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Relationship rehab: Advice from the experts

Affairs? Finances? Bickers about the BlackBerry? Perhaps it's time to call in the love doctors. We asked the experts for their advice on five common relationship wreckers

Compiled by Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius
1 Feb 2012 | 12:00 am
  • Couple arguing

    In conflicts, try to use 'I feel' statements, which are empowering, rather than 'you are' statements, which are blaming.

    Source:Getty Images

"My husband spends a lot of time away from home on business trips. At first it was hard but now I have got used to it and I can't help but feel like he is intruding when he is at home. How can I learn how to make space for him in my life? Do you have any tips for making this situation work?" 

Evelyn: "As with most changes and challenges in life, the key to a long-distance relationship is not resisting the situation you are in and not fighting it. If it is the way things are now, you may just as well surrender to it. Use this as an opportunity to spend some time with yourself and to wonder in the marvel of each other when you meet again. Making a long-distance relationship work is not always easy - but labelling the situation as bad, or complaining about it, also doesn't help. Allow yourself to miss your partner, to enjoy your time apart, and to enjoy your time together. Remember Khalil Gibran's quote, ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you'." 

Michelle: "What has probably happened here is that you initially found it difficult to be away from your husband and you consciously, or subconsciously, developed a way to cope by creating a space in your life for you to live in by yourself. That personal space grew bigger, so that now when he's at home you feel like it's an intrusion.

It's not easy for a person to switch between long-distance and short-distance relationships, so you'll need to choose. If you choose to treat this like a short-distance relationship, you will go back to feeling it's hard when he goes on his business trips - counteract this by spending lots of quality time together when he is in town so you have lots of good memories to hold on to when he goes away.

If you decide to treat this like a long-distance relationship, you will be fine when he is away and feel like he is intruding when he is home. To counteract this, create a retreat just for you in your home, such as a room where you can spend time if you need to. It's important to ensure that living apart does not mean growing apart... communication on a daily basis is very important. Spend your time apart planning all the lovely things you will do when you are together.

Also, keep the romance alive with surprises - an SMS, a mailed letter, or even a surprise visit. Nevertheless, ‘forever' and ‘long-distance relationship' do not go hand in hand. Be prepared to have to make a decision one day about whether you relocate, or your husband finds another job here."

"My husband and I always argue about money. I don't agree with what he thinks we should spend money on, and vice versa. I have been a stay-at-home mother for the past five years, which has meant cash flow has been tight. I feel like money is getting in the way of our relationship." 

Evelyn: "Money is often a recurring issue in relationships. If you argue when discussing money on a regular basis, it has probably become a perpetual problem, which means you may not find a solution to it. However, you can learn to navigate your differences and create a better understanding of what spending, or not spending, means to each of you. The key is not to want to change your partner but to be curious about what values he honours around money.

Relationship coaches say there is a dream behind every complaint - be curious about your partner's dreams around money. For example, he may have a value of abundance, of living in the here and now, so that spending money is really about honouring these values. Or perhaps he values family and wants your family to be financially safe, so that in the future you can be better off. Once you understand your partner's values and dreams behind the issue, then the whole atmosphere changes in the relationship and the next time you discuss money, it will not be tense but hopefully filled with more love, compassion and understanding."

"I was in a relationship for nearly ten years until my partner had an affair. Now, he says he wants a second chance. What should I do?" 

Evelyn says: "An affair is often ‘the' dramatic event that forces a relationship over the edge. As challenging as it can be, it can also become a catalyst for being more conscious in your relationship. Here are a few tips for working through it. Firstly, there will be a lot of anger, sadness, hurt and guilt - and this is normal. Secondly, the process of recovering requires the person who had the affair to acknowledge their partner's pain and give them space, while accepting that they will be blamed.

The ‘victim' also needs to share responsibility. I know this is a hard one to swallow but most affairs happen because something is not working in the relationship. Ask yourself and your partner: ‘What version of yourself did the affair allow you to be, that you couldn't be in our relationship?' It's important that the one who has been betrayed gets past their role of playing the righteous victim, otherwise the constant blaming will not allow the relationship to recreate itself. Both parties may need to talk to an unbiased onlooker by themselves.

Creating shared meaning helps you grow as a couple and move forward more united. This can only happen if you share responsibility. Otherwise the ghost of the affair will keep you trapped in the past. Ultimately, the outcome depends on your relationship's ability to create shared meaning out of the event." 

Nazanin says: "Start by examining what trust, love and respect mean to you and how these look in a partnership. Then look at how you came to have those meanings - what experiences have influenced you? And is it healthy for you to try to apply them to your current situation? Once you've clarified these, you'll have a better idea of what to do."

"When I try to talk to my husband, he rarely pays attention as he is either thinking about work, or checking his BlackBerry. It makes me feel small and insignificant." 

Julie-Ann: "As a relationship coach, I coach the couple, not just one person. In this situation, I would advise you to replace judgement with curiosity. For example, rather than saying, ‘Why aren't you paying attention to me?', try saying, ‘I'm curious - when would be a good time for us to talk, as you seem to be busy right now?' If he answers with something like, ‘I'll be finished with this in an hour', you could respond with, ‘Great! I like spending time chatting with you about my day', which reinforces positive behaviour.

However, if the response is negative, it would be time to address the behaviour - you could say, ‘I feel small and insignificant when I can't communicate', which addresses the behaviour, rather than ‘I feel small and insignificant when you don't listen to me', which addresses the person. In conflicts, try to use ‘I feel' statements, which are empowering, rather than ‘you are' statements, which are blaming."

If your partner wants children but you don't, what's the answer? Should it be a deal-breaker? 

Evelyn says: "Though having such a difference on a major life decision can be challenging, it does not have to mean the end of it. You can use this difference as an opportunity to understand each other better... What does having children mean to each of you? What is important to you both about having, or not having, children? What is the dream behind wanting children or not wanting children? Often this will be related to each others' values... for example, it could be that one of you values family, while the other values freedom. Ask your partner these questions, be curious. Although you may not be able to change each others' minds, you will learn about each others' values and hopefully move from a negative place to a place of greater understanding and closer connection, which will help you to navigate your difference peacefully."

Michelle says: "There are a few potential outcomes; a win-win, a win-lose, or a lose-lose situation. As your partner wants kids and you are certain that you don't, a win-win situation is not possible. A win-lose situation would be upsetting for one of you, so let's not consider this option - but a lose-lose situation, although it sounds awful, is actually best. Try to come to a solution that does not favour one person over the other. A good way to do this is to both come up with your own lists of reasons for having children, and lists of reasons against. Talk about how many children your partner wants to have and why, and the reasons why you don't. If, for example, your partner wants three children and would like to start trying this year, and you don't want any children right now because you're focusing on your career, a lose-lose situation would mean having one child in a few years. Ultimately, if you cannot reach a satisfactory decision, your partner will have to decide whether wanting to have children outweighs wanting to spend a lifetime together."

The love doctors 

 "The key to a good relationship is to do the small things often." 
 - Evelyn Heffermehl is a certified professional co-active life coach and a qualified relationship coach at Light House Coaching in Dubai (www.lighthousecoaching.ae).  

"People need relationship help as human beings are so complex. When you put two complex beings together, sparks fly and things get challenging."
  Julie-Ann Odell is a co-active life coach and relationship coach at Jupiter Eclipse Training (www.jupitereclipse.com).

"It's not about finding the right person but about cherishing the person you have found."
 -
Michelle Burton-Aoun is a Dubai-based life coach, specialising in relationships, careers and personal goals. (lifecoach-michelle.com). 

"One of the biggest misconceptions about relationships is the belief that falling in love is love."
 - Nazanin Sadegh Pour is both a psychologist and life coach at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai (hridubai.com).

Compiled by Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius

Compiled by Louisa Wilkins, Features Editor, Aquarius