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FROM US TO ME: Emotional and Behavioural changes in relationships

No-one enters a relationship believing that it is going to fail! However, as the relationship moves out of its honeymoon phase, and the couple start competing for space and privileges in the relationship, life happens simultaneously - and it becomes more difficult to afford the relationship the time and effort it deserves. Fights about needs not being met, or too much being asked of one, become frequent. The relationship space becomes less safe and the partners start asking themselves if the price they are paying to be in the relationship is too high.

A shifts starts happening because the partners start feeling, thinking and behaving differently in the relationship.

Changes in feelings

The change in feelings is often driven by the need to protect themselves. This may be because they feel that the price they are paying to be in the relationship is too high or because it is not such a safe place anymore. During this time, individuals become more self- serving; they focus more on looking after themselves, are more defensive and, in general, feel much less tolerant and generous towards their partners. As this is not how they want to feel in their primary relationships, it is a time often characterised by frustration, anger and resentment. This, in turn, leads to conflict. Where partners in a relationship may have willingly been prepared to compromise at first, this becomes much more conditional, with a tit-for-tat attitude driving the interpersonal dynamic.

Shifts in thinking

The shift in thinking is often about a renewed focus on the differences between the parties. Where such differences may have contributed to the initial intrigue and attraction between the two, it now becomes a source of frustration and irritation. Very soon they start labelling each other, thereby reducing a multifaceted person to one or two aspects of who they are. The labels (“you are aggressive, selfish, don’t listen”) make it easy for partners to start blaming each other for their relationship dissatisfaction. When things become unpleasant they often find an escape by fantasising about exiting the relationship. Such fantasies, whether acted upon or not, diminishes the personal ownership they take for the relationship.

Behaviour changes

Finally, changes in feeling and thinking spur on a shift in behaviour. The most problematic behaviour is when the parties start licencing themselves to behave in a retaliatory manner. This is often done subtly and with little conscious ownership of the behaviour or of its specific intent. For example, the exchange might be that if you speak badly to me ,I licence myself to come home later than agreed. These are subtle shifts, but once this starts happening on many fronts, the relationship gets caught up in a web of small ‘transgressions’ that contaminate it and give it an increasingly adversarial undertone.

It is evident that the shift in feelings, thinking and behaviour reflects a shift from ‘us’ and ‘you’ to ‘me’. This is then also revealed in the way they communicate and interact.

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