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What to Do When Love Becomes Work

Romantic love usually begins in a blissful trance, and then wakes you up to disillusionment, as things get real. No one prepares us for this deflation, and there are astonishingly few resources available for couples who find themselves mired in conflict or unable to understand each other.

Once your differences are allowed to surface, this naturally generates conflict, which can easily lead to power struggles that paralyze your relationship and consume your energy. You might then find yourself swinging wildly between self-sacrifice and self-assertion, as you try in vain to get your fundamental needs for intimacy and independence met.

Few of us want to go back to a rigid model of relationships, where one partner held authority over the other, and personal expression was seen as disruptive. Yet, we don’t know how to do it any other way. So, we either fall back into traditional roles or live with chronic conflict, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings. The situation leaves many of us feeling hopeless with no idea what to do.

What you need now are skills that enable you to stretch beyond your conditioned ways of relating to each other. You probably don’t know how to communicate your feelings and needs without blame and resentment, or to hear those of your partner without judgment and defensiveness. And it is likely that you can’t negotiate collaboratively, so that both of your needs are considered without a sense of competition and struggle for power.

There are relationship tools you can learn that allow you to understand your partner without agreeing with them or sacrificing what is most important to you. There is a way to express your feelings and needs honestly that does not make your partner wrong or put them on the defensive. And there is a way to negotiate as allies, so that both of you get what you most need.

Conscious Communication Skills are simple prompts that shift your focus from comparisons and conclusions to immediate feelings and needs. They are mechanisms that interrupt your programmed habit of evaluating who is right or wrong and enable you to recognize and express what both of you are feeling and needing instead. They reduce the tension of competition, while increasing the sense of connection.

By focusing on meeting your basic needs and those of your partner, instead of being right or winning, these tools allow both of you to get more of what you want, while strengthening the relationship in the process.


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