How can I save my relationship?

How can you tell whether a relationship is going to last the course — or whether it’s doomed to founder? And what’s the difference between fragile and solid couples?

Here are some of the things to look out for:

Over-optimism about Relationships

Fragile couples tend, paradoxically, to be very hopeful about relationships. They associate happiness with conflict-free unions. They do not expect, once they have found the person they see as ‘The One,’ ever to need to squabble, storm out of a room or feel unhappy for the afternoon.

When trouble emerges, as it inevitably does, they do not greet it as a sign that the relationship is progressing as it should; rather as alarming evidence that their relationship may be illegitimate and fundamentally flawed.

Their hopes tire them of the patient tasks of diplomatic negotiation and routine maintenance.

Shame

A shamed person has fundamental doubts about their right to exist: somewhere in the past, they have been imbued with an impression that they do not matter very much, that their feelings should be ignored, that their happiness is not a priority, that their words do not count.

Once they are in a couple, shamed people hurt like anyone else, but their capacity to turn their hurt into something another person can understand, and be touched by, is recklessly weak.

Shamed people will sulk rather than speak, hide rather than divulge, feel secretly wretched rather than candidly and continuously give feedback in small pleasant increments.

It is usually very intense when shamed people finally let their partner know more about the nature of their desperation.

Excessive Anxiety

Complaining well requires an impression that not everything depends on the complaint being heard perfectly. Were the lesson to go wrong, were the other to prove uncompromising, one could survive and take one’s love elsewhere.

Not everything is at stake in an argument. The other hasn’t ruined one’s life.

One, therefore, doesn’t need to scream, hector, or insist. One can deliver a complaint with some of the nonchalance of a calm teacher who wants an audience to learn but can bear it if they don’t; one could always say what one has on one’s mind tomorrow, or the next day.

Excessive Pride

It takes an inner dignity not to mind too much about having to level complaints around things that could sound laughably ‘small’ or that leave one open to being described as petty or needy.

One has to feel quite grown up inside not to be offended by one’s own appetites for reassurance and comfort. It is an achievement to know how to be strong about one’s vulnerability.

One may have said, rather too many times, from behind a slammed door, in a defensive tone, ‘No, nothing is wrong whatsoever.

Go away’, when secretly longing to be comforted and understood like a weepy, upset child.

Hopelessness about Dialogue

Fragile couples often come together with few positive childhood memories of conversations working out: early role models may simply have screamed and then despaired of one another.

They may never have witnessed disagreements eventually morphing into mutual understanding and sympathy.

They would deeply love to be understood, but they can bring precious few resources to the task of making themselves so.

None of these factors mean a couple will split up, but they are generators of the states of emotional disconnection that can eventually break two people apart. Outwardly, things may seemingly be well. A couple may have an interesting social life, some lovely children, a new apartment. But a more judicious analysis will reveal an unexpected degree of risk.

The good news is that knowing a little about the risk factors can help us identify them in good time!