rough patch
August 13, 2019 10:51 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are going through a rough patch. I'm looking for some help.

This isn't a "Should I DTMFA?" question, and I would prefer not to get into the details of what has been happening beyond that we have been fighting a lot and seem to be stuck in a circular pattern of fighting. The fights are bad but when we make up we are really good... until the next one.

What I would like is to hear from people who have been in relationships/marriages that have hit a rough patch, or a cycle of fighting, or have had some other crisis, and managed to salvage the relationship. What did you do? How did it turn out?

Complicating factors: we were in couples counseling for a few months but at our last session the counselor behaved in a way that made both me and my boyfriend extremely uncomfortable and we do not want to continue to see her. The experience has made boyfriend wary of couples counseling altogether. I have bipolar 2, anxiety, and am in EMDR therapy for C-PTSD. I just bought a house and we are moving there at the end of the month and the stress is making things harder.

I am not willing to give up on this relationship yet. There is a lot of good here. I just don't know what to do to get us out of this rut and am looking for anecdata that doesn't end with "and so we split up".

Thanks in advance.
posted by thereemix to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you guys fighting fair? Do you have lines or areas that you both know aren't to be discussed in anger?

I think if you are arguing in good faith, sometimes a rough patch can lead to a stronger relationship.

My FIL says that if someone isn't yelling, then they are getting crapped on. Meaning stand your ground for things that are important, but also be prepared for arguments from the other side over their important things.

In this scenario, fighting lessens over time as the partners learn and respect each other's points of view.


If either you or he bring up long past trauma just to hurt the other, if you are pushing deep psychological buttons for the points, and especially if either gets physical in any way other than brushing by to leave the room, then you should not be together.
posted by Ecgtheow at 11:13 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Get a new couples counselor and concentrate on learning better dynamics and rules for disagreements and fighting. Lack of disciplined disagreement in a relationship can lead to major erosion of the relationship as you can't take back things said in the heat of the moment.

Also, if you're not in current individual therapy for your own mental health, I'd get started on doing that ASAP. It sounds like you have a lot of stress on multiple fronts and having independent support for yourself is very important.
posted by quince at 11:14 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

My partner of 10 years and I began couples counseling this spring with a therapist that practices Emotionally Focused Therapy. It has made an amazing difference in our relationship. There are a number of books that describe the concepts and process -- the book our therapist has had us read is Hold Me Tight.
posted by elmay at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

"Just bought a house.." so, this is a stressful thing.. did the fighting start way before you thought about buying a house?

Just saying, it could all be tied into the finances, moving, and other issues with a major financial and situational change. Because of the size of it, the triggers for fights/stress could seem totally unrelated to the whole thing, but are really ripples from the same stone in pond.
posted by rich at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Something the few healthy couples I know are religious about is Fair Fighting.

One of the important effects of Fair Fighting is avoiding laying the groundwork for the next fight while you are finishing the current one.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:11 PM on August 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

are your fights about big issues or just moments of bad communication?

my husband & I went through a really bad fighty patch some years ago. in our case we were never fighting about big issues though, just petty bullshit. if it had been big issues we would have been toast a long time ago :( our case we were allowing fairly minor arguments to escalate into huge blowouts, it was awful, exhausting...over time some how we figured out how to not escalate. this is an area where (in theory) therapy can be very helpful, giving you actual tools to help with keeping things from blowing up.

here is one: (even if you think it sounds pedantic and stupid just do it!!) I STATEMENTS. its so easy in a fight to get into that "well you did this and you said that" which puts the other person on the defensive and then they are not likely to hear what you are saying.

so you always just talk about what is going on with yourself "well I feel like you are very angry when you use that voice tone" it gives a space for partner to respond without getting defensive "hey, I'm not angry and I didnt realize my voicetone was making you think that I was" etc., if you are both willing to try this it may help with keeping things from getting too intense.

good luck!
posted by supermedusa at 12:21 PM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

“What I would like is to hear from people who have been in relationships/marriages that have hit a rough patch, or a cycle of fighting, or have had some other crisis, and managed to salvage the relationship. What did you do? How did it turn out?“

This has happened in all my relationships. I always tried to fix it and never wanted to break up. I’m married now for much longer than my previous relationships lasted and I think one difference is that we are married and have children so we both have a lot invested... but also we both consistently feel, and express, that we want to be together and will keep working to work things out. In my previous relationships the fights just escalated and escalated and were more and more often until there was so much bad feeling and so few nice experiences together that there was no choice but to split.
posted by catspajammies at 1:15 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think this originated with something over at the Gottman Institute, but something that helps me a lot in my marriage is to remember that I don't have to solve every conflict.

My partner and I have a few topics that are always around and about which we will always disagree. Accepting this fact has helped me not get my hackles up whenever it comes up. For example, we disagree on how to clean up a certain kind of kitchen mess; I have abandoned any hope of bringing him over to my side on that issue, and he can forget about changing my mind. And that's ok! So whenever it comes up, I either handle it my way or I exit the kitchen so he can clean it his way. And we can live like that for a long time. Swap out "kitchen cleaning" for something more serious, and there are a lot of opportunities to just ignore your differences.

Obviously, that doesn't apply to serious things, boundary-crossing things, trust violations, etc. But if it's logistic or material in nature, you might be able to cross it off your list.
posted by witchen at 1:37 PM on August 13, 2019 [14 favorites]

We went through a patch of circumstantial bickering about eight years ago, and it was part of the reason we pulled the plug on a live-work situation that wasn't working out. As soon as we moved, it stopped. That was eight years ago.

If this is tied in any way to buying a house and moving...
Acknowledging it helps, and making a point of being kind helps. Like actually say it out loud: this is super stressful but it will be over in a month. For the next four weeks let's be as kind and generous* to each other as humanly possible. Schedule a nice date to look forward to, maybe a week or two after you move in.

Kind and generous in words, actions, and thought - assume the best, give benefit of the doubt, etc. When stressed my brain gets defensive, and starts clamping down on generous thought to protect me. I have to really actively work on it.

You might also find private outlets for grumps (a private journal, a friend). My brother and his wife keep a joint journal and take turns leaving each other nice messages. Alternate nightly.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:09 PM on August 13, 2019

Do both of you recognize and articulate to each other in post-mortems why you fought and troubleshoot ways to prevent it in the future? That's how healthy couples move through conflict. This stuff is very rarely innate, it has to be learned and that learning is part trial and error*; not that learning it will fix every relationship because there are mismatches that cannot be solved, but whenever I hear someone say "fighting a lot" my number one question is: so are you learning a lot too?

If you're not having post-mortems, if you're not making a joint effort** to not repeat the same fight over and over, that's not how you set up a relationship for success.

*Sometimes, though, it has to be "trial and success". You have to be able to align to some degree without having to negotiate.

**It HAS to be a joint effort. One of you can try and try and try and it's not going to happen unless the other person is right there beside you trying as hard. That's not impossible, but it's a challenge; make sure that this agreement is spoken and not just assumed by one and sidestepped by the other.

If you're fighting that much, you should be in agreement by now what some of the rules need to be, and actively pursuing information and resources to help you decide more of the rules, even if for the moment those resources come from books or video or something other than a counselor you both like and feel safe with. You both should already be applying HALT and restraining yourselves from lashing out and choosing to step away from an incipient fight and choose a later time and place to discuss under circumstances that are less likely to foment a fight. That's teamwork, that's what makes relationships strong and rewarding.

It's also a red flag when one person can't or won't do those things.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:18 PM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

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