“Conflict is supposed to happen, even if you’re living with your soulmate.”-Harville Hendrix, PhD.
As a yoga teacher therapist who works with women, teen girls and couples, I remind the couples I have the honor of working with of this quote. I was trained in Imago Relationship Therapy, which was created and founded by Harville Hendrix, PH.D. and Kelly La Hunt, PH.D. Imago Relationship Therapy has been around for 25 years and it helps couples understand their struggles and find a way to connect again through a safe, intentional dialogue. But why do couples get so far off track? My question is how can they not?
The couples I see are doing their best, as we all are, but trying to balance the needs of self, kids, work, family, friends and the couple hood is no small feat. And, more importantly, many of us have lost our tribe. We used to have grandparents, aunties and uncles living in the same house or nearby and there were more hands to help clean, take care of the kids and potentially bring in income. Women also had other women to talk things over with. Now, our couple hood has become our everything and we expect our partner to be our everything too.
We want our partners to be our best friends, lovers, spouses, co-parents, co-house manager, financial equal and life partner. Some people can pull this off without a hitch, but for the majority of us, this is a lot to ask from one person and one relationship. I encourage couples to start by managing their expectations of each other and to seek support from family, friends and sometimes a therapist, so that they can feel supported by their community, as well as their partner.
I also ask couples to focus on strengthening the space between them, their “couple bubble” and clear out stressors that don’t belong in that space. Then there is the work of giving back to that space and becoming mindful towards one another. Offering your partner at least one appreciation every day, hugging for at least 30 seconds, which releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, and using the Imago Dialogue are first steps for some. For others, the place to start is by closing off the exits that are leeching energy from your relationship, such as affairs, too much time on technology, working too many hours, demanding bosses and a whole host of other things that take us away from our partner.
Putting time into our relationship every day, whether it be a 30 second hug in the morning, an appreciation you offer to your partner during the day or a kind gesture you do for them at night, can make a huge difference in improving and shining up our couple bubble.
There is also the work of owning what is ours and not owning what is not ours. Learning how to know when we are triggered and manage our own self-regulation is an important skill, as well as being able to gently let our partner know when they need to take responsibility for their part in a hurtful interaction.
And taking care of yourself, in body, mind and spirit, so that you can show up for your partner in a loving, calm way is also helpful, as well as you allowing each other to take the time to practice self-care.
But, more than anything, couples therapy can teach couples how to reach back out to each other after there has been hurt between them. Someone wise once said to me, “It’s not a question of whether your partner will disappoint you, it’s a question of how you will deal with it when they do.” How will you deal with it? Can you reach your hand back out to your loved one, after a chasm of hurt and pain has opened between you? If you can learn to repair conflict and give energy back to your relational space, then you will give yourself and your relationship a huge gift.