Is Your Relationship is Saving or Killing You?

Congratulations! You’ve found the partner of your dreams, settled down and you’ve got your entire life ahead of you! Or, if you’re like over 60% of married couples, you’ve just embarked on a heart-wrenching roller coaster education about the birds and the bees. Either way, you’ve made it through the honeymoon phase. The heart-fluttering whimsey of Cupid’s Elixir has worn off and you’re left bonded with a real, actual human being. The stars have left your eyes and flown back into the sky. Seeing a text no longer brings butterflies to your chest and your coworkers have stopped gagging behind your back about how annoyingly happy you always seem. The late great B.B. King said it best—The Thrill Is Gone.

It’s time for cold, hard reality. This dreamboat isn’t as dreamy as you thought. Their jokes aren’t quite as funny, their face is slightly crooked, you know what their sweaty feet smell like and you’ve even heard them burp! The cute puppy phase is over. Now the dog is fully grown but the puppy mess remains. So there’s only one thing to do—it’s time to find a new one, right?

Not so fast! Before you reopen your internet dating profile or sign up for yet another speed dating event, keep in mind that this is a natural and potentially healthy progression in your relationship. For better or for worse, you’ve already gotten deeply intimate. You’ve shared dreams, goals, long walks, laughs over food, inside jokes, passionate conversations, lots of satisfying sex (hopefully), and you’ve developed this thing commonly referred to as “a committed relationship.” This is the time to find out if you really love each other or if Cupid’s Elixir has simply struck again.

You’re probably noticing things you weren’t aware of. Dirty socks are strewn on the floor. That odor you thought you’d eventually get used to isn’t improving one bit. Habits and behaviors you swore were endearing have turned out to be quite annoying. You’ve had your first argument, the jerk said something insensitive about your political views and now you’re wondering how well you really know each other. Well, there’s only one way to find out. No, I’m not referring to hiring a private investigator (yet…) I’m talking about open communication! Your previous communication behaviors have already imprinted on your regressive base patterns, setting your expectations for how you’ll communicate in the future. (For an in-depth expansion on regressive base patterns and how they affect your relationships, **sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this post.)**

In the post-honeymoon phase, some things are probably going really well. But others probably need to be addressed. How you choose to communicate at this point will be instrumental in the development of the entire rest of your relationship. Now that emotions have worn down, your interactions will seem less vibrant as you turn toward the mundane aspects of simply living. If you haven’t established healthy expectations and boundaries, this is prime time. While before, it may have seemed like those things were unnecessary, and potentially even undesirable, now there’s a psychological pull to maintain your own identity. Overlook it at your own risk. Divorce courts and relationship therapists are riddled with people who lost themselves in a relationship and are spending years, not to mention fortunes, trying to figure out who they were in the first place.

It’s clear that emotional fulfillment doesn’t come from giving yourself up for someone else, so it’s unwise to expect your partner to do that. You’ll end up with a psychic vampire who constantly drains your emotions and will never be satisfied. For anyone who wants some sort of decent existence, that is simply not a viable option. So how do we address those issues and reach that state of balance between maintaining individualism and healthy compromise? Or in laymen’s terms, how do we “fix” our partner?

One way or another, something needs to change. For now, suffice it to say that both partners will be looking to change one another. Like it or not, boundaries are being tested in both directions and a power struggle is in full swing. How this plays out, and what casualties will occur, largely depends on the tactics taken. Each person will attempt to either train or reprogram their partner.

The difference between training and reprogramming is profound, yet often completely overlooked. Training is a form of teaching. It utilizes positive speech to communicate what you want and expect from your relationship. Training respects your partner as who he is. It also teaches him how to respect your boundaries while paying attention to your needs. Training doesn’t require perfection, but genuine interest and progress. It’s a healthy process that reveals whether your partner is willing to compromise for the good of your relationship or if you’ll have to decide to put up with how he currently is. Think about what it’s like to own a dog that constantly pees on the floor. Despite your best efforts, including obedience school and multiple visits from the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, your adorable pooch continues to pee in random places. You have to make a choice. If you keep communicating your boundaries and needs in a respectful manner and he doesn’t change his actions, it’s your responsibility to clean up the messes or find the dog a different arrangement. If you keep him, it’s not fair to get mad when he pees on the floor. That’s stressful for both you and the dog!

In contrast, reprogramming your partner means rewiring their regressive base patterns to be exactly what you think they ought to be. It’s a form of mental and philosophical brainwashing. I’ve often come across couples in which one becomes vegetarian or vegan because the other has an overwhelmingly strong stance about their diet. These couples rarely last the distance because unless the change is something truly desired by both partners, it becomes a mechanism of control that breeds resentment every time they shop for food or go to a restaurant. The same pertains to converting to a different religion, giving up your friends, speaking or dressing differently and any number of other arbitrary, partner-pleasing transformations. So be extremely careful about forcing someone into your way of thinking, and equally careful about bonding with someone who forces you into theirs. Reprogramming your partner is similar to telling someone with an addiction to simply give up the habit. Addictions are just as much a part of a person’s regressive base patterns as their personality. In fact, the brain works by making us be addicted to certain behaviors for self preservation! So, before you decide to fix or upgrade someone to the better/newer model, keep in mind that the process requires a tremendous amount of effort on your part, builds resentment in both parties and generally doesn’t work. But it does keep lots of divorce attorneys and therapists in business.

My advice? Find someone that’s so amazing that you’re willing to change yourself to make the relationship work, but already loves you exactly the way you are. Now, you’ve found a keeper!

Remember: simple, direct communication is best. Say what you actually mean. You can’t expect your partner to read your mind. Sure, there will be times that you’re on the same wavelength and don’t need words to communicate. But relying on your partner to pick up all your signals is akin to broadcasting multiple random radio waves at the same time and hoping that they’ll all be fully tuned in. Some signals may be completely understood, while others could be scrambled or missed entirely! Unless you put forward the effort to clarify your thoughts, then say exactly what you’re thinking, there’s no way to be sure that your meaning is getting through. Take responsibility for your side of the communication. Otherwise, don’t get upset if you feel like you’re not being heard properly. You probably aren’t.

So, when it comes to making the most out of the birds and the bees, you’ll do better focusing on what you can do well instead of trying to make your partner behave. And remember, you’ll catch more kisses by gently stirring the honeypot than dousing each other with vinegar!

 

In good health,

-Dr. K

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