The Art of Relating: Getting Rid of Resistance in Your Relationship

Christine Kniffen

Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW

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Fixing your relationship does take work, but just how much work and how much energy has everything to do with you. Resistance is the greatest hurdle to overcome. Resistance slows the process as a whole and it is why you have probably come to couples counseling in the first place. The resistance I speak of has everything to do with one’s seeming inability to accept, and eventually understand, how their words and behaviors affect their partner. The absence of this crucial factor, essential for creating an environment where intimacy and connectedness can thrive, is the primary issue for all couples having communication difficulties. Most people aren’t intentionally trying to be resistant. There are a couple of prominent things to consider when attempting to help in the area of resistance. These include understanding why it happens, learning how to talk to someone who is resistant and finally beginning to understand the tremendous healing power of riding the relationship of resistance.

First, people are often resistant because they are extremely sensitive to anything they perceive as critical. This sensitivity can be the result of many things, but most often stems from previous experience in having felt criticized. Growing up with “critical” parents is often a common barrier to being receptive to your partner’s feelings regarding how you affect them by what you say and do. You may feel that you were “picked on” for much of your childhood and simply feel that you can’t handle another minute of those types of feelings. Or, perhaps you endured what felt like a “critical” relationship previously and vowed you would never put up with that again. The immediate reaction then, understandably, is to become defensive rather than receptive to the message that is being delivered. However, your partner’s delivery has everything to do with your ability to receive the message.

When a couple comes into my office and I see the classic signs of resistance, I work to educate them on the process that is required to work through this issue. Problems in relationships are most always solved by requiring something from each person. After all, that is the only way that seems fair to either of the parties. The person who feels particularly sensitive to criticism must be willing to see that about themselves and understand how this is negatively impacting the communication, therefore closeness, in the relationship. They must understand that not everyone would feel as “criticized” as they do, so perhaps their reaction is just a bit unfair towards their partner. After all, how can they let you know when something you do makes them feel bad without you getting upset? This is no way to exist in a relationship. This is the half that the sensitive person needs to work on. Likewise, the other person has to be willing to fully examine his or her delivery of the message. This tends to be something I am quite good at helping someone to master. The delivery is everything. In this way each person has half the responsibility for fixing the problem. One accepts and works on their reaction to the message, while the other works on becoming a great diplomat in the delivery department. The mastery of these skills results in a much more fulfilling relationship.

The benefits in ridding the relationship of resistance are enormous. First of all, no one is really happy in a relationship where this issue exists. Resistance is a “slammed door” to communication. It keeps the feelings of validation and understanding at bay, never being fully realized. If you can’t talk about your feelings, how could you be happy? Getting rid of resistance allows intimacy to thrive. You can’t have any real intimacy in an atmosphere of resistance. Intimacy and closeness are achieved by creating an atmosphere where one feels “safe” and secure enough to truly reveal his or her feelings and state their needs. In this atmosphere individuals feel comfortable in meeting their own individual needs, as well as those of the relationship. Relationships are so much healthier when each person is allowed to grow, change and pursue activities that add to their personal growth. The ultimate relationship is one in which both people are growing and in turn the relationship will grow.

Breaking down the resistance to hearing and accepting each other is essential. Couples come in all forms. In some cases, each person is resistant to hearing the other and have a sort of “Mexican standoff” occurring. Each does not feel heard or understood and therefore they dig their heels in even harder, wrongly attempting to hold on to their “right” to feel a particular way. On the other hand, many couples have one person who is offering the bulk of the resistance and the other is frustrated by the barrier to communication. If you feel this is happening in your relationship, then it is imperative to get a handle on the issue and bring it to some kind of resolve. This dysfunctional dynamic will not go on forever. Someone is going to be unhappy and someone is going to get very tired of it. This is quite often seen when the kids leave home and now two people are left with the obviousness of their relationship disconnect. Take the time to address this issue in your relationship and your chances of happily ever-after will improve dramatically.

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Relationship Coach and Therapist. For a free consultation call 314-374-8396. Visit her booth at the Healthy Planet Expo Sept. 25 in Webster Groves.