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Relationships: Just Hoping for Change Might Keep You Stuck

Relationships thrive with periods of harmony, rupture, and repair.

Lynnelle Richardson/Pexel
Source: Lynnelle Richardson/Pexel

When one partner holds out hope for their relationship to change based on times of harmony, but without attention to the turbulent periods in between, they are often stuck in an unhealthy relationship cycle that can last years without any lasting change.

Relationships go through waves of harmony, rupture, and repair when a relationship is working well. There is no such thing as two people getting along all the time. Psychologist Bonnie Badenoch recognizes that this might occur only 30% of the time in good relationships. The rest of the time is about rupture and repair of the relationship. The “rupture” is when issues occur that disrupt the emotional connection. The “repair” is when the partners resolve the disruption together and arrive back in a harmonious state, usually with greater trust in the relationship.

Unhealthy Relationship Cycle

Most relationships start out with both people more or less having put forward their “agreeable” self. This early period is a time of getting to know one another and, if favorable feelings develop, they may fall in love and move on to a commitment of some kind.

What is striking in the data I collected from over a thousand women about their dating is that very little conflict, if any, took place until they were in the committed part of their relationship. Clearly, lack of conflict contributed all the more to feeling that they found a good match. However, eventually any serious difficulties with addressing their issues together cropped up.

A couple who lacks tools to repair their rupture is in troubled waters. Some of the unforeseen problems reported were:

  • Refusal to take responsibility and blaming their partner for the unrest; they make the problem about the other’s character or other deficiencies.
  • Emotional withdrawal; one gives the silent treatment in an attempt to punish the other for the perceived hurt.
  • One seems to take ownership of the problem but ultimately holds the partner responsible for causing them to react the way they did.
  • One thinks he/she is superior and entitled to have the final word. One expects the partner to agree with them or drop the issue.

These reactions further perpetuated the rupture in their relationship.

For the relationship to more or less survive, the period of unrest eventually ends when one partner makes overtures that it’s time to play nice again. Although somewhat unsettled, the other partner often feels relief to be back in a favorable and familiar connection with their partner. It’s during these times that each has needs met. Plans are implemented and life seems more manageable. However, it’s only a matter of time before some issue arises that disrupts the period of calm.

When Harmony is Used to Deceive

The periods of “harmony” following periods of disruption in this type of relationship cycle become a contrived “repair” that can engender hope that maybe “we can get along” and change is possible. This episodic positive experience creates a powerful deception and promotes a denial of the existing serious problems.

Welcome the Conflict

I’ve been asked how do you know if a potential partner won’t fall into these problematic behaviors in a relationship as a way to resolve problems. I suggest that during the dating period, it’s important to be yourself. Speak to who you are, state what you want, and expect and enter into disagreements.

It’s never healthy to be the person or be with the person who always gives in or never states what they want. When you have conflict, each partner learns more about the other person and his or her ability to handle it. When you have a sense that resolving conflict can exist with a potential partner, you’re moving in the right direction.

The relationships that thrive have periods of disruption when conflict arises, and one in which the partners make an effort to restore the connection. Both partners feel safe to be themselves, speak to what they believe or need, and know the other will listen and work with them. True repair leads to a deeper trusting connection in the relationship.

©Lambert

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