Yesterday evening I was sitting in my conservatory, looking out into the garden with a quiet sense of amazement about how quickly things grow and bloom with the right conditions. It feels like the sun has only just shown itself here in the UK and already, dormant flowers and plants have exploded almost overnight! The first butterflies and bees have also started to make themselves known. Then I noticed the faint sound of buzzing, and when I looked over my shoulder I saw a bee that had flown in through the open window. As I was trying to reach out and guide it back out from where it came, I watched it flying at the approximate space around the open window, trying to get out, getting frustrated and flying at the same spot over and over again.
It made me think about a couple I had seen that day – David* and Anna*. They had been struggling because they had reached a place in their relationship where they were repeating the same argument over and over again. Neither of them could understand how they had got there, or how to get back out of it. The arguments and disagreements would always be about finances – David felt that Anna could be irresponsible with money and spending beyond their means, and Anna felt that David was being unfair and over-reacting. About once per week, there would be an argument about the same issue. And neither of them felt like anything actually changed afterwards.
What David and Anna hadn’t realised was that the reason that they kept repeating the same cycle, was that even though they kept bringing up the issue, they weren’t really addressing the underlying causes. They were focusing on the surface, more obvious problems. They were focusing on facts and behaviour, for example – “I can’t believe you have spent so much, where has all the money gone?” (David), “You always have a go at me when the credit card bill arrives!” (Anna). I could see straight away that they weren’t talking about their true feelings or underlying concerns.
I gave them a communication exercise designed specifically to get underneath the surface and get straight to the real problem. The results were transformative.
It transpired that David had all sorts of fears about money. His Father had been very irresponsible with money in the past and it had cost his parents their relationship. Whenever Anna spent money without discussing it with him first, he became very anxious about losing control and losing everything – even though he admitted that financially they were actually pretty stable.
Anna, on the other hand, had very controlling parents when she was younger and often felt criticised over small things. Her response would often be to rebel against them as a teenager. Whenever David raised his concerns with her in his anxious state, she would feel “told off” and her default, conditioned response to him would be to dig her heels in and rebel, telling him he was over-reacting.
They had never talked about this with each other before. But once they understood this about each other, the reasons that they were repeating the same pattern became very clear. Crucially, they could work together on stopping the cycle. With this new empathy towards each other, they agreed to collaborate more on money by setting a monthly budget and reviewing it regularly.
Solutions to problems can often be simple. But you have to strip away the confusion and get to the heart of the real issue in the first place. Then you can put it all on the table, you can see it, and you can work with it.
Just as the bee in my conservatory finally found its way out of the window and freed itself back out into the outside World, it is about finding a clear route out of the problem.
It’s not always possible to find your own way out of a problem, as it can be hard to step back and see the bigger picture. Sometimes we all need a little guidance.
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And please comment below if any of this resonates with you – I would love to hear about your experiences!
Take care for now!
*Confidentiality is always protected. Therefore case examples are fictitious and for illustrative purposes only.