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Pulling Yourself Out of a Relationship Spiral

Instagram might convince you otherwise, but every couple experiences ups and downs in their relationship. You know what it feels like at the bottom of a downward relationship spiral.

You lock yourself out of the house. You don’t eat often enough. You get a rejection letter from a coveted job.

And when your partner isn’t 100% listening to your complaints, your mood sours. He retreats to another room, feeling badgered and hurt. You both wonder what went wrong.

Halt the Relationship Spiral Cycle

A relationship spiral or cycle can feel very powerful. That “inevitable” feeling actually comes from how quickly you react to each other – especially when intense emotions arise.

But you can break the self-feeding chain. And all you have to do is interrupt one step. Keep reading for an arsenal of tools to stop the spiral.

Check Your Own Emotions

What mood are you bringing into the situation? Sometimes this paints the picture far more clearly than anything your partner has said or done.

Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training outlines a useful technique called STOP. Try using this when you feel flooded by emotion.

  • S – Stop. As in literally freeze. Do not choose any action. Do not even listen to a strong emotion.
  • T – Take a step back. This might involve a break, a jog, or some breathing (or jumping).
  • O – Observe yourself. What do you notice in your current inner state? In your current outer state?
  • P – Proceed mindfully. Now that you have calmed down and gathered neutral information, what is the wisest choice you can make?

Of course, this probably sounds easier said than done. That’s why it helps to have a list of your preferred STOP activities ready before you’re in a bad mood.

Check the Facts

When you jump to negative conclusions, you often push yourself into a downward relationship spiral.

Why would we assume the worst about our partner? Therapy may help you explore the past traumas or personal narratives that fuel this.

Balance your perspective by collecting facts. When your partner said that she’d love to live somewhere with seasons, was she really telling you that she hates your current house and wants to move? Or was that an offhand daydream? Maybe she doesn’t even remember saying it.

Surprise Yourself

Have you ever laughed in the middle of a tense situation? Maybe you noticed how silly the phrase “We need more milk!” sounds when shouted angrily.

Surprise can work wonders to “break the spell” of a downward spiral:

  • Offer a compliment. Tell your partner something you like about them in a sweet and sincere way.
  • Catch them off-guard with kindness. Leave a small gift or note on their path. Do a chore for them. Make them a snack.
  • Distract yourself with positive activities. Things that help you feel warm, amazed, and open-hearted. Go for a walk. Watch a nature documentary. Do a craft you love. Talk to an old friend.
  • Keep an open mind. You change as a person each day. So does your partner. When you leave room for curiosity about who they are today, you’ll always find room for surprise.

Get Help When You Feel Like You’re in a Relationship Spiral

You don’t need to have all the answers in your relationship. If you feel like the rough days outweigh the happy ones in your relationship, reach out for help from a professional counselor. Sometimes the addition of an outsider’s perspective is enough to make a bad mood bubble pop.


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Copyright @2020 Dana Cole, LMFT