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Relationship healing

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- In this month's Psychological Health program article the focus continues to be on damaged interpersonal relationships with emphasis on how to repair damage and improve outlook.

You might recall the suggested steps to take when problems develop, to include first admitting that problems exist within the relationship and then reaching out for help with them. With guidance and support from a trained professional such as a licensed counselor, each person involved is encouraged to take individual ownership of their share of the problems within the relationship. A counselor can help partners improve communication, and reduce destructive behaviors. As you might recall, examples of destructive behaviors belong to the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," which include being overly critical or defensive within the relationship, or possibly exercising unrestrained contempt toward a partner or avoidance of a partner within the relationship.

While the therapist reduces these behaviors, they simultaneously encourage engagement with positive behaviors including attentiveness, care and mutual respect. Once this process is moving and gaining traction, therapeutic emphasis slowly shifts to the home front where skills learned during therapy sessions are practiced.

Let's assume that you have acknowledged something is off in your relationship and you have reached out for support. What can you do during these difficult days to improve things? Taking good care of yourself by paying attention to diet, rest, exercise, work/life balance, humor, faith, hope and mindfulness is a vital step. If you are not taking care of yourself, it will be very hard if not impossible to take care of your relationship. Beyond these basic yet significant prerequisites to healthy living and healthy decision making, I offer a few pointers regarding communication and behavior modification that are important to relationship healing:

Listening: When listening we learn. We learn what the other person is thinking. When listening we spend less time with our own thoughts and more time with our partners thoughts. Listening is respectful.

Repeating: When repeating what we have heard we demonstrate that we have in fact heard what the other person was saying. This allows the other person to know they have been heard which is both validating and respectful. Repeating is considerate.

Imagining: When imagining what it must be like to be wearing the other person's shoes we try to better understanding what they are thinking and feeling; empathy at its best. This act can lower the barriers that separate partners. Imagining is honoring.

Agreeing: Finding areas of common agreement as opposed to conflict is a great first step to promote working together within relationship as opposed to disharmony and separation. Agreeing is joining.

Goals: Creation of goals is another wonderful way to work together toward mutually agreed upon outcomes. Goals are empowering.

Baby steps: Every journey requires a first step typically followed by many baby steps. Although small, baby steps represent movement and change; two elements necessary to create new destinies and health relationships. Baby steps are significant.

Change: If partners are looking for health and healing in their relationships change is part of the process. Without change relationships often remain stuck. Change is commitment.

Engaging in this process requires effort, patience, and resilience.