In my years of experience as a couple's counselor I have worked with hundreds of relationships in distress, many of whom were considering a breakup or divorce. During my work in this area I have become familiar with two major destructive patterns that often result in a separation. As with most patterns, they're on a spectrum — so if you see some of these patterns in your relationship, they might be OK and not a cause of worry... but if they are powerful and repeat themselves often, it might be a sign that the relationship is in major distress.
The first destructive pattern I've identified is the "high conflict couple". This couple fights a lot and becomes heavily entrenched in a blame game. Here are some of the signs that a couple is in high conflict:
- Small arguments easily escalate into big ones, and while you fight over many things, it feels like you are stuck on the same issues again and again
- You feel "on edge" next to your partner, and you react poorly to some things they say, because you already know where the conversation is going... and you don't like the direction.
- You feel misunderstood by your partner because it seems like he or she just isn't hearing you.
Couples in high conflict will often try to move on and put things behind them, but these issues just don't seem to get resolved, and partners just don't validate or acknowledge one another.
The second destructive pattern is "the roommates". This couple doesn't actually fight much at all, and from the outside it seems like they get along well. They seem a bit confusing, even to therapists, because they might minimize the problems they're experiencing, while actually feeling very close to separation. Some of the signs of being a "roommate" couple are:
- You feel very distant from your partner, almost as if he or she is on a different planet. You haven't had sex in a long time and you don't feel much desire toward one another.
- You would rather spend your down time with other people or by yourself, and you don't share any intimate thoughts or feelings with your partner.
- You can't put your finger on it but you have a feeling that something is not working — you're not happy and you haven't been happy for a while.
Couples with "the roommate" pattern feel like they are living parallel lives and miss the connectedness that healthy relationships enjoy.
My experience in couples counseling is that if you find yourself entrenched in one of these patterns then it is often better to seek professional help. Relational patterns easily become entrenched and it makes it hard to know exactly how to break out of them. Professional assistance will help you identify the destructive dynamic and make changes that will lead to a healthier and more satisfying relationship.
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