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What Goes Around

What Goes Around…

By T. Scott Sewitch, Ph.D.
Beacon Behavioral Services


Men and women often enter into marriage with hopes of receiving unconditional and unlimited love and attention from a partner who lives only to meet their every need. It usually doesn’t take too long for both husband and wife to realize that these initial expectations were something of a fairy tale, and that the person sharing their bed and breakfast table is a separate individual with their own needs, attitudes and behavior patterns. How we deal with that initial shock and disappointment will often determine the future course of our marriage – whether it will be based on mutual affection and respect, or a battleground of ongoing bickering and conflict.

All too often the effort to get our needs met in a marriage degenerates into conflict, with each person digging in and holding their position through a long series of power struggles. These relationships are marked by various negative change strategies, such as arguing, yelling, belittling and withholding. Obviously, this cannot work. People do not get their needs met in this way. No one can actually “win” an argument or power struggle in a marriage. Usually these battles result in a standoff of one sort or another. But, even if one person appears to have “won,” the unhappy reality is that they have defeated their own life partner. Further, the “loser” is left feeling hurt and resentful, and it is only a matter of time before they will try to even the score…and the battle continues. “…What goes around comes around.”

That phrase, while describing the essence of a conflict-filled relationship, also points the way to the solution. That is, the “vicious cycle” of conflict can be changed into a “positive cycle” of mutual caring and respect.

This can happen when both partners begin using positive change strategies. Positive change in a relationship comes about when both people give up on the notion that they can coercively demand that their needs be met, and instead focus on meeting their partner’s needs. If people freely give to each other in this way, both get their needs met.

This is a powerful change and it can work wonderfully well. But, it can be difficult to give up long practiced patterns of arguing and demanding in an effort to get what you need. To help yourself make a positive change, try to remember that putting out a lot of hostile negativity makes it quite likely that hostile negativity is exactly what will be coming back to you. However, if you make the effort to be caring and giving to your partner, you are strongly encouraging them to act that way toward you. “….What goes around comes around.”