In your relationship do you frequently beak up and then get back together again? Do you love each other but it just seems having a relationship is difficult? If so your not alone. There are many couples who become trapped by the on again off again relationship cycle. To help understand this relationship pattern and what you can do to avoid the on again and off again relationship cycle, I have interviewed Psychotherapist Nate Havlick.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a psychotherapist in private practice; working mostly with couples and singles around relationship issues. My history is a blend of psychology, social work and spirituality, with hefty doses of real-life experience. I’ve been a licensed professional since 1996. However, my work with people dates back to 1984, when I started working with an organization that sponsored therapeutic workshops for the public. It was in that arena that I first saw clear proof that profound healing was possible, and that I could directly help someone be freer, happier, more connected and vibrant. That’s been my path ever since.”
Why is it that some relationships go through a on again and off again relationship cycle?
“It has everything to do with how the mind works. In relationship, we’re all looking for someone that understands us, which shares our passions and accepts our flaws. We’re not so much thinking about all the differences we have that will eventually, inevitably surface. Most of these are day-to-day things, like how we parent or handle money. Things that require us to find a balance and negotiate a solution. If we cannot do this, and the issue is great enough, we might decide to separate. Occasionally, this goes smoothly.”
“More often, though, it’s complicated by the mind’s desperate need to make sense of things. It’s job is to take care of you. So at first, it says, ‘this is wonderful. Finally, someone who understands me, who’s good for me.’ Then the conflicts start. Maybe they don’t clean up the house ‘like they should’. At first it’s annoying, then frustrating. You start to feel helpless. You start to get angry. The life you’re wanting is being threatened, and the mind jumps in to defend you. To help you survive. And before you know it, your partner has become your enemy. ‘We’ becomes ‘me against you’. (And it sure isn’t going to be me!)”
“At first you might say, ‘you didn’t clean again.’ Then, ‘you never clean’. Then ‘you never do anything’. Then making it personal, ‘you don’t care. You’re selfish.’ Finally, ‘I can’t live this way. I’m leaving.’ The conflict exaggerated, it’s finally used to make global judgments about the other person. No wonder you want to leave.”
What can a couple do to prevent the on again and off again relationship cycle?
First, they can go in knowing that everyone’s different, and expecting conflict to arise. They can assess their own needs and decide which ones are important and which can be dropped. And which are deal breakers. They can help their partner do the same. They can learn to express their feelings, and be direct about their wants. They can learn to negotiate with their partner, to find ways to work together. Truly, there are a thousand ways to do these things. We just rarely make it a priority.
“At a deeper level, couples can watch how their minds jump to conclusions, get defensive and exaggerate, and start thinking in black and white. They can see how the mind weaves a story to protect them, which also leaves them feeling separate, alone and misused. They can tell the truth to themselves and others – as accurately as possible – to keep the mind in check. They can know that whatever happens, they always have the option to leave. They don’t need a horror story to justify their choices. They truly do get to decide for themselves.”
What are some signs that a relationship should definitely be off for good?
“When a person can no longer find any warm feelings, or imagine a positive outcome; when their whole attention is on what’s wrong, that’s usually a pretty clear sign. (Though I’d never say, ‘should’ – it’s always a choice.) Often, they’ve simply lost all rapport. There’s no eye contact, or physical touch; their movements are out of synch; they rarely speak with the same volume or tone of voice; they don’t talk if they can avoid it. And there’s little show of emotion. Or, the emotion that shows most is anger, a kind of hostility that seeks only to make the other person wrong, and often comes through as contempt. These are very bad signs.”
What last advice would you like to give for a couple who is going through a on again off again relationship cycle?
“My number one advice is to practice seeing the other person as human. To empathize with them, no matter what. You don’t have to agree, or stay together, or even be nice to them. You certainly don’t have to give up yourself or the things you need. But you can always imagine their point of view. You can ask yourself what pain they might be feeling. When you think they’re selfish, think of times you’ve been selfish. When they neglect something, think of others in your life that are sometimes neglectful, people whom you’ve forgiven. Imagine, feel their struggle as your own. Then, naturally, you’ll do what you must for yourself. Because it isn’t an either/or. It isn’t ‘me against you’. It’s simply ‘I’, and as long as you choose it, ‘we’.”
“And the amazing thing that people find when they truly empathize is that it makes everything easier! Everything. Because defensiveness rarely helps you at all. It mostly keeps you miserable, struggling in a dark and difficult world. It obscures your ability to feel your own love, and to share that love with others. If you’ve paid attention, you know it’s true. And it’s too great a price to pay, just to be right.”
Thank you Nate for the interview. If you would like more information on Nate Havlick check out his website on www.AustinTherapist.com.
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