By Michael Kimmel
In my work as a psychotherapist, I see it over and over again: A perfectly happy single person meets someone wonderful, they start to date, things get serious and — boom! — hello relationship drama! Over the past 20 years, how many times have I heard a client say, “I thought I’d worked out my personal problems, but, now there’s all this drama and conflict since I met (name of new partner). What do I do?”
Oh yes, dear readers, being in a relationship brings up stuff that you thought you’d “worked through.” Surprise! You haven’t. Or, to be more accurate, you worked through a lot of it. But, now, with a new partner, it’s obvious that there’s more that you haven’t addressed. And only a new relationship will bring it all up.
What to do? Fear not! Because this too is workable. I address it specifically in my book, “The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage” (now available in paperback) and you don’t need to be a gay man or in a marriage to find this advice useful.
Any relationship is going to bring up some drama, it’s inevitable, even if you’re dating the Dalai Lama (but, is he single?).
Here’s a definition of drama that I like: “An exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or circumstances.” When unexpected joy, love or affection comes our way, we usually feel pretty good about it. So, all drama isn’t bad. However, the drama we don’t want: 1) is negative; 2) loves conflict; and 3) feeds on jealousy, envy and resentment.
How can we minimize this “bad drama” and replace it with peace and happiness? Consider these ideas from my book (Chapter 2: Competition and Conflict) to reduce the drama in your relationship(s):
- Don’t judge yourself or your partner for creating drama. It won’t help. We’re all doing the best we can until we become more stable and secure. Try to understand what’s going on with your partner instead of judging them: they may have something worth considering.
- Get good at recognizing “The Drama Sequence”: 1) something happens; 2) your mind starts to feed on it; 3) you build a story in your head; 4) your emotions get all jacked up; and 5) you act out/react badly.
- What is your motivation for creating drama? You won’t do anything repeatedly unless there’s something in it for you, so, what’s the payoff? Are you looking for attention or excitement? If so, can you get it more directly? If you’re bored, what new adventures can you create with your partner?
- Don’t take things so personally. Try this mantra. “It’s not about me. It’s not about me.” This will minimize your tendency to over-react and instead, you can respond more calmly to what your partner’s saying.
- Get out of your head and into your heart. In an emotional situation with your partner, don’t just vent. Instead, try reflective listening: “It sounds like you’re really upset about this. Let’s talk about it.” A little empathy goes a long way.
- A lot of drama in a relationship comes from anger and poor communication. Speak your truth to your partner as respectfully and kindly as you can. It’s not easy, but it can save you both a lot of heartache in the long run.
- If it’s your partner who’s emotionally jacked up, you can aim for a “neutral” state so their drama doesn’t trigger yours. Breathe calmly and tell yourself, “I am safe.” Diffuse their drama by staying centered yourself.
Since every relationship has drama, why not learn how to work with it? The better you get at calming yourself (and your partner), the less drama you’re likely to experience. Two relatively calm people can talk through even the most difficult experiences without a lot of upset and hurt feelings.
If you’d like more tools for reducing drama in your relationship(s), go to my website (https://www.lifebeyondtherapy.com/mybook/) and check out my book (finally, it’s available in paperback). For a limited time, the paperback edition is priced at $14 if you order it through the website (it’s $20 if you order through Amazon).
— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.
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