Whether it happens over time, or out of the blue to catch you unawares, the collapse of what was supposed to be a “forever” bond can leave you feeling either emotionally fragile, full of self-doubt, seething with rage and resentment, or a combination of all of these. Attachments come with no guarantees; only hopes and dreams for a blissful future, so what are the healthiest ways of coping and getting back on track? Cairo West Magazine has an insightful chat with Marriage and Family therapist Yasmin Magdy.
CWM: How common is it for relationships and marriages to fall apart these days, and what are the main causes?
YM: Unfortunately, a lot of marriages and committed relationships fail nowadays and as a Marriage and Family therapist I witness this on a weekly basis. Reasons range from trust issues to gaps in communication and unclear expectations the couple has of each other. Many are not aware of what it means to be committed. We also tend to have problems in relationship roles where you tend to see that there is no equality in the relationship, which causes resentment and anger against each other. Miscommunication is often uncovered in couples’ therapy, this factor contributes to huge problems in relationships. A lack of communication skills is usually the number one cause of a marriage or a relationship failing. Holding grudges weighs down partners’ hearts and causes them to drift apart.
Many couples fall into Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling, any of which kill intimacy and passion in any relationship. Rather than working on the relationship to establish pillars of trust, respect, appreciation, acceptance and love, couples often give up and end the relationship. Yet I must say that as common as it is for relationships and marriages to fail, I also see a great deal of hope in all the couples who keep trying and who make it to their weekly therapy in an attempt to make it work.
What are the psychological dangers and how can they be addressed?
Attachment styles play a huge role in relationships. The creation of a secure attachment is a must for a relationship to work; otherwise jealousy, insecurity and mistrust develop. Codependency is always a problem when it seeps into a relationship. Denial is also a dangerous element; living in denial is very harmful to a relationship. Anger and resentment affect a partner’s ability to be psychologically and mentally healthy or have the ability to fix the problems present in the relationship. When present it does not leave room for therapeutic work in a relationship.
What are the important do’s and don’ts when you have just come out of a relationship?
A person is in turmoil and trauma after a breakup. The heart is aching and life seems to be a dangerous and unstable place. It is a transitional stage, as therapists would call it, and needs time for healing and re-gathering the pieces. The most important things for a person who has gone through such a tough and unfortunate experience to keep in mind is:
1) Steering away from blaming oneself or the other person.
2) Evaluating the relationship and what lessons were learned from it taking the steps of healing to move on.
3) Seeking therapy is a great help in such cases.
4) Avoid falling into the blame game and seek a support network where one feels safe and loved.
5) The most important ‘don’t’ is to not internalize the breakup and relate it to a deficiency in one’s personality or character, which breaks a person’s spirit, self love and respect.
In therapy you learn to reach outside of yourself and challenge such cognitive errors.
How should matters regarding children in a broken marriage be handled?
It is usually very unfortunate when children are involved in a broken marriage. The main danger I see as a therapist is when children are being lobbied and used to hurt the other partner. Many partners fail to view the real danger to the psyche and growing personality of the child involved. Power struggles should never include children or even be known or felt by the child. Children need to always be informed, either by the partners or in the presence of a therapist about the couple’s intention of dissolving the marriage. Both should make sure that the children involved keep their sense of security by seeing that even if their parents are divorced, in matters relating to them they stay a united front.
How can a person maintain dignity and recover self-esteem when a break up occurs?
Maintaining dignity and an intact self-esteem is very important to heal from a breakup. This happens after the person ceases to internalize the breakup and relate it to personal deficiencies, but rather to the real reasons that lead to the breakup. Self-esteem is always shattered after a break up. Rebuilding oneself and rediscovering a real life meaning is a must in the road of healing from a breakup. Seek help through therapy, secure a support network of loved ones around you, travel and rediscover yourself, reconnect to your higher power, seek a new experience either in a career, exercise or a hobby, love and cherish yourself and most importantly, challenge negative thoughts. In a nutshell, love yourself and be your best supporter when life is tough.
What positive steps should a person take to get their life back into a healthy pattern?
The most important step is to avoid negative emotions or negative self-talk. Challenge the situation, face it and move on. Put yourself first and make getting into a healthy and positive mindset the most important rule in your life.
Exercise, eat healthily, go to therapy, get rid of those negative emotions and speak as if you are your number one supporter and cheerleader. In other words, love yourself and you will see that life will fall into place. Avoid falling into negative spirals of self-pity and blame.
How can a person avoid having friends take sides after a break up?
We always have to remember that people take sides because we let them do that and it is a reflection of our own actions. Friends and family will take sides when you — even unconsciously or unknowingly — let them do that. It is their way of supporting us, which is unhealthy in many cases. When people see you move on, they will too. You let others know through being healthy, intact and in good spirits that this is not the support you need. Encourage support in a different way that pertains to you, rather than against your partner, by being there for you when you need them, taking you out and creating a positive environment, rather than one full of resentments.
Is it beneficial to try to maintain a friendship if no children are involved, or should it be a clean break?
It really depends on the relationship. In cases of abusive relationships, where a person has been involved with an emotionally, verbally or physically abusive person, a clean break up is healthier for the moving on process and being away from this abuse is mandated. If the relationship ended in a civil way where, for example, incompatibility was the reason, then staying friends could take place as long as there would not be anything obstructing your moving on and healing from the breakup.
What is your advice for approaching relationships in a healthy way?
Respect, respect, respect each other. Be one another’s comfort, love each other wholeheartedly. Stay away from criticism, judgment and stonewalling and communicate your feelings more. Always remember that all couples have negative interactions. Happy couples deal with negativity before it turns to resentment. Understanding your partner requires the capacity to listen, really listen, always attempt hear each other’s complaints without feeling defensive or feeling attacked and as great as this sounds, I know it’s a hard task and skill to master but it needs work.
GOTTMAN’S 10 STEPS FOR A HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIP
- Hate less, love more
- Worry less, be secure in your relationship
- Take less, give more
- Consume less, create more
- Frown less, smile more
- Talk less, listen more
- Fear less, try more
- Judge less, accept more
- Watch less, do more
- Complain less, appreciate more