“PT” for your Relationship: Using the model of Physical Therapy for strong, resilient connections!
Normally, in intimate relationship, we go along, marking out the steps in our various dances according to the conditioning we’ve received…and things go pretty much as expected. But a critical event can happen, unforeseen or sometimes for-seeable, that causes a rupture. Just like a physical injury creates a rupture in the integrity of the body and its ability to function well, so too a disruption or a break in the regular patterning of a relationship can lead to ill-functioning and crisis. And it may not show up as a singular event—often relationships undergo “stress fractures” just like the body does. Most stress fractures are caused by overuse and repetitive activity…Can you think of any unhealthy patterns in your relationship that can or have caused enough stress that some sort of break occurs? As with any crisis, it forces us to step-back, assess what’s happening anew, and search for ways to bridge or heal.
Recently I took a fall while ice-skating (the last time I went skating was about 50 years ago!). Due to a previous hamstring injury, I—not surprisingly—fell and unfortunately incurred a really serious rotator cuff injury. Due to circumstances and travel, I was unable to get it checked for a full month. While I’m sure resting it was essential, I worried I wasn’t starting the healing process soon enough.
When I did start PT, and diligently performed my exercises, I noticed some real changes at first, and that gave me hope that the situation wasn’t as dire as I feared. With the passage of a few weeks, however, I noticed that some things got worse, while others continued to get better (sound familiar?). I needed to keep checking in with the therapist and other healers to make sure that I was getting a well-rounded approach to healing.
It occurred to me early on in my physical therapy process, while lifting my minuscule 1 lb. weight and trying not to grimace, that relationships really could use “PT” on an on-going basis. That the the health of relationships could be maintained by having the energy between two people flowing optimally, through strong bonding, creating a deep sense of safety, the proper amount of space, true flexibility, and deep attunement—all creating greater resiliency!
In broad strokes, what follows are the basics of what needs to be in place for healthy relationship functioning. If you find you are having trouble creating structures for these key points, then come on in for some training!
- Do no harm (create a safe space for both partners)
- Know when to stop
- Recognize the signs that you or your partner are triggered or flooded
- Learn how to implement the Pause, or a full time-out
- Discuss and agree upon the strategies with your partner
- Commitment to non-violent communication
- Learn on one’s own with Marshall Rosenberg’s book
- Take a course to learn NVC
- Do an anger-management course
- Learn and practice anger-clearing exercises regularly
- See what is working, and consciously uphold it
- Daily reflection, gratitude practice, mindfulness, journaling, etc.
- Attunement and Affirmation: consistently checking in with how your partner is doing, and offering loving gestures, touch, words, or acts of service, etc. that create and sustain a strong bond
- Creativity: bring freshness to the relationship through creative ideas, plans, surprises
- Heal old wounds (these are the “PT exercises” that create deeper change)
- Grievance exercises
- Empathy—“suffering with;” get to the heart of how something feels to your partner
- Embodied Awareness: resting gently in your experience, feeling everything, and allowing the process to ultimately clear enough away that you can re-connect in a calm, open way
- RAIN: utilize this mindfulness process outside of time with your partner, to feel, investigate and clarify upsetting emotions or memories, then practice not identifying with them
- Be aware that progress may seem undetectable, then a big shift occurs “all at once,” or things get better “out of the blue.”
All of the above things need to be in place for optimal functioning in any relationship…and we under-estimate how much time and commitment to PROCESS a deep relationship takes. So, the good news is: we get to do “PT” for the entire life of the relationship!!
The hards news is that very few of us, if any, can know the exact process it will take to recover the truest parts of a relationship, once a certain amount of damage has been done. Couples counseling is necessary when 1) there are patterns that are too entrenched to recognize fully, 2) you need help obtaining a neutral point of view, 3) you aren’t getting traction trying to work things out on your own, 4) when you need more emotional, spiritual or intellectual support. Don’t wait too long to reach out for help, as studies show that many couples come too late to couples counseling for it to help save the relationship.