A lot of people ask the same simple question when starting therapy: does it work? The answer to that question can be less simple. In short, you get out of it what you put into it. If you’re occasionally invested, you may occasionally see results. If you’re consistent and engaged, you will consistently see the impact of your efforts.
The second stage of that question is, what happens if the problem comes back? People can spend significant time and energy exploring a problem and doing the work to repair and create new patterns in their lives, but that doesn’t mean they will never experience the problem again.
This can feel disheartening, and understandably so. But one of the most important things to remember is that patterns are usually cyclical. The second most important thing to remember is that if you’ve done the work to process and repair, when you meet the problem again you’re not the same person. You have new tools, skills, and understanding of the problem from your new perspective. That means addressing the problem will look different too. So don’t get too discouraged! You’re more prepared than you think.
Relationships are one of the most common places that cyclical problems or conflicts show up. Have you ever had that feeling that you could almost script an argument because you’ve had it so many times? A lot of us have.
When working through a returning problem with a partner, these are some key areas to keep in mind:
- You didn’t fail! Problems return sometimes and that’s okay.
- Your partner didn’t fail! When both partners are committed to working through the problems as they emerge, it leaves more space to see your partner as a person who is also trying their best.
- You’ve been here before. Now this can be the part that discourages people, but it can also be your greatest strength. Familiarity alone is a tool when repairing problems.
- You know more now. You understand more about your experience and your partner’s experience. You looked behind the curtain.
- You can do more now. Because you know more about the problem and where it comes from, you have the ability to address it differently and earlier. You can speak from your understanding and help bring your experience and your partner’s experience together sooner.
- Your partner can do more too. You’re not alone in it! When you both processed through this problem in the past, your partner’s insight is just as valuable and they can help catch you earlier too.
- There’s more to learn. Even familiar problems can hold new information, so try to practice staying curious with your partner as you work through the problem together.
- You know what resources you need. Taking breaks, going on walks, writing things down…whatever tools you learned help you organize yourself and respond instead of react to your partner, you have access to those.
Problems return both in and out of the therapy setting. Whether you’re in therapy at the moment a problem returns or if you start therapy again because of the problem, therapy can be one of the most consistent sources of support for your relationships.
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