To learn more about how excess clutter can affect your relationship we turned to registered psychologist Lesley Lacny. "Negative feelings tend to accumulate over time as we don't always know how to deal with them," she explains. We delve into why it's important to get rid of what doesn't work in your relationship and how to hold onto what does.
1. What is relationship clutter?
Relationship clutter can include resentment, communication problems, sexual issues, mistrust, arguments, stonewalling (emotionally shutting down or shutting the other person out), differences in parenting styles, financial issues and shifts in lifestyles or values, says Lacny. All couples struggle with some of these issues at one point or another, but allowing them to get out of hand is what causes relationship clutter.
One of the main reasons small disagreements can turn into long-term problems is because we tend to have relationships with people who have different personality traits and coping styles than we do, explains Lacny. These differences require us to adapt to new ways of responding or being that can be out of our comfort zones or preferred ways of doing things.
"Initially, we tend to be drawn to and admire the differences our partner holds, but it's these differences that can develop into irritations," she says. We then in turn expect our partner to adapt to our ways of being rather than figuring out a common ground that works for both communication styles.
When this happens we often find ourselves fighting or shutting down and issues are left unresolved while resentment and negative feelings continue to grow.
2. The problems relationship clutter creates
If unacknowledged, these issues can lead to disconnection and can chip away at the foundation of your relationship -- the love bond that keeps a couple connected. "Problems are a part of any relationship, but without a strong foundation, they will be much more difficult to work through," says Lacny.
Unresolved issues can also lead to the development of resentment, mistrust, hopelessness, a lack of desire to work on the relationship and the feeling that the love for your partner has dissolved -- all of which further erodes the relationship foundation.
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For some people, adds Lacny, unresolved issues can even lead to infidelity when one person looks outside the relationship to seek what they feel is missing from their relationship.
3. Declutter your relationship
Even healthy relationships have problems. It's how we handle these problems that make all the difference. Lacny provides some simple strategies to avoid relationship clutter.
• Don't let things fester.
Deal with issues as they come up. If things get heated, allow some time for you and your partner to cool down, but then go back to the issue, talk about what happened and listen with compassion. Explore together why the issue evoked the responses it did and look at what can be done differently next time.
• Spend time on your relationship.
Relationships take effort and commitment. Spend some stress-free time together that is reserved just for fun. Get involved and interested in each other's lives beyond worrying about bills, chores or other stressors.
It's important to keep the channels of communication open so you can work through issues before they have a chance to take root. It can be difficult to know how your partner is feeling without taking the time to talk about it.
• Do nice things for each other.
Find out how you can make your partner feel cared for, and act upon it without being prompted to. The more supported and loved they feel, the less likely relationship clutter will amass.
Just as you wouldn't allow layers of dust to accumulate on a prized family possession, you shouldn't let relationship clutter weigh down your connection with your loved one. Be aware of the triggers of relationship clutter and take the necessary steps to avoid them.
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