Why Discomfort is Good for Your Relationship
Is there something in your relationship you would like to change? Or maybe something you wish had never changed from the way it used to be? Sometimes in life we get stuck in patterns with our partner that leave us feeling unsatisfied, unhappy, or disenchanted. We long for something better, but we are not sure how to break out of the current status quo. All we know is that we want to see something different but are not sure how to create it. Change isn’t something that just happens in your marriage. It is a series of actions or inactions that lead to a point at which you look around and say “yes, I like this and where it is going” or “oh man, how did we get so lost.” Today’s blog is how actively seeking discomfort in your relationship can help you to create meaningful change in your marriage.
When I speak of discomfort in your relationship I mean a healthy uneasiness that accompanies trying something new or reacting differently to a situation than how you might have reacted previously. I am not referring to the state of mental, emotional, or physical discomfort that clues you into a serious concern for safety or well-being. The discomfort I am wanting you to aim for in this case is a lack of familiarity and ease that accompanies trying something new.
So, why is creating discomfort in your relationship important? First, because it challenges you to grow and to put your partner first. As we become comfortable in our relationship we often begin to take for granted things we used to appreciate as kind gestures or acts of generosity. Maybe you have come to expect your spouse to take care of making lunches for everyone each morning, and have become lax on how often or whether or not you acknowledge their effort. In this example, trying something new might actually be an attempt to revert back to an earlier stage of your relationship where appreciation and thanks was freely and generously given to your spouse or partner. When we think first of how our words can encourage our partner we not only can enrich their day, but we can reorient ourselves away from a score-keeping mentality where we are constantly tracking tit for tat in the world of at home chores and daily living. Channel J.F.K. in this case and, “ask yourself not what your marriage can do for you, but what you can do for your marriage.”
This reorientation away from the mind-set of “me first” allows us to break an unhelpful pattern that can cause problems in our relationship. Often the patterns of behavior that end up creating issues in our marriages were not developed intentionally. The change happens slowly over time, without anyone noticing much at all. Maybe you, your partner, or both of you gradually slid into a cycle of putting in as little effort as possible in the bedroom which led to each of you feeling unsatisfied and underwhelmed in the current state of your sex life. Or maybe you or your partner made a slight jab at the other regarding a sensitive issue and hurt feelings has led to it escalating out of control. No one intended for things to slide this far downhill, but you look up and are surprised to find yourselves so far down that the top of the hill can’t be seen through the clouds high above you.
Creating discomfort in order to break unhealthy patterns involves choosing a different reaction to familiar circumstances. You first need to recognize that the situation has presented itself once again, and that you will need to fight to stop or redirect whatever your typical response is. When your spouse hints that they are interested in physical intimacy, stop and reconsider your initial thought of “I have to get up early tomorrow,” or “I’m too tired or busy right now.” Not only do you need to halt your typical response, but you also need to replace it with something different. This could be anything really, but keep in mind the end goal. If you want to see improvement in your communication with your spouse or to have a better sex life you have to put in the work and do just that. When you are presented with a situation that relates to your goal, think about what action you can take verbally or nonverbally to move in the direction of that goal. Even if you have to start with baby steps, a step in that direction is a step in the right direction.
Given that discomfort and change is associated with risk, you will have to determine if the risk is worth the reward. It takes great courage to step out of line for what is typical and to strive for something greater in a relationship. We don’t know how our partner will react to the change, and we might even be rejected at first. The fear of rejection or failure can often lead to inaction or paralysis, but this leaves us still wanting for something better for ourselves and our marriage. In couples I often see people who are hoping the other person will step out first and take on the risk so they don’t have to themselves. Whether it is out of fear or hurt feelings, one or both partners will sit and wait for the other to move first. This creates a stagnant unit that maintains dysfunction at best and decays further at worst. While change is risky and uncomfortable we have to challenge ourselves so that our relationship can grow and flourish.
Lauren Barron is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate who specializes in serving engaged, newlywed, and married couples. Call her at (713)364-9748 to set up a free consultation or to schedule an appointment.