When relationships go through an emotional seesaw for prolonged periods, the repercussions range from emotional illnesses [depression, anxiety] to psychosomatic diseases [ulcers, asthma, hypertension] and from a painful divorce to suicide and even homicide. Don’t let it happen to you.
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Farhan and Jamila were locked in a painful relationship with each other. Farhan insisted on staying with his widowed mother, who was highly strung and controlling. Her interactions with her mother-in-law agitated Jamila. Feeling caught between the two, Farhan got increasingly stressed and depressed. Jamila too got increasingly frustrated with affairs at home and Farhan’s passivity. When Jamila got hysterical, Farhan got depressed or aggressive, and then Jamila’s psoriasis and arthritis aggravated. As a result, there was no intimacy, which only added to the stress in the relationship.
In the case of Ajay and Samta, there were a string of extra-marital affairs and broken promises on Ajay’s part. With several attempts of suicide by Samta, more broken promises by Ajay, interspersed with short lulls in the stormy household. This went on for years, till one day Samta succeeded in her attempt at ending her life.
Acknowledge your dark side
As counsellors, very often, we observe that people have an irrational and destructive emotional side to their personality, which is immature, selfish, controlling and power-seeking. If this dark side is allowed to manifest in relationships, it sabotages every attempt at intimacy and peace.
Astonishingly, even the most normal and intelligent people can resort to the most spiteful behaviour when dealing with those they love. Hostility and cruelty, childlike defensiveness, immature reasoning, accusations and counter-accusations—all destroy an intimate relationship.
Most people deny this dark side, or try to justify it. Nevertheless, it remains in your relationships, always lurking in the dark, immediately manifesting when the going gets tough. This dark side, if left unattended, can poison every fibre of your relationship and seal its fate.
Many of you might feel that you are not the type that raves and rants in the relationship—your partner is the toxic one. Often, the ‘target partner’ is blamed, as s/he does most of the shouting, and the ‘passive yet equally toxic partner’ is not in focus. However, the truth is that both drain the relationship in their own way, till the relationship becomes lifeless.
Don’t bring the past to the present
As counsellors, we do realise that much of the way you behave comes from your childhood experiences, and probably a harsh life. However, you need to realise, that as an adult, you always have the choice to consciously break free from the pain of your past, and to choose to think, feel and behave differently today. But before you can change any attitude or behaviour in yourself, you need to be aware of it and acknowledge it in all humility.
Suresh had an extremely suspicious nature. He would accuse his wife of having an affair and would verbally or even physically lash her if she denied it. When she would threaten divorce, he would apologise and promise to trust her—only to suspect and grill her again. Suresh had witnessed his mother having affairs behind his father’s back.
He never addressed this issue or his feelings about it with his mother or even with himself, and carried in him the pain of the most significant woman in his life betraying his trust in fidelity. This experience coloured his view of women. Finally, when he sought counselling on the insistence of his wife, he saw how he was over-generalising, healed his pain of the past, and learned to trust again.
Emotional upheavals in relationships due to the dark side of either or both of the partners can cause irreparable damage unless one consciously breaks away from this dark side through counselling.
Get out of the victim mode
Whenever a couple comes to us for the first time, there is hope written all over their faces. As the session commences, they are both in for a rude shock when we tell them that, “It sure takes two, but it starts with you”.
Remember, if you come with the attitude, “I want to save my relationship but please keep me out of it”, then you have lost before you have begun. If you have come to blame the other, rather than to claim responsibility for your contribution to the problem, then the relationship is doomed.
Growth begins where blaming ends. Success in relationship counselling therefore depends on whether the partners are willing to honestly acknowledge their own contribution to the problem, and whether they are willing to actively do something to eliminate this contribution.
Find your own faults
All those having relationship problems need to get out of the ‘victim’ mode and ask themselves the all-important question, “In what way am I responsible for the situation in which I find myself today?” It is neurotic to believe that there is somewhere besides yourself to look to as the cause of any other situation that now defines your life.
The truth is that a relationship cannot exist if it is not fed and nurtured in some way. If your life principles are designed to allow distancing instead of intimacy, competitiveness instead of cooperation, blame instead of responsibility, rejection instead of acceptance, rigidity instead of flexibility—then it is no surprise that you are experiencing pain in your relationship.
Inspire your partner
Now you may wonder, “Why is the focus on me? I’m just one-half of this deal! I’m fine about making my life better but what about my partner?”
Well, the answer is: you can’t make changes for your partner. You can’t tell your partner what to do. But you can inspire your partner. You can give your partner a whole new set of stimuli to respond to. If you eliminate your self-defeating ideas, flawed beliefs and irrational behaviour; if you drop out of your destructive mind-set and the vicious circle of mutually frustrating interactions with your partner; if you drop out of the fight and start living a new way, it’s going to be real difficult for your partner to continue spewing and spitting venom.
If you are bettering yourself as a person and continuously self-actualising yourself, you will stop sabotaging the relationship. Now in the face of such constructive input, s/he cannot fight alone, argue alone, or continue to be offended. Your partner can pout for a while, perhaps withdraw and be suspicious for a while, but eventually is going to feel pretty stupid sitting over in the corner while you seem to be getting so much more rational, balanced, happier, optimistic and at peace with yourself.
Don’t wait for the other to water the plant of your relationship. Do your bit and continue to nourish the relationship, because if nothing else, you will have emerged a better person with an inner strength, and more importantly, at peace with yourself.