It can happen that someone will get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services because they feel that every time they try to sit down and have a discussion with their partner about something they feel is going wrong in their relationship, the discussion rapidly deteriorates into a full-blown row. One moment you are talking about whose job it was to book the car in for its MOT and the next you are loudly discussing how forgetful/irresponsible one of you is and how overbearing and bossy the other. There are many different reasons this might happen – one of the most common is the power of past experience combined with less than perfect memory.
At some point in the argument one of you has started recalling previous occasions on which apparently similar things have developed. You have remembered that those discussions turning to arguments never seemed to be resolved to your satisfaction. And every one of those past instances has added weight to the current exchange of views, making it grow like a snowball rolling down a hill. This discussion is no longer just about an MOT test.
When we store up perceived slights and problems one of the effects is to make every instance that follows seem bigger and more important, even if the actual current topic is relatively insignificant. Amongst the negative consequences of this accumulation of dissatisfaction is that it becomes very difficult to sort out the present issue when all the weight of the past is piled up. Also, both you and your partner are likely to be in an uncomfortable and unhappy state of mind, making yourselves increasingly miserable and/or angry.
To protect yourself and your relationship from the damage which can be caused by growing resentment you need to let go of each insignificant occurrence once it has happened. Push it aside and forgive your partner for being human, just like you. Do your utmost to avoid mentioning the past when you are involved in another of these potentially delicate discussions, and try to banish it from your mind.
This is not to trivialise an ongoing problem. There might be an underlying cause that needs to be identified and addressed. If someone forgets to do important things on a regular basis you need to talk about it when both of you are calm and relaxed, not when you are disagreeing about the most recent oversight. Raising the issue will not be easy, and it is important not to place all the blame for whatever has gone wrong on your partner. You might try saying something like ” I’ve noticed that between us we seem to have developed a pattern of not getting important things done on time. Can we talk about it?” This condemns no-one and shares the responsibility, which might make it easier for your partner to engage with the topic.
If you do manage to open up the discussion and start to develop a possible solution, remember that neither of your is perfect and you will both revert to old patterns from time to time. “Forgive and forget” is the ideal mantra for these occasions. Try not to set deadlines for achieving perfection – it can make you hyper-vigilant and critical, anticipating problems and creating stress and tension. Stress and tension are known to affect memory, which makes it likely that more things will go wrong / get forgotten.
Another real danger to be aware of is that you won’t notice when things are improving. We are very good at remembering the past and anticipating more of the same in future. Rather than appreciating our partner’s genuine efforts and real improvements we go on expecting him/her to fail. This must be very disheartening for someone who is doing all they can to break a pattern and could be enough to discourage them from continuing to try.
It is worth finding the time to review how things are going, together with your partner if possible. “Review” does not mean “Look for things which are going wrong”. Try to identify and recognise the positive changes which have come about since that initial talk. Congratulate yourselves on your achievements and be prepared for your partner’s view to be different from yours. S/he will inevitably see things from a different angle and this does not make one of you wrong. There will be improvements to honour, and recognising them will bring its own strength and energy to continue the drive to change the balance of your relationship.
Don’t let go of all your memories of the past. Hold on to and celebrate what brought you together, remind yourselves of the qualities you first admired in each other. They will still exist.
You might well feel that this is such a delicate problem to tackle that you need some external support before you raise it with your partner. At Birmingham Counselling Services there are qualified and experienced counsellors and psychotherapists who can work with you around the issue, or look at it with you and your partner together. You can get in touch with us via our website: www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk or by calling 0121 314 9903.