There is no greater pain than the loss of a loved one. When a loved one passes, their death has a way of completely incapacitating you by enveloping your entire being with an unyielding suffocating pain, overwhelming sadness, and intense despair. But what happens when the one you love is still alive and the flame of your love – your relationship – is dying? I once had a friend cry to me and exclaim that her divorce was more painful than a death because the man she loved and ached to be with was still alive, right there before her eyes, but he chose to love another. It took her two years to heal. Now she’s remarried with children and living the blissful dream so many desire. But what if her relationship to her first husband could have been saved? Would it have been worth it? And if it could have been saved, at what point could things have changed?
The ending of any relationship, whether friendship, lover, even a relationship with a former job, can be devastating. Sometimes old abandonment wounds resurface when a relationship ends, making the pain even greater. In addition, people grieve the loss of a dream. People also blame themselves and/or the other person in an attempt to understand and logically deal with the loss. I’d like to suggest that no one is particularly to blame when a relationship ends. Rather, some relationships simply catch a disease. The key is to recognize the symptoms of the disease and try to catch it early with treatment. (Note-89% of couples seek help after it’s too late-preventative help works best.)
To describe the symptoms of a diseased relationship, I’ll point out John Gottman’s findings. Gottman and his colleagues have studied relationships for over 20 years and have been able to articulate exactly what goes wrong in a relationship. It is this research that lets him identify—with 91% accuracy—which couples are headed for divorce. It’s not magic. He just understands the symptoms of a relationship in trouble. Following are findings from his research that clearly indicate the presence of what I refer to as a diseased relationship.
Relationship Disease Stage One-The couple begins to complain about each other. The honeymoon is over and now the little complaints begin to show up like fatigue. Getting treatment at this stage means recognizing the symptom, talking about it with each other, and making an effort share your feelings in a way that doesn’t come off like a complaint. If complaints persist, remedy immediately with acknowledgement of the hurt, and a kiss, tickle, laughter or some form of positive reinforcement of your love. Counseling at this stage is highly effective for curing the disease.
Relationship Disease Stage Two-Like a tickle in your throat and a low-grade fever, complaints have now escalated into down right criticisms. Now you’re attacking each other with little darts. Such criticisms sting more than complaints. Worse they leave little scars on your heart. Treatment is critical at this stage. Recognize and talk about it with each other. Try to reassure each other. Understand where the little scars have been placed and take responsibility for treating them. Give love, healing and support to each other. If a criticism has been launched, make immediate steps to repair or else you’re in danger of the disease taking hold. Counseling at this stage is effective for treating the disease.
Relationship Disease Stage Three-The fever has heightened and the disease has taken hold when criticisms turn into contemptuous remarks and silent treatment (Gottman calls it stonewalling). Grenades are launched at each other and repairs aren’t being made. Get help immediately if you’re experiencing these deadly symptoms. When left untreated, the disease takes over and sours everything in your life. The more you run from confronting the disease, the more it controls you. Worse, it truly begins affecting your health. Communication, love, healing, and genuine sharing are critical at this stage. Taking responsibility for the deep scars your grenades left in your loved ones heart is essential. They, too, need to take responsibility for the wounds they left in your heart. Healing cannot occur until the scars are illuminated and treated. Counseling can be effective at this stage for putting the disease in remission.
Relationship Disease Stage Four and Five-This is where many couples seek help (if they seek help). The disease has taken its toll and is ready for emergency treatment. Contempt and silent treatment have now escalated into arming oneself with a perpetual defensive wall. Worse, damaging memories from former diseased interactions (unhealthy and hurtful fights that were never adequately repaired) have now cast an unfavorable light onto the entire relationship. You both talk about your problems more than you have fun. Dirty looks or unhappy expressions occur one out of five smiles or happy expressions (yes, Gottman has revealed that one bad apple needs at least 25 good ones to keep couples happy…one to five odds are a very dangerous sign). At this stage, serious attention needs to be placed on the relationship. Can it be resuscitated or are attempts to heal it futile? Seek help from a professional immediately. If there is danger in the relationship (the attacks have crossed into physical confrontations, threats, abuse), get immediate help to get out as the diseased relationship is now affecting your health and wellbeing. Please call 911 if you are in imminent danger.
If you’re experiencing a disease in your relationship or would like help preventing a disease from occurring in your relationship, please call me (Kimberly Key) at 512-617-6356 to discuss the best treatment method for your situation.