Growing and changing your relationship for the better will always come with setbacks
Though we all dream of that “perfect” relationship where everything is sunshine and rainbows, I can tell you from my years as a couples counselor that it doesn’t exist. Even the happiest and compatible of all couples have ups and downs. Relationships take work - and that’s why it’s so frustrating when you are putting in the work, and you suddenly find yourself back where you started. You’ve had a “relationship relapse.”
It happens with a lot of couples I coach, and it can be disheartening; it may even trigger anger or a sense of hopelessness. I’ve learned to see these relapses as part of the process of change, and help my couples move out of a Stuck Cycle into a supportive, Regenerative Cycle. When you view change as a fluctuating process, rather than an A to B journey, you are more willing to pick yourself up again and keep moving forward toward the desired change.
I learned the idea of the Stuck Cycle and Regenerative Cycle in my training as a Simplicity Parenting Family Coach. It’s from Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting model, but it’s just as applicable to romantic relationships.
What the Stuck Cycle Looks Like
A cycle is something that repeats over and over. In the case of the Stuck Cycle, you experience temporary change, but end up back where you began. This is how the cycle plays out:
Dissatisfaction: One or both of you are unhappy with something in your relationship, and desire change. For example, you aren’t communicating well, which is causing conflict.
Hope: You intend to change things, so feel hopeful about the future. Perhaps you have sought out resources, seen a professional, and have a plan.
Success: The plan is working, and you see positive changes in your relationship.
Fall Away: Over time, old habits start to creep in and old behaviors start to reappear. Things aren’t going so well anymore, and this is where people get stuck.
Failure: A sense of failure starts to creep in and take up space in your head. What we think and feel directly impacts our actions, which leads directly to...
Despair: Perhaps you think nothing is ever going to change, or you become critical of your partner again. And then your inner critic ramps up, creating...
Shame: You are ashamed that all of that hard work went nowhere. But eventually, the dissatisfaction in the relationship motivates you to start the cycle all over again.
Patterns like this are a deep part of relationships, and are hard to change. I’ve talked about these patterns before as a sort of dance; you become accustomed to your partner’s reaction to something, and you react in your same patterned ways.
This is what makes change challenging, but not impossible!
The Regenerative Cycle: Riding the Waves
By switching how we view growth and change, we are more likely to succeed at it. The alternative to the Stuck Cycle is also repetitive, but instead of circling back to the beginning, we learn from our past successes and build on them after we “fail”. This creates more of a wave-pattern in the relationship. Kim John Paynce calls this The Simplicity Parenting Change Wave. There are highs and lows, but you keep growing and moving forward.
Note how Kim John Payne also uses different terms in this Regenerative Cycle, to reflect a change in mindset in this approach. I firmly believe that when you change the story in your mind, you can change your relationship, and that is illustrated here.
Dissatisfaction: Again, dissatisfaction creates the desire for change.
Imagine: You dream about what is possible in your relationship.
Design: You create a plan of action through education, resources, or outside help.
Fulfil: Through following your plan, you see positive results in your relationship, and things are feeling good again.
Celebrate: I believe couples often skip this part. Celebrate what is working in your relationship! This will help you stay motivated to continue on the path you are on.
Fall Away: Because habits are hard to change, old negative behaviors still will creep in as you fall away from the changes you have made.
Failure: A sense of failure is normal, but it is how you react this time that changes things.
Recall a Strength: Rather than falling into despair and shame, you identify what did go well, and use that as a starting place to attach the dissatisfaction anew.
When you recognise the flux in change, you are more likely to be compassionate when you fall away again. It becomes easier to predict falling away and failure as necessary for change, and you will begin to value these stages as learning opportunities. Each time this cycle repeats, you begin from a stronger place in the relationship, seeing larger successes to celebrate.
The next time you want to create change in your relationship, try using this framework, and keep riding the waves.
*Images from Simplicity Parenting