What Do Potholes Have to Do with Your Relationship?

Posted on Mar 4, 2015
Hooray!  We made it through February! What a crappy month it was, full of snow, ice, freezing temperatures, school closings, and sick kids.  Good riddance!

Unfortunately, even after the snow and ice finally melt away, we still have to deal with the damage they leave behind: potholes. I know that potholes are normal this time of year, but they turn a simple ride to work into a stressful obstacle course. Hitting a pothole at full speed not only feels horrible, it can really damage your car.

After a particularly bumpy ride to work last week, I realized that the process of forming a pothole actually mirrors the effect of negativity in relationships.


Negativity seeps in like the water in the first image.  Though it causes only a slight bump on the surface, the negativity is actually doing a lot of harm to the base of the relationship below.  Because everything looks fine on the surface, couples don’t realize that their relationship is weakening.  Over time, the foundation of the relationship is so damaged that it can’t support the usual stress.


I am working with a couple, Bill and Jane, who are coping with the potholes in their relationship.  (Obviously, Bill and Jane are not their real names.) They love each other very much but they are struggling to get along.  Their relationship used to feel like a smooth and easy drive on a beautiful summer day.  Now it feels like they can’t go more than a few days without slamming into a relationship pothole.


Here’s how one of their potholes was formed.  Bill and Jane have a pattern in which Jane uses hyperbole to express herself and Bill responds with an authoritarian tone in order to “bring Jane back to reality.” This pattern, like the traffic pattern above, may have worked well for them 20 years ago, but it is not working now.


Jane has become even more dramatic in an attempt to be heard and Bill, losing his patience with the theatrics, has become more intensely authoritarian.  Whenever the pattern repeats, Jane’s resentment grows beneath the surface creating more and more negative feelings toward Bill.


The communication pattern seems to be to blame, but that’s just the usual traffic.  It’s Jane’s resentment that weakened the foundation of their relationship road.  Combine Jane’s resentment and the stress of the relationship traffic pattern and they’ve made a big pothole.


For Bill, the pothole seems to have appeared out of nowhere but it was actually developing beneath the surface for quite a while.  He certainly felt that the road was getting rough but he had no idea why his wife seemed to be so angry with him.


How was Bill supposed to know how Jane felt when she never spoke up? 


Here’s the rule of the road.  If you are upset, you have two choices: deal with it or let it go.


Stuffing our feelings instead addressing them only leads to more negativity.  We often suppress our feelings hoping to avoid conflict but this inevitably backfires. When we internalize negativity, it expands in our minds and damages the relationship as a whole.   It also deprives us of the opportunity to make amends and change the traffic pattern.  


If you want to keep your relationship road strong, deal with problems as they arise.  If you find that trying to address the issues only leads to more damage, it’s probably time to find some roadside assistance to help you repair the road and get you heading in the right direction.