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What If My Partner Is The Problem?

Blog by Jeremy Gates (Couples Therapist, North Brisbane Psychologists)

Arguments

Struggling in your relationship?

Reluctant to attend couples counselling because your partner is the problem, not you? 

Good news: Your partner is the problem and we’re going to fix them for you!

Just kidding 😉

Life would be so much simpler if everyone could just agree that they are the problem and do something about it.  In an ideal world we would simply have an unexpressed desire, the people around us would automatically know what that is and immediately do whatever is necessary to achieve it.  

Unfortunately, most people aren’t magical mind readers. Worse, they are not slaves sent here to satisfy our every whim.

Bummer huh?

Thankfully there is some good news: In healthy relationships there is often a genuine willingness by your partner to support your needs. No mind reading. No magical powers. No indefinite servitude required.

Not as romantic perhaps, but much higher success rates!

What you may be experiencing when you feel that your partner is the problem is that you feel like they aren’t interested in helping you to get your needs met.

Perhaps they don’t demonstrate the willingness to engage in the types of conversations that you feel safe to express your needs within. Perhaps they receive your requests as criticism. Perhaps they are emotionally shut down and avoid connection.

Regardless of the specifics, the likelihood is that one or both of you don’t feel securely connected to the other within the relationship and it is this dynamic that is the problem.

In every relationship where the dynamics between 2 people have led to feelings of disconnection, conflict and hurt, there is a tendency to want to blame the other person. This is a natural reflex away from pain that gives us a feeling of control. If ‘they’ are the problem, then we just have to do things to protect ourselves from the ‘source’ of our pain.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.  

In the Gottman method, we talk about both partners having valid subjective realities. This means your feelings, perceptions and unmet needs are valid for both you and your partner.  Communication never works if you invalidate your partner’s subjective experience, nor if they invalidate yours, so one of the first things we do with couples is teach structures for effective communication.  

It may come as no surprise that sometimes there are wildly different interpretations to what people think certain exchanges mean. Genuine understanding requires a deep commitment to listening and empathising with each other.

This is often the first skill we teach because it is an antidote to blame.

When you hold a position that the other person is to blame, you disempower yourself by denying your contribution to the situation and you forget that you actually have some power to change the dynamic. You also lose sight of your partner as your friend, and wars end when enemies become friends.

Yes, your partner will need to change but you will also need to change your communication methods to learn ways that better facilitate a sense of connection between you.

Additionally, if either you or your partner has unresolved past trauma or other issues affecting the relationship, couples therapy has been shown to support the formation of a more secure attachment bond for both of you.

Research shows that couples therapy works better in the long run for people than each partner attending individual therapy (although individual sessions usually form part of couples therapy). Unlike individual therapy, couples therapy involves a detailed diagnostic and assessment process to look at the patterns in the relationship, which helps your therapist select the frameworks and skills best suited to help you.

If you are interested in attending couples therapy, call us on 3726 5595. If you are keen on doing intensive couples therapy known as Couples Marathons – ideal for busy or out-of-town couples – call our Director Dr Rachel today on 0478 789 321.

Jeremy is available for Couples Marathons soon and can also be contacted directly on 0425 333 369.

For information and resources on the Gottman Method, go to www.gottman.com

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