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Breaking old patterns

People are creatures of habit. Some habits, such as a habit of saving, serve us well. Others, like broken records, churn out the same tunes with annoying repetition.

Some interpersonal conflicts resemble broken records. Although we see the futility of engaging in them, we seem powerless to resist the urge to be drawn into them. It is to a couple caught in this type of cyclical conflict that I wrote the following letter to encourage and point a way ahead for them.

Dear Frederick and Faith1,

Following our last session, I propose you consider a Hard Reset2. Before describing what this might mean, let me reiterate the points leading to my suggestion.

  1. You both have a fairly good idea of what the other wants from the relationship: Faith wants a deeper connection with Frederick and to move away from a purely functional relationship. Frederick wants to feel that he is important to Faith, that he is more than someone she is grateful to and admires as a boss, but wants him as a partner and lover too.
  2. You have both articulated that you are agreeable to the above but do not know how to achieve this.
  3. You both have disappointments and past hurts, and sometimes it appears that each is trying to get the other to acknowledge that “I am hurting too.”
  4. Both of you have headstrong natures. This has led to a state of mutual blame and recriminations. A spiral of negative exchange has set in.

I would not suggest a “Hard Resetting” of this relationship if it were not for this final point:

  1. You both feel passionately for this relationship and for each other. The depth of your feelings showed itself, in the past, in willingness to endure much emotional and financial uncertainty, and, in the present, determination to work hard at this relationship even in the midst of all your hurtful arguments.

I thus propose a Hard Reset to introduce a process of positive exchange:

  • Each of you takes turns to state what you are prepared to do to improve your relationship. Keep in mind what you know your partner is looking for and what you are prepared to offer the other for now.
  • The other is to listen and afterwards state what has been understood and, if needed, ask for clarification. This partner will then take a turn to execute the previous step.
  • After each has had a turn in stating what each is prepared to do, share what you hope the other will do to build a better relationship.
  • Again, take time to listen and seek clarification.
  • With this set of expressed commitments and hopes, begin to take small steps towards fulfilling them. Do not wait for the other or make improvements conditional on what the other does. Act according to what you believe is the right and proper thing to do for each other.

I look forward to our next meeting.

1 Names have been changed to protect the couple’s identity

2 A term used to denote a concerted attempt to restart or reboot the relationship.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

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