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How Things Go Wrong

The vast majority of what relationship therapists do with clients is help the clients unravel “What went wrong” (it’s true; as my own therapist once told me a long time ago, almost no-one comes to see us when they’re happy and everything is going along swimmingly).

This article about how some people end up simply marrying “the wrong person” crossed my desktop recently from a number of different directions, and while I cringed a great deal at the opening tone (“Unhappiness is a constant” — really? Where’s a healthier sense of that classically-Rogerian “unconditional positive regard”??), I found the principles are consistent with the dramas that play out over and over in the counselling office. A great number of us, myself frequently included, don’t know what we want on some deep level, and even when we do, we often feel hampered for a mind-boggling array of reasons in our ability to ask for it. We don’t always know our partners’ minds; we interpret and assume, because that’s less risky and vulnerable than asking for actual information from the source… assuming we trust the source to know with any accuracy what *they* want. And then we all go reacting to interpretations and assumptions rather than making accurately-informed decisions (you know, with *real* information)… and all hell breaks loose when we find our expectations crashing hard on the rocks of those ill-formed assumptions.

Then we add in pressures mounting against being single, the lack of emotional resilience so many people seem to develop as adults to turbulence in relationships, how we want to “freeze happiness” to the extent of being unwilling or unable to cope with unhappiness and distress in relationships. It’s a heady mix of factors that can make us feel like we’ve married the villain (or become the villain) rather than the hero or heroine of the piece.

The good news is, many of these are surmountable with self-awareness, good faith, and consistent practice in monitoring and communicating self. Obviously it works best when both parties are doing the work of smoothing out the places where the points made by the author come into conflict, but no one point *has* to indicate the impending doom of a relationship. We sometimes do find ourselves in relationships with Completely Inappropriate People, and not every relationship can be salvaged. But for one that both parties cherish and respect, addressing these kinds of points of difficulty in an effective manner can go a long way towards salvaging something worth nurturing and continuing to grow.

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