Have You Hit a Relationship Rough Patch?

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “we’re going through a rough patch.” Someone said it to me last week, and it got me wondering. When I first heard the term in my 20s, I thought they meant they’d been fighting for a couple of weeks.

Then, when my husband and I separated, someone said, “Oh, you’re just going through a rough patch.” Um, yeah... being separated and on the verge of filing divorce papers is pretty rough. But calling it a rough patch is a little like calling Superstorm Sandy a “rainy spell.”


Maybe not all rough patches are as rough as mine was, so I might be exaggerating slightly. Even so, I feel like it deserves to be called what it is. These rough patches are times when one or both partners is evaluating whether they want to remain in the relationship. They may do it quietly, they may rant and scream to get their needs met, or they may use a therapist or coach to help them navigate the discord.


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All of  it is totally normal. If you’re in a long term relationship and you haven’t had a “rough patch,” then you’re either not paying attention or you’re not communicating at all. The good news is that you can use it to redefine what you want from your relationship. The bad news is that sometimes it’s so rough you don’t make it through. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You’ll probably need professional help; I did, as did every couple I know who has made it through one of these stormy times.


Here are a few things to askwhen your relationship seems like it’s about to derail from its rough patch:

1. What triggered the downward spiral? Was it a particular event, like an affair, or has it been a gradual unwinding? An event can be shocking and can make you think there’s no hope for the relationship, but it’s not necessarily true. On the other hand, a gradual unwinding may make you think that you no longer have anything in common. That may not be true either. I personally believe that almost any relationship can be saved if both partners are willing to do the work. That doesn’t mean every relationship should be saved, but that they can be.

2. What do you really want? Make a list of what each of you wants from a relationship. Share it with each other, and think about whether you are willing to give what your partner wants. You might make your list thinking that your partner could never give you what you desire, then be pleasantly surprised when he says, “I can do that.” Often, we don’t get what we desire because we don’t ask for it. 

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3. How is your partner showing you where you aren’t loving yourself fully? Our romantic partners are perfect mirrors, reflecting how we feel about ourselves at our deepest core. Not sure what your partner is showing you? Try this: change the pronoun. Think of something you say about how your partner treats you, then change the “he” to “I”. For example, “he doesn’t respect my work” was something I used to say about my husband. The truth was that I didn’t respect my work. I was afraid people would judge me as weird, so I put myself down by joking about my work.

4. What are your assumptions and expectations? A long time ago, I learned that when you assume, you make an ass-out of u-and-me. Expectations are just as dangerous, especially when they’re unspoken or subconscious expectations. I talk about honest and open communication, and I can’t overstate how important it is for a long term relationship. Much of what we learn about communication is haphazard at best. Conscious communication is a learnable skill, and well worth the effort.

Rough patches in relationships can create a fresh start and set your relationship on a beautiful new track, or they can be the beginning of the end. How you react and respond to them will determine what you make of them.


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Want help working out your relationship rough patch? Send me an email to schedule a free 30-minute strategy session. johanna@romancerecovery.com



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