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  • Writer's pictureSean Flannery

Reforming Your Relationship

When couples come and see me to help their relationship, issues usually have festered, grown, and become more rigid over time. In fact, one study showed that couples in therapy wait close to three years from when the troublesome patterns began to seeking help (Doherty et al., 2021;! What I would like to go over this post is a perspective and skill of noticing and influencing your own "energy" in the relationship and deciding how to form it. Some people find it helps shed light on what may seem to be a hopeless situation.

Think of the energy that is put out by you in your life in each moment. This could be through physical activities, spending time in your internal world (thoughts, emotions, etc.), and focus and behavior in relationships; pretty much anything you do. Imagine this energy as a piece of clay housed in your torso. That clay has been formed by what has occurred in the past and anticipations of what may happen in the future. It is alive and vibrant, though when things get tough it may appear the clay hardens and becomes immovable. However, once you move past that situation, the clay begins to move around again for the next moment.

In your relationship, especially if there are problems and past hurts, that clay may have developed a pattern of forming into a "wall" or a "bubble" that serves to protect you from being hurt emotionally. Your wall may have developed spikes that make getting closer to you more hurtful to your partner. There might be a filter that only allows messages in that confirm why the bubble exists, but bounces out anything that may contradict it (e.g., the other person is safe and loves you). The clay may prevent you from getting your emotions out so that your partner can really see you.

Now step back and take a long look and see if you can realize what it really is: clay, moldable, and you can influence its shape moment-to-moment. Imagine what could be possible if, instead of constructing a barrier, you crafted the clay into an instrument of joining you and your partner together. What would this look like? Maybe at first the spikes come off the wall, or a hole is opened in the bubble. Little by little the entire shape changes and, consequently, different behaviors are given the opportunity to arise between you and your partner. See if you can try this exercise below. It takes an active imagination and focus on what you bring to your interactions, so give yourself a quiet room and at least 5-10 minutes:


  1. Start by getting in a comfortable position, taking a few deep breaths, and closing your eyes. Form in your mind an image of the clay. Imagine it vibrant and living. Notice what shape it takes right now.

  2. Take a minute to imagine using your hands to manipulate the clay. Can you form it into high energy? Low? Let it go on its own and practice alternating influencing it and letting it do what it wants.

  3. Now think about the last interaction you and your partner had that was difficult. Try and place yourself back at the beginning of the interaction and notice how the clay shapes itself. It is likely a very familiar shape.

  4. Take a few minutes and see if you can mold the clay differently. Squish the wall into some flowers, roll the bubble into an open door...

  5. Finally, picture how the conversation may have been different from then on. Permit yourself to see the best-case scenario, no matter how hard it may be to believe right now.

This exercise can be helpful by allowing you to establish some internal control over your own reactions. The focus is NOT on making certain emotions/thoughts go away (by ignoring, avoiding, forced forgiveness, etc.), but taking your own energy that has been influenced by the emotions, thoughts, and your partner's energy and shaping it differently so that the relationship can escape a little from the typical pattern.

As always try this skill out and, if it seems to be helpful, go crazy with it and use it as much as you want. It is a skill, so practice makes perfect and all that. If you do not find it helpful, or possibly distressing right now, throw it away in your mind's trash bin and practice something else that might be more helpful.

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