“A healthy relationship is built on trust, and trust is built over time by being true to your word and reliable in your actions,” says Lindsay Kramer, a marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “Having a solid understanding of and love for yourself before entering into a long-term relationship is often essential for these components of a healthy union.”
Kramer recently took the time to discuss the ins and out of relationships, how to improve those that are fragile and when to know if it may be time to move on.
What are some signs that a relationship is broken and needing repair?
A relationship may feel broken when the spoken or unspoken agreements of the relationship have been repeatedly violated. For example, you and your partner may have communicated that trust, fidelity, honesty and open communication are values or vows within the relationship. If any of these values or vows have been broken (for example, one of you was caught lying, someone isn’t reliable in their actions, or a partner was unfaithful), then this will erode at the trust, which is a foundation of the relationship. If these problems go unaddressed for any length of time, this can create ongoing conflict, emotional and physical distance, a lack of intimacy, fluidity of communication, and eventual separation. These are common markers of a relationship in need of immediate intervention or repair.
Why can repairing a relationship be so difficult?
Couples sometimes resist having the tough conversations that require rigorous honesty and receptivity to feedback from their partner. These conversations elicit feelings that many of us would rather not address out fear of conflict and vulnerability. Many people are motivated to avoid conflict due to fear about the outcome—which they believe may include losing the relationship, hurting their partner, setting limits on issues that bother them, or losing control of the emotions that could arise during tough conversations.
Basically, relationship repair is unpleasant and human beings often avoid unpleasant emotions and experiences if they can.
What are the first steps to repairing a relationship?
- Acknowledge that there is a problem within the relationship that needs to be repaired.
- Determine whether you both are willing to address the problem. Often there is one person who communicates the need to address the problems and the other person who is either reluctant, denies it’s a problem or asserts that it’s the other person’s problem. Both parties need to agree to work on the relationship, or it simply won’t work.
- Allow yourselves to share your honest and respectful thoughts and feelings about the problem in the relationship while you listen and demonstrate that you have heard one another. This is one of the most difficult parts of repairing a relationship and may require assistance from a trained mental health professional in order to address issues effectively versus destructively.
- Work toward collaboratively problem-solving the issue by coming to a compromise or finding a solution that works for you both.
- Put this agreed-upon change into action. This is the most important step. If no action is taken, then it’s as if the conversation didn’t happen and it can lead to further rupture and divide in the relationship. Providing positive feedback and acknowledgment is a great way to reinforce your partner when they’ve taken action to resolve the problem.
In order to maintain a healthy relationship, you both must be committed to giving to one another. Many people go into a relationship looking to have their needs met and take a stance of receiving. A relationship that lasts includes two people committed to meeting the needs of the relationship for their partner and noticing when complacency has set in. A healthy relationship includes open communication and allowance of honesty, addressing conflict as it arises and working through those issues without resorting to emotional or physical abuse or manipulation. This really requires a solid ability to manage your own emotions and problem-solve through effective communication.
When is it time to move on from a relationship?
Only you can decide when it’s time to move on in a relationship. However, there are some important things to consider. At any point when there is physical, sexual or emotional abuse occurring, it’s a deal-breaker and it’s time to move on. Staying in a relationship that is abusive is toxic for both people and will only further damage both parties.
It may also be time to move on when any of the following occur:
- The values or vows of a relationship are broken or continue to be broken despite ongoing repair attempts.
- One or both of you cannot be authentically yourselves and feels controlled or coerced into thinking, feeling or acting a certain way.
- You or your loved one feels held back and unsupported in fulfilling dreams or purpose.
- When one of you feels contempt for the other person, strongly dislikes being around them, has no interest in physical or emotional intimacy, and has pulled away.
- If one of you is no longer committed to working through the relationship conflicts.