Relationship Struggles: Is this normal? (You might be surprised to learn how relationships "operate")

Posted by Anna Gold, M.S.W., R.S.W. & Tim Utting, M.A., B.Ed. on August 22, 2023 at 11:30 AM
Anna Gold, M.S.W., R.S.W. & Tim Utting, M.A., B.Ed.

4 minute read

whats normal in relationship struggles-1

Have you ever had a moment in your relationship where you asked yourself, "Is this normal? Is this how relationships are supposed to work?" Or, imagined that the grass must be greener and other people have smoother, more stress-free ease between them?

Maybe you're talking with your partner, and you suddenly experience an automatic response before they're done speaking, kind of an "auto-reply" from a computer that says "sure" or "no!"

Perhaps you feel your partner "talks at you" and not with you? Or seems to be talking to you in what feels like a different language? You may feel flooded with info that you need more time to digest before you can even be a part of the conversation.

Does any of this sound familiar? Well, if you and your partner want to live in a relationship that has more understanding of and for one another, then looking at what makes one another "work" or "operate" is essential.

Relationship Struggles: Are You Ready to Explode or Shut Down?


You are not alone. Many couples struggle with what we call in Imago Therapy, the Turtle and Hailstorm dance. It's common to discover that you and your partner have radically different Operating Systems - yes, just like a computer. We're still learning information about how a computer's operating system manages the central processing unit, disc drives, memory, printers, establishing user interfaces, and executing and servicing applications software.

Admittedly, we still need to grasp the specifics of all of this fully. Yet, we have allowed ourselves to entertain an analogy between Computer Operating Systems and how humans function and interact. Humans are individually highly complex and unique, with a myriad of factors determining how we each work, such as:

  • Our emotional wiring
  • Our speed of processing
  • Our nervous system
  • Our conditioning
  • Our life experiences
  • Our family history
  • Our cultural background

And so much more to program our systems!

Relationship Interactions Are Multileveled

relationship interactions are multilayered

The eternal question for those who want to figure out how to have both relationship-lasting power and a deeply loving and learning experience with their partner is:

  • "How do you manage your interactions with one another more easily?"

Couples need a little help learning how to get underneath their differences with a view to deeper understanding and connection. If we accept that two inherently different operating systems are at play, we can engage in some honest curiosity about one another. We invite you to get curious about yourself first with the following questions:

  • How do I operate individually?
  • What is my Operating System?
  • What are the events and interactions that most frequently "trigger" me?
  • How can I slow down, notice, and share with my partner instead of auto-reply or react immediately?

Next, be curious about your partner. Become a kind and inquisitive detective. Ask the same questions of your partner because what we do know for sure is that curiosity is a terrific and effective antidote to reactivity. Maybe inquire:

  • "Help me understand what is underneath your reaction to this situation because I can see it is so different from mine."

Admitting that you don't fully understand your partner is honest and helpful and is a very different response than:

  • "Why the &%#* are you acting or reacting this way?"
  • "What's wrong with you?"

Ultimately engaging with a more detective-like interest and a less critical-judging response will invite softening. After all, we all yearn for softer responses from our partners, even as we sometimes unintentionally elicit harshness or distance.

Use Mindful Connection To Have The Relationship You Want

mindful connection in couples

We encourage you to learn the art of Intentional Dialogue. The Imago Dialogue holds a space for two radically different Operating Systems to interface in a way that both have relevance, respect, and merit; both individuals are considered, and both are heard and validated.

Consider having a Dialogue about how you operate, what you know about your speed of processing, your nervous system, your organizational thinking, and so many other aspects of who you are, including how it feels when too much or too little information or responsiveness comes your way.

How your relationship operates depends on how you each operate, and understanding and working within those parameters helps. Only then do you truly see and experience your partner and vice versa.

Be sure to share these moments of understanding, primarily when not in conflict, to provide deep learning about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. And with a pay-off as delicious as a conscious connection, why not try to get to know one another's operating systems on the deepest level to have the relationship you both genuinely want?!

If you're ready to learn more about what's normal in relationships and understand your relationship struggles better, we're here to help with our online and in-person Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy.

Discover more about Imago with our Imago Professional Membership, Imago Professional Facilitators, Imago Professional Training, and Imago Educational Webinars.

Connect. Transform. Thrive.

Anna Gold, M.S.W., R.S.W. & Tim Utting, M.A., B.Ed.

Anna Gold earned her Master’s in Social Work in 1988. Anna works with the belief that it is in the depth of human connection that real understanding and healing can occur. Deeply appreciating the theory which connects her passion for inner work and relational work, Anna began studying IMAGO therapy in 2011. Anna also enjoys work as a clinical supervisor for therapists who are committed to the understanding that increased self-awareness, personal growth, and self-reflection are critical components of clinical competency.

Tim Utting earned his Master’s degree in Political Science in 1989. His interest in politics lay in human behaviour where he found himself exploring such questions as “What is charisma and attraction?” After receiving his degree from the University of Toronto in 1990, he began his career as both a high school teacher and adjunct professor in education. Tim’s interest in human relationships, attraction and perception are all deeply embedded concepts in the world of relationship therapy. In addition, his love of teaching and his skills in helping others to ‘metabolise’ challenging concepts are at the forefront of his contribution to the workshop experience.

Anna & Tim met as graduate students in 1987. Although they were at the same university, it was at a Halloween party when they first laid eyes on each other. The rest of this story of unlikely pairing is playfully shared at their Getting the Love You Want Workshops! As with most romantic relationships, it was their similarities which appeared to draw them together.

As Tim & Anna grew to know one another over the years, and over the course of raising two strong, caring and connected young men, their differences became even more apparent and they found that they were often in conflict that they did not know how to resolve.

In 2008 Anna met an IMAGO therapist who became her clinical supervisor and it was only then that the couple began to learn how to bridge their differences. Encouraged to study IMAGO therapy herself, Anna began a new and exciting phase in her counselling career. As part of her certification, Anna was required to attend a ‘Getting the Love You Want’ workshop and Tim agreed to join her. From that point on there was no turning back. Tim & Anna have embraced IMAGO and conscious connection thoroughly - though originally as ‘dragger’ & ‘draggee’... they now walk through their lives together with intention. Their passion is to share the work and rewards of conscious coupleship with others.

Discover more about Anna and Tim at:


Topics: Relationship Therapy, Healthy Communication, Imago Relationships, Getting the Love you Want, Keeping the Love Alive, Long Term Relationships, Mature Love, Imago Dialogue, Healthy Love, Marriage Tips, Relationships 101, Long Lasting Love, Marriage Workshop, Adult Relationships, Relationship Struggles, Relationship Advice, Relationship Issues, Mindful Relationships, Mindful Connection

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The Imago Relationships Blog features content from our team of professional therapists, workshop presenters and facilitators who are passionate about helping you discover a new way to communicate and love your life.

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