3 Small Changes To Make When Relationship Problems Overwhelm You

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Are you in a relationship, especially a long-term relationship, but instead of feeling contented, loved, and supported, you mostly feel alone and even overwhelmed?

You might be surprised to find out that many people experience this issue. If fact, if you're feeling it, your partner may feel the exact same way. You may not want to bring it up because it seems sad and hopeless. You may also feel that there is no one you can talk to that would understand this feeling.

How can this be? Why do you feel pained by something supposed to bring love and joy?

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When you start a relationship, you want to spend as much time together as possible. But after a while, that desire begins to decrease. Other things must be attended to — work, school, children, and all that life brings. You may enjoy your time together, but there is much to do.

The feelings of warmth and togetherness get exchanged for sadness, and you may even feel frightened. Knowing that the good feelings may soon subside is discouraging, and you may think it can only worsen. But that is not true.

Here are three small changes that can make a huge difference in relationships

1. Change your view.

Like most couples, you probably think of your relationship as two separate individuals. But there is a  more powerful way to view being a couple.

We teach that two people in a relationship create a third entity that can be called Couple with a capital C, conveying a special way of being more than an object to have or acquire.

In this view, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You are not just two players, but a team together. With the team’s goals in mind, not just your own, much more is immediately possible.

It’s like riding a tandem bicycle together, one made for two riders, one behind the other. Each rider provides something unique, the “pilot” in the front and the “stoker” in the rear. In a race, without each person doing their part, the team will not succeed, but together they can be powerful and successful. Each partner needs to give 100 percent to the team effort instead of worrying about doing “their 50 percent.”

The same is true for couples: When the goal of the relationship is clear, each partner does what is best for the team without worrying about exactly how much you are contributing. If your team wins, the couple wins, and you both win.

For example, you may feel overwhelmed about coming home from work and picking up the kids at daycare while your partner is at the gym exercising; but if you think about it as Couple, you can see yourself doing this for your family.

Even your spouse’s exercising can be seen as contributing to the team by keeping them healthy and contributing to the entire family. Just having this view makes a difference.

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2. Change your commitment.

This new kind of view requires a special kind of commitment — not just a commitment to the other person but a commitment to the relationship.

Feeling that you are taking care of your partner may lead to resentment and feeling overwhelmed, but when both of you come from the view of taking care of the relationship, it will take care of you and your individual needs.

You both must commit to communicating and cooperating to solve problems together as a team. 

As the renowned author and mythologist Joseph Campbell has stated, “When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other, but to the unity in a relationship.” This view is entirely different from the “me” focus of the culture of individualism so prevalent in our society today.

Sally is a good example of this” couple view” when she felt angry at her husband, Tom, for not calling her to check on her after she messaged him that she was ill. She was reluctant to share this with Tom until her therapist pointed out that it was for the good of her couple, not just herself.

She felt less angry and emboldened to discuss it with Tom that night, which helped them both feel more connected. They saw that their Couple needed as much care as each of them individually. They began to see that “when both partners take care of the relationship, the relationship will take care of them.”

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3. Change your language.

“In the beginning, there was the word,” says the Bible. The words you use are also vital in creating and maintaining the view of your couple as an entity working together.

The culture of individualism has led to a “me generation” that includes language centered on “me” and “I” that is in direct conflict with fostering a powerful view for a couple.

A simple change in your language to the plural pronoun “we” and “us” rather than me or mine is the cornerstone for keeping you conscious of your joint commitment to the relationship. It sharpens your focus and couple perspective on joint responsibility for your problems and their resolution.

When Sally went to talk with her husband Tom, instead of saying, “I need to talk with you about your not calling me,” she said, “We need to talk about it.” This made her feel more ok about bringing it up, and him to feel less attacked. She took responsibility for not being clear that she wanted him to call her back asap, and she requested that they do that for each other in the future. 

As an exercise, you and your partner might try saying we” and “us” instead of “I” and “mine” for an entire day. As you become more connected to the language of “we,” you will realize that you are not alone–you are part of a couple, a community, and the world.

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Drs. Peter Sheras and Phyllia Koch-Sheras are clinical psychologists who have enjoyed studying and working with couples for more than three decades and have been happily married to each other for just as long.