Cindy came in feeling like things were falling apart all around her. She had had an altercation with someone at work and had been written up for it. This was pretty devastating to someone whose identity was wrapped up in her reputation at work. Add to that stress the fact that her and her husband were fighting more and she was questioning if marrying him was a mistake. Her communication with her husband had become increasingly combative. She felt he did not help out enough, was not contributing to the relationship financially, and did not listen to her when she tried to voice her concerns. Cindy did not want to leave her husband or her job, but she knew she could not keep things going the way they were.
Sometimes when I write about my clients stories, I wonder if the words do justice to the real pain of their experiences. Words like stress hardly seem sufficient. When you think about your own life and the the conflict you have had with loved ones, you realize how deep and pervasive the fallout is from these damaged relationships. Longstanding arguments with your partner can cloud your entire day, or week, or your life in general. You can start to lose hope, feel depressed. And what seems even more tragic about this, is that all of this hurt is coming from interactions with someone whom you love and who loves you back. All of this is coming from someone who probably genuinely wants you to be happy.
I was able to help Cindy decrease her stress level with some cognitive behavioral techniques. Once her mood improved, we worked on her relationship problems. I encouraged Cindy to ask herself two questions before talking to her husband. These two questions can help all of us to be more intentional and avoid a lot of conflict before it starts. I encourage you to take out a note card or your phone and write down the questions and your answers to these questions.
The first question is:
"How do I want my partner/friend/co-worker to feel at the end of our interaction?"
Your list might include things like "I want him to feel respected, relaxed, important." The second question is:
"How do I want to act in this interaction?"
Your list for this questions might include, "I want to be open minded, caring, attentive." This list will guide you when you interact so you are not just being defensive, but instead are intentional and outward focused. These questions will help you deal with your partner in a way that fits who you want to be.
You won't always do this perfectly, but it is a great place to start. When Cindy and I talked about using these questions, I could see a light going off for her. She realized she had some control over how she felt when dealing with her husband. And now she had a tool to use in communicating with him. Then Cindy said something interesting "I need to value my own well being." In other words, I need to value myself enough to work on this and use the tools.
I don't know your situation, but if you are struggling in a relationship, I recommend you try using these questions to guide and inform your interactions. I think you will find, like Cindy did, that you feel more in control, and better about yourself. And ultimately, I hope it will mean more peace in your relationships as your partner feels heard and valued.
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If you are struggling with pain or feeling stuck in your life, professional counseling can help. You can contact our Houston therapists by phone at 713 - 591 -3612, via email at nancy @ wilsoncounsleing. org or visit the Wilson Counseling website at www.wilsoncounseling.org to find out more. Help is just a phone call away!