Why is it so painfully difficult for people who love each other to give their partner what they want and in return get their needs met too? What behaviors sabotage and derail our good intentions?
Real intimacy requires a constant journey from disruption to repair. According to Terry Real, master couple and family therapist, and author of the bestselling book The New Rules of Marriage, there are 5 losing strategies that we move between in our intimate relationships. These will trip you up and seduce you into believing that you can get what you want from your partner!
Instead of generating the deeper connection for which we long, these losing strategies push us apart and erode the intimacy and closeness you may have had at the outset of your relationship.
And what's worse is, that your losing strategies co-mingle with your partner's losing strategies in a way that creates patterns that reinforce unsuccessful communication.
Painful New Reality
We now face the devastating reality that the sympathetic and compassionate person we married and deserved, is not the one we're really stuck with!! Our first desperate move is to try and get that person back to become the person they were at the start of the relationship. We may try being reasonable, cajole, seductive, or even complain. However, the bottom line is that people do not like being controlled! It will never get you more of what you want!
Now, frustrated with our failed attempts, most of us move into one or more of these 5 losing strategies:
1. Needing to be Right
Conflicts are not resolved by eradicating differences but by learning how to manage them. What we really wish for is to be heard and understood. We long for us both to be on the same page about everything, but we're not. The sometimes challenging reality is…we're not the same person as our partner! We're two different people with different world views and histories. To come to terms with this harsh reality we often become self-righteous and indignant about the correctness of our way of doing things.
The relational answer to the question, "who's right and who's wrong?" is, who cares? What matters is how we will manage this challenge in a way that will work for both of us.
2. Controlling Your Partner
No one likes to be controlled. Control can be direct like "Come here now and do what I tell you.", or it can be indirect. We call this manipulation. Nobody gets anybody to do anything. The only thing that you can control is yourself and that's on a good day. This is a strategy that fosters resentment, mistrust, and more distance.
3. Unbridled self-expression
This is a very common escalation for couples. "Two weeks ago you did that. You always, you never…" You do not have the unalienable right to emotionally vomit all over your partner. Guaranteed, it won't make you feel better.
What will make you feel better is working toward a solution that will work for both of you. Of course, you can share your feelings, but moderately and respectfully. Think of the impact your words will have on your partner. Try asking for what it is you want rather than releasing an unending list of complaints.
This strategy is all about making the person hurt the way they made you hurt. The more we feel they don't get what they've done to us, the more desperate we become to make them see things our way. We want them to feel what we feel. It doesn't work. You can't move or bully someone into remorse by hurting them. Learning to stand up for yourself with loving firmness will draw your partner closer to you and more likely encourage them to give you what you want.
This is going behind a wall.
Withdrawal creates resentment and makes it impossible for differences to be resolved.
If you feel the need to withdraw from your partner, let them know what you are doing and make an agreement to stay in contact and reconnect to discuss things further.
Take a look at how Terry Real suggests we promote trust, safety, and goodwill in your relationship with responsible distance-taking.
What Can You Do Today?
Take a moment to notice which of these losing strategies you keep using that are costing you connection and intimacy with the person you love.
I personally have a two-step losing strategy. First I try and control and then when that doesn't work I withdraw hoping my partner will run after me, realize his "errant" ways and beg for my forgiveness. It never works! However, now that I'm in relational recovery, on a good day, I can stop, pause, ask myself what I want, and tell my partner what's really coming up for me and what I need from him right now. This helps us come back into repair so much quicker. And he doesn't have to practice his non-existent mind-reading skills!
We can come back from those places of disillusionment and resignation to love, respect, pleasure, and harmony. In my next article, I will share the art of relationship recovery using Terry Real's 5 winning strategies.
Have a look and ask yourself whether you are using any of these "losing" strategies in an attempt to improve your relationship. If you are you may just be wondering why they are not working and you stay at loggerheads with your partner.