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Three Healthy Steps for Taking Care of a Relationship

Relationships come with their fair share of ups and downs. Love can bring out the best and worst in all of us. While we may love someone, we may not always get along with them. The occasional fight within a relationship is normal and can even be healthy, but there’s a difference disagreeing every so often and having an overall insecure relationship. Relationship insecurity can lead to a lot of turmoil for both partners.

How to Care for a Relationship

Entering and maintaining a close relationship is not unlike caring for a new apartment. Our first assessments are based on what we can easily see. Appearances and first impressions may guide us to our choice to enter a relationship much like they might guide our choice to rent an apartment. However, the next step that frequently accompanies buying a home or even renting is to take a closer inspection. This inspection can reveal some of the more unsightly problems brewing just beneath the surface. “Those beautifully painted walls, it turns out, cover up a large and ominous looking crack. You thought the basement was a great place to make into a media room, but then the inspector reveals that there’s evidence of a mouse infestation. Those windows don’t open and close properly, and under the floors there appears to have been water damage.” says Dr. Susan Whitbourne, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts.

Learning all of the flaws, cracks and crevices in one’s new home can be maddening and disappointing all at once, not unlike learning to spot the flaws in one’s relationships. But it’s all a part of the process. Whether in homeownership or in love, things may not always be what they seem. Forging a good relationship goes beyond just physical attraction. Just as with homes, when it comes to people, expectations may not always meet reality. In response to this, Dr. Whitbourne says “it’s natural to want to walk or run in the other direction. However, if it’s too late to break things off, or you care enough about the person to repair some of the damage, you need a way to fix what’s fixable.”

Thankfully, when it comes to relationships, there is more that we can do to fix the fixable. Psychologist Brian Doss and his colleagues from the University of Miami found that they can use a web-based tool designed to help alleviate relationship distress for couples that would otherwise be in trouble. Another great way to help couples in need is through couples therapy, they note. But their program serves as an alternative to those who prefer internet-based individual therapies. To prove the successfulness of this program, the team conducted a controlled study.

What is IBCT?

According to Dr. Whitbourne, “The type of couples therapy that seems to work best, and also happens to translate well to a web-based adaptation, involves what is called Integrative Couples Behavioral Therapy (ICBT).” What makes ICBT so effective? The success of this approach is likely due to the three key steps it employs, which are as follows:

1. Observe

Dr. Whitbourne alternatively calls this the “home inspection” phase of this treatment. It requires that the individual look, listen, and pay careful attention. In a relationship, this means putting one’s wishes and hopes aside for a moment, as well as one’s desire to defend their own point of view, to try to maintain an objective viewpoint. This is especially important when examining how each partner contributes to the overall quality of the relationship. Because IVCT is a behavioral approach, the focus of the treatment is on actual behavior, not on imagined behavior.

2. Understand

Once patterns have been observed objectively, the next step is to uncover what is behind them. In IBCT, the key is, as Doss and his colleagues explain, to understand how “differences between partners, hidden emotions, external stressors, and patterns of communication might affect the core problem(s).”

3. Respond

The final step is to address the problem or problems the couple is facing. IBCT teaches individuals better ways to communicate with their partners. This can mean mapping out a better course of behavior for oneself and one’s partner. It may also be helpful to realize that there are some problems are just part of the relationship, says Doss. Dr. Whitbourne adds: “For example, one of you may be an extrovert and the other, more introverted. The extrovert has a tendency to leave the introvert out of social conversations. By learning that it’s necessary to develop a more inclusive social style, the extrovert may help alleviate the introvert’s chronic feeling of being ignored.”

Understanding Love

In essence, this process can help not only bring to light some of the deeper issues within the relationship, but can also help couples learn new ways to address and fix them. In doing so, they can effectively repair their relationship insofar as it can be repaired. Once these steps are taken, we can step back and see what other issues need to be addressed. Then rinse and repeat. Relationships change and evolve over time just like people, so their needs will change. Love means addressing these needs as they arise and not being afraid to acknowledge them in the first place.

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