All of us say and do stupid things. It’s part of being human.
Not only are we a work in progress as individuals, but we’re also relationship-challenged. When it comes to being in a committed relationship (one of the three most challenging parts of being human), surviving the normal ups and downs of intimate partnerships, there’s nothing more important than resilience.
But what is resilience when it comes to being in a relationship?
Relationship resilience is the ability to work through and move forward after a setback, injury, or loss to one or both partners. Staying engaged after a serious argument, misunderstanding, or breach of trust — and finding our way back to one another is not an easy proposition.
It would be easier to put up a wall of anger and tell our partners to go jump in a lake. Staying in “the pocket” (to borrow a term from professional football), is as critical to the survival and future success of a struggling relationship as anything.
Picking ourselves up off the floor, dusting ourselves off, and getting back in the game (of love and companionship) requires the following.
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We can be right, and dead wrong. Humility is surrendering the need to be right, take the moral high ground (as the “good guy”), or punish our partner as a way of processing or coping with our pain. Humility sets a tone for listening, empathy, understanding, healing, and eventually, forgiveness.
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We must overcome the desire/impulse for a quick fix to make the “bad” or “negative” feelings go away or to reinstate the “old normal.” Desperation and impatience are the enemies of reconciliation. It takes as long as it takes for us to mend and trust again.
Prevailing over our hurt, anger, and despair, containing our desire for revenge is critical. The depth of our commitment is reflected in our willingness to hang in there through the dry spells, rough stretches, and difficult times when our relationship has lost its way.
The decision to forgive our partners and give them another chance can be painfully difficult. Giving them an opportunity to earn back our love, trust and understanding may take time, patience, and professional guidance.
Working through what happened and being 100% honest with ourselves and our partners will probably determine whether or not we forgive them and move forward, or decide that what they did was unforgivable and move on.
5. Shared ownership and accountability
Taking our fair share of responsibility for what happened (or didn’t happen) and doing whatever is necessary to repair the damage is a formula for success. Blame and shame are counter-productive.
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6. The Ability to Discern Real from False Security/Protection
New and sincere promises, understandings, apologies, and agreements about healthy boundaries and consequences must be established for a committed relationship to begin to heal. Persisting distrust and distance can provide us with a false sense of protection. Real protection and security come from forthright communication, honesty, integrity, and second chances.
In the end, our resilience embodies the willingness to put ourselves and our hearts on the line again, even in the face of possible hurt, humiliation, rejection, and disappointment. We must summon the strength and courage to be real and to go on.
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Relationship resilience is cultivated…one good choice, deed, and deep breath at a time. It means taking the high road and staying engaged, when our instinct might fight (strike back in vengeance) or flight (run away and hide). Rather than going to extremes, escalating, and over-dramatizing when things go south in our relationships, we teach ourselves to process the emotions, speak indirect but respectful tones to our partner, work through our differences and live to fight another day.
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It takes a “big person” to reach out across the dinner table or bedroom and make peace. Half-hearted efforts, allowing resentment to fester into grudges, distancing yourself and creating a new life separate and apart from your partner, and being passive-aggressive (taking indirect “stabs” at your partner) are weak alternatives to patiently working things out.
Resilient couples develop the ability to self-correct, self-educate, self-rehabilitate and self-improve. By learning how to turn lemon into lemonade, partners grow stronger and more stress-resistant — as well as more intimate, confident, and deeply committed.
Ken Druck, Ph.D., renowned communication and resilience expert, is an award-winning speaker and author of several books. His most recent, The Real Rules of Life (Hay House, May 2013), is a guide for turning adversity into opportunity.
Featured photo by seanmcgrath
Originally published May 2013 and updated June 8th, 2014.