inner or external conflict with self or others we are well placed to start repairing what's gone before so we can move forward with a renewed sense of hope for ourselves and our relationships.
What does Relationship Repair actually mean?
If we start with the dictionary definition of 'repair' it states "restore or mend by replacing or re-fixing parts or compensating for loss and exhaustion and making amends". These are some of the things we do when we move towards another person or we are forgiving of ourselves as we seek to repair the damage that has been caused by neglect or conflict. It's not a case of 'patching up' a relationship as the definition emphasises the active, purposeful and change making potential that 'repair' holds for the self and others.
Below are just some of the ways you can repair the relationship you have with your partner
- Say sorry if you have lost your temper, stormed off or given your partner the silent treatment
- Open up to them and tell them what you were feeling and experiencing in the heat of the moment
- Touch your partner in a caring and affectionate manner if they are crying or upset
- Listen to what they have to say holding back your thoughts and opinions on the matter
- Do something special for your partner that shows them you care
- Make the first move towards your partner to break the impasse
- Do not blame the other person; see the problem as shared between the two of you
- Smile and give eye contact to your partner
- Agree to take a break from the conflict and come back to it when you are both ready
- Admit that you were wrong or that your behaviour was in the wrong
- Give a compliment or express appreciation for the good things your partner does
Gottman actually researched into repair attempts between partners to predict those marriages that would end up being stable and happy and those that would end up in divorce. He found that those couples who were capable of making effective repair attempts to their partner after a negative build up were 83% likely to end up in a stable and loving relationship.
How can we repair ourselves?
Self repair or healing is the ability to be able to self- soothe and look after ourselves so we can process the painful feelings we are experiencing giving ourselves comfort and support. If we can do this it means we are not so dependent on receiving external help to make us feel better about ourselves; we can learn to give ourselves care and love that may or may not be available in the external world.
One way to repair ourselves and replenish our inner being is to get back in touch with our inner child; the part of you that is childlike, spontaneous and carefree. This little boy or girl inside is the part of you which feels and expresses your deepest emotional needs for security, nurturing, love, touching and trust. Because of this the little inner child may still be carrying the pain from childhood if these deep needs and wants were not experienced or part of their growing up in the family of origin.
Strong feelings may still be present such as fear, loneliness, anger, shame or guilt and when we are triggered by present circumstances it is these child feelings that are bought to the surface. Many of our present adult feelings reflect the way we reacted or failed to react as a child.
Getting back in touch with our inner child can help to process these feelings so that we can find new ways to relate to ourselves and others around us.
Caring for your Inner Child
1. Don't deny the presence of your inner little boy or girl by saying this is "childish". According to Bourne and his work on self-esteem he claims that "A basic truth is that you tend to treat your own inner child in much the same way that your parents treated you as a child".
So if a parent or caregiver was overly critical towards you as a child you may have internalised this attitude and you likely grew up overly self-critical especially towards your more spontaneous, fun loving sense of self.
2. Give to yourself what your parents couldn't give you. If you experienced abuse or trauma as part of your childhood you may have become self-destructive as an adult, finding ways to anaesthetize the pain and suffering you went through.
To become a good parent to yourself you need to become aware of any internalised parental attitudes that cause you to criticise, neglect, abuse and deny yourself feelings.
3. Get to know your little self. There are a number of activities you can do to foster a sense of closeness with your inner child.
- Buy yourself a cuddly toy
- Build a sandcastle at the beach and then splash about in the surf
- Play with your own child as a peer instead of an adult
- Climb a tree
- Do some free style painting or drawing on large paper
- Go to the zoo and pet the animals
By doing these activities you will come to know what your attitude is towards your inner child
4. The next time you feel lonely, neglected, ignored, scared or unloved don't deny or push away these feelings as signs of weakness; comfort your inner child and show the same compassion to him or her that you would show a real child experiencing these emotions. When feeling frightened, angry or fed up try saying to yourself "What is the need behind this feeling?" "What does my inner child need from me?"
Then take the time to listen to what they want and give them the comfort or nurturing or love that they seek. Learning to interpret negative feelings as pleas from your inner child to get your attention is a safe and deeply healing way of becoming a good parent to yourself.
5. Tending to and nurturing your inner child. Allow yourself at least one of the following pleasures every day.
- Take a deep relaxing bath
- Listen to your favourite music
- Relax with a good book
- Watch your favourite T.V show
- Have an early night
- Take a walk around the park
- Cook yourself something special
- Tell a joke
- Play or watch your favourite sport
- Let yourself daydream
- Meditate or exercise
Repairing ourselves and healing our past hurts means we are better able to care for others in our relationships. We can't change the past or take back the harsh words that have been said but we can change the way we go about mending ourselves both as an individual and in relationship with others.