ARTICLES

Relationship Breakdown

Diana Lalor
Psychologist
Counsellor and Psychotherapist

Perth, Western Australia

When problems develop in a relationship, it can be the cause of great distress. Most of us wish to have committed and fulfilling relationships and the breaking down of an important relationship can create feelings of anger, sadness, grief, and isolation.

People going through a relationship breakdown are more likely to experience mental health problems (especially in the form of anxiety or depression), poor physical health, and reduced productivity at work.

When problems arise in relationships it is often as a result of poor communication. In order to communicate our desires and needs to our partner, we need a healthy sense of our own identity. A successful relationship is dependent upon there being two individuals with a strong sense of self and clearly defined, healthy, personal boundaries. An appreciation of our own qualities enables us to see and value them in another and increases our capacity for intimacy and commitment.

Increasing our understanding of who we are and how we have developed as well as learning practical skills in communication and problem solving, can lead to more satisfying and harmonious relationships, and to personal fulfilment.

Enhancing Communication

There are some basic principles that are worth following if we want to have good communication with our partner.

  • be clear about what you want to communicate - if you don't know, they won't either
  • use "I" statements, stating what you want or feel rather than making statements about your partner
  • don't blame or label your partner
  • choose a time when you have their attention and there are no distractions
  • take time to listen to what your partner is saying and resist the temptation to interrupt.
  • If you are unclear or upset about what they have said, check for accuracy before you respond
  • be encouraging and supportive
  • be willing to negotiate

Developing Problem Solving Skills

When we are having problems in our relationship, we can feel overwhelmed and have difficulty in seeing a way forward. Developing the ability to apply logical, critical, and creative thinking, enables us to find effective solutions. Problem solving is a process that involves a number of steps that you can follow.

  • identify the problem
  • break the problem down into parts - one small step at a time
  • explore the problem - consider a variety of solutions and strategies
  • set a goal - what would you like to achieve?
  • choose a solution and put it into action
  • evaluate - what went well? what could you do differently next time?

Letting Go and Moving On

For some of us, our best efforts are not enough, and our relationship comes to an end. Rebuilding your life after a relationship has ended can be a painful and challenging process. The end of a relationship can result in disruption to the extent that we need to create a whole new way of life - often with a different place to live and with different relationships with family and friends. Finding our feet in these circumstances can be very difficult indeed.

Not Repeating the Old Patterns

Each of us is unique. We have learned how to be who we are through the particular circumstances of our family, and the society in which we live. Unfortunately, some of our early conditioning may result in us having feelings and behaviours that no longer serve us well, reduce our capacity for spontaneity and individuality, and our ability to relate well. Low self-esteem, poor personal boundaries, difficulties with intimacy, and feelings of shame and guilt impede our capacity to relate.

Letting go of this negative conditioning is possible. We tend to hang on fondly to old patterns of being and relating, fearing change or of being confronted with aspects of our personalities we prefer to keep at the blurry edges of our awareness. Whilst dipping into the unknown can be anxiety-provoking, it can also be exciting and enlivening, opening up possibilities only previously dreamed of. Consider embarking on a journey toward something better.

If you are concerned about your relationship and want to improve it, or wish to learn how not to repeat the mistakes of the past in a new relationship, you may consider counselling. Relationship counselling can be of benefit even if you are not currently in a relationship, or if your partner is not able or willing to attend.

If you would like more information about marriage, relationship or couple counselling or would like to make an appointment, you can contact Diana by telephone or email.

Sources
APS Relationship Tip Sheet
Kinway Relationship Courses, 1998
Relationships Australia, 1997
UniSA, Learning Connection, 2005
Boundaries in Relationships, Life Esteem, 2006



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