Does feeling hopeless mean it is, or is there still a way to fix things?
You’re feeling hopeless about your relationship, but does that mean you’re doomed? Or is there still hope in spite of that sinking feeling?
Well, hopelessness usually comes awhile after the point where your relationship struggles and red flags started showing up. Hopeless feelings are likely an indication that overwhelm has been taking its toll on you, not just emotionally, but also on your nervous system, physically. When that happens your body’s ability to regulate which is essential to healthy, sustainable functioning is severely compromised and parts of you start shutting down to regulate and regain your grasp on things.
Hopelessness and overwhelm don’t mean you’re doomed…not yet anyway. They mean it’s way past the ideal time to catch the slide and course-correct to keep the ship afloat. Your boat is sinking. But the “Coast Guard” is still within range, i.e., it’s likely not too late.
How in the heck can we survive?
Ok, so you don’t know what to do…that’s scary, and a tough place to be. You probably feel like you’ve tried to make things work, but it hasn’t gotten you out of the repetitive, negative cycles that pull you apart from each other, or slam you into conflict.
My guess is your attempts to fix things have been limited to what you know, what you saw your family or friends do or something you read in a self-help book. There are techniques and strategies that trained therapists know typically work for couples in distress and despair.
I’ve seen couples recover from hopelessness and overwhelm so I know what its like and even without knowing you specifically, I know some of the steps that usually start to help. But be-ware, at this stage it’s likely you will need someone to help tow you out of the rut you’ve gotten into. For now, though here are a few suggestions.
There’s a solution to what you’ve been doing that hasn’t been working.
So what is the antidote to the negative fights or overwhelming feelings?! It’s not that complicated in a way…
1. REGULATE TO RECOUPERATE
Regulation is the first step. Your nervous system is probably activated and you need to get back to even Steven or Stephanie. If you’re dysregulated, you need to get regulated. You need to be able to reach to your partner and feel comforted, even if only a tiny bit at first, by their helpful and soothing, reassuring response.
Problem is, you’re likely way past saying things nicely, and your partner is not feeling the most thoughtful and understanding. If you’re the one saying, “Hey dumbass” or anything that smacks of criticism, blame or confrontation, you really have to stop.
2. SOFTEN YOUR APPROACH
You have to start saying something a little better…a little softer. Angry, critical words push away the very thing you’re needing. When you’re upset and hurt, it’s hard to do. You’re in distress. But you need to start saying what you haven’t been saying – I’m scared, I’m worried, I’m hurting.
According to Dr. John Gottman, who did tons of research in the Gottman Institute’s Love Lab in Seattle, criticism and blame is highly correlated with marriage or relationship failure. And it doesn’t work in conflict resolution.
3. VULERABILTILTY IS NOT A DIRTY WORD
The antidote: sharing the vulnerability of your feelings and communicating your needs in effective ways. Turning, “Hey, “dumbass,” into “Hey, I’m hurting…I need you,” might be a good start. So, start using softer words and then try letting your partner in on what you’re really wishing or longing for.
Simply put, soften your approach, say what’s hard to say, be vulnerable and reach with an open hand, not a shaking fist or scowling, disgruntled face.
Vulnerability, contrary to social misunderstandings, is not a four-letter word. Done right, it is the answer to your relationship’s biggest challenges, even if it sounds like letting down your shield in the middle of battle.
SIMIPLE, BUT NOT EASY
The answer to getting unstuck and out of this hopeless rut (or pit) is fairly simple, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy for any of us. When we’re upset we often start to freak the ‘bleep’ out. It takes practice and hard work. You may need someone to help both of you take a deep breath, get your relationship back on the rails and start doing things differently.
If these suggestions don’t start to make things a little better, you most likely need a professional to help you both get out of the rut you’ve gotten in. The negative spiral that you’re stuck in can take on a life of its own and can be virtually impossible to slow down and course correct.
With guidance and support from a skilled couples counselor, you can start to learn some relationship skills that MOST couples don’t know…until they exhaust their resources and get help.
So, soften your heart and words, speak vulnerably, receive good responses from each other and start to really communicate. It’s a big job, but it’s doable.
I appreciate hearing how these strategies are helping. Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help getting into a better place and creating the love you really want- feel free to contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am San Francisco’s resident couples therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!