Just as your automobile needs regular care and maintenance, so does your relationship. Many couples ignore warning lights and other signs that their relationship is falling apart and is in need of a service call. They know something’s wrong, but ignore the problem(s) thinking it will go away. Following this philosophy with your car leads to expensive and time consuming repairs. The same viewpoint holds true for relationships—ignore the warning signs and you’ll soon find yourself in a therapist’s “repair shop” with a long overhaul ahead.
As a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, I routinely get calls from couples whose relationship has all but quit running. They ignored the “check engine” warning light. Their “electrical system” is shorting out and the “brakes” are squealing. Dark putrid smoke is pouring out of the “tailpipe.” And the “car” is almost undrivable. I find them sitting across from me in a state of confusion with anxiety and fear permeating their souls. With this in mind, let’s look at how to deal with these relationship warning signs.
1) Check engine light—having slightly negative feelings toward your partner.
As inherently flawed human beings, we make mistakes. Sometimes we fail to live up to our own expectations or the expectations of our partner. When expectations go unmet, the result is bitterness that acts like an acid; one that slowly eats away at the foundation of the relationship. The negative feelings that you are experiencing are likely due to not having a need or an expectation met (we formulate expectations to try and meet our needs). Don’t ignore this warning light! Instead, take a moment to reflect upon why you are feeling what you’re feeling. Look deep within yourself to see if a need or expectation is not being met. Then communicate your feelings to your partner. Make sure to use “I statements” as to not put your partner on the defense. Ignoring this sign will only cause further relationship damage.
2) The brakes are squealing—avoid yelling at each other.
Your partner is likely to be the closest and most meaningful person in your life. Because of the closeness, partners will say things to each other that they would never say to anyone else on the planet. Quite often, I am amazed at the kind and amount of disparaging remarks and foul language that I witness in session. While yelling and making negative remarks may bring forth temporary feelings of relief, they do immense damage. When you start ripping deep into the soul of your partner and wound them, there will be lasting scars. These scars will not be easily forgotten and will haunt the relationship. Instead, talk to each other vowing to maintain respect at all times. Contrary to the popular adage, “sticks and stones break bones but words will never hurt me,” callous words can do innumerable damage to the spirit and the soul.
3) The electrical system is shorting out—does it seem that the “spark” is gone?
Most of you have heard the old maxim, “Once you get married, it’s all down hill from there.” This is only true if you stop working on the relationship. When we first starting dating someone, we put forth a lot of effort. We try to impress our date and demonstrate our self value. As time passes on and this goal appears to have been reached, it’s easy to start slaking off and not putting forth our best effort. Without effort, relationships become stale. It is up to both partners to put forth effort to keep the relationship running smoothly—to keep the spark alive. If you find that your relationship keeps shorting out, speak with your partner about ways to keep the relationship vibrant. Create lists of things to do together and actually make time to do them!
4) Dark putrid smoke is pouring out of the tailpipe—are you constantly polluting your relationship environment?
It is up to each one of us to be honest with ourselves. Substance abuse, domestic violence, intimidation, emotional abuse, affairs, blaming, denying, and threatening are just some of the signs that you are creating a toxic environment for you and your partner; that something is seriously wrong. If you continue poisoning your relationship environment, it will die. If you find yourself engaging is destructive and harmful behaviors, reach out to ally’s in your community in order to shut down the flow of relationship killing toxins. Failure to do so will lead to total engine failure. There will be no relationship left to repair.
The Importance of Regular Maintenance
In order to avoid these situations, it is important to participate in regular relationship check-ups. Here are a few suggestions.
1) Change your oil every 3,000 miles—take care of yourself and the relationship.
This is a great way to avoid having series issues wreak havoc in your relationship. Make sure that you are taking good care of yourself and of your partner. With so much going on in our lives, nurturing one self and ones partner often gets shifted lower on our list of priorities. Make sure to schedule time for yourself to relax and get re-energized. Do the same for your relationship. The concept of a “date night” is nothing new. Make sure to schedule fun and intimate time with each other. By moving nurturing self and partner to the top of your list of priorities, you’ll have a far greater chance of avoiding costly repairs down the line.
2) Don’t forget to balance and rotate the tires—avoid the “same old, same old.”
Someone once coined the phrase, “Variety is the spice of life.” If you keep doing the same things over and over, life gets predictable and mundane. Make sure to change things around. Two of the most important components of a successful relationship are a balance of compromise and sacrifice. If each partner understands this, it is easy to avoid only doing what one partner wants to do. Thus, each of you are able to do all the fun things that you want to do and your partner doesn’t have to complain, as he or she knows that next week, it’s his or her turn to decide what to do. Keep things new and alive by seeking out new places to go and new activities to participate in.
In conclusion, make sure to not ignore the warning signs that your relationship needs some maintenance. Work with your partner to create an open platform for self expression where needs and expectations can be met and dreams can be chased. Cherish and respect your relationship as the incredibly beautiful state of being that it is and you’ll avoid expensive and lengthy repairs with no guarantee of success.
© Copyright 2007 by Rod Louden. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.