Turn Obstacles into Opportunity
When I work with people with relationship problems, most of them want the other person to change. Ironically, even though they want to see changes happen, they’ll often argue for the reasons it won’t. All of their attention is on what’s wrong (the circumstances and the partner that puts obstacles in the way), and they defend the limitations rather than seeing the possibilities in the situation. The truth is that there are obstacles in front of them; life is full of challenges! It’s how you respond to them that matters, which is why I encourage them to stop seeing obstacles as something holding them back, and rather start to see them as opportunities to learn.
Love Your Triggers
Even when I’m working with couples, I tell them that most of the work is done individually. This is because you can only control yourself: your beliefs, your responses, and the effort you make to become conscious of your triggers. There’s much wisdom to gain from our relationships, and learning to love your triggers is one way to gain valuable insight.
Our most primary relationship-based fear is that we aren’t enough, and are not being loved. Who else is going to trigger this the way your partner does? You may feel it to some extent with co-workers or your boss, a friend, a family member, and certainly with your children if you are a parent (which is another great area to explore for personal growth). But your partner, the person you are most vulnerable with, can cut you very deeply without even being aware of it.
When your partner triggers this fear, you are going to react. Unless you learn to notice the feeling of being triggered, and can take care of yourself at that moment. If you can pause before reacting, you can choose to respond in a way that will nurture both yourself and your relationship. In this way, you are turning the obstacle of being triggered into an opportunity to learn, reflect, and be curious about why you’re feeling a certain way, and then decide consciously what to do about it.
From Conflict to Curiosity
When you are faced with a challenge or conflict in your relationship, learning to see the learning opportunity will expand the possibilities for what comes next. You want to be able to respond versus react to the situation because when you’re in reactive mode you'll feel trapped. Your view of the problem is limited, as are your options for how to deal with it. Alternatively, if you are conscious and keep yourself open and curious, you’ll see new opportunities to overcome the issue and even learn something new about yourself and the relationship. This means looking beyond the surface and asking questions about what is happening, why you or your partner is feeling triggered, and what you want the outcome to be.
This curiosity must also extend to the relationship you have with yourself. It’s a practice of accountability and self-leadership in which you also ask empowering questions of yourself. This will help you become who you want to be, no matter what your partner (or anyone else) does. It will help you to loosen that hold on needing your partner to change, and frees up the relationship to become what it can be. While we can’t predict the outcome of a relationship, you can’t live in fear of what might be. All you can do is show up and be fully responsible for yourself and to (not for) your partner.
The Power to Choose
As stuck as you might feel in a situation, there are always options if you allow yourself to see them. You can choose to keep returning to the thoughts that leave you parked in feelings of anger, resentment, and hopelessness, and where nothing ever changes. Or you can train yourself to “un-park” from those thoughts.
To do this, start by noticing. Observe what is happening, and take 100% accountability for yourself. Shift into a new gear, and drive yourself over to the land of possibility. Over there, you can explore your options. Ask yourself questions like, “Is there something I can learn here or let go of? What am I holding onto that is not serving me or the relationship? How can I respond in a way that feels more in alignment with who I want to be in this relationship? What can I do differently? What choices do I have? How would I like to respond based on the vision I have for us and myself?”
Questions like this help you to see the many options that you have in front of you. Yes, stomping furiously away and shutting your partner out may be one of them… but is that going to help you get the relationship you want?
When it comes down to it, the people I work with do want their relationships to get better. No matter how aloof we may try to be about it, our relationships matter, and when things aren’t going well it affects all areas of our lives. Learning to see the struggles as an opportunity to stretch and grow will exponentially help your relationship with your partner and yourself.