If you’re in a committed relationship, you might wonder from time to time why you can’t get through to your partner or why you struggle so much to get on the same page. I should say, like most everything in life, there is not a perfect algorithm to resolve this challenge. However, in a couples counseling setting, I often observe a common tendency– the failure to consider emotional context.
It might help to discuss what I mean by “emotional context.” In basic terms, I’m referring to how you AND your partner feel. Emotions can be like one of those photo filters on Snap Chat or Instagram. They have a tendency to distort reality, sometimes making things seem much better or worse than what they actually are.
The problem is if we are not in a mindset conducive to dealing with reality, then we probably aren’t dealing with reality. And if we aren’t dealing with reality when attempting to solve complicated relationship problems, then our problem solving won’t be very effective.
So here is a general rule of thumb. When possible, work through and de-escalate emotions first. This may take 30 minutes, a few days, weeks, or longer depending on the severity of the emotions involved. The key is to remove the filter of emotion as much as reasonably possible before engaging in the problem-solving process.
Now, you might say, “but dealing with feelings isn’t my strong suit.” Or, “dealing with feelings isn’t [insert partner’s name]’s strong suit.” I understand that. The good news is that people can get better at this skill set. I see it happen all the time in session. You may not be a believer now, but you can and will get there if you’re willing to do the work.
I should note that this may take professional help, so consider seeking couples counseling if needed. The job of a couples therapist is to be an advocate for the conversation, not to pick sides. But if you are looking for a place to start, here are a few strategies:
Difficult feelings and problems in relationships are not going anywhere. They are inherent to being with someone that is different from yourself, which is everyone. That said, the strategies above have the potential to be a game changer for your relationship, leading to more fulfilling emotional experiences and more effective problem solving with your partner. Yes, it will take practice, but it’s definitely worth the effort.