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The Relationship Reset Fallacy

The Relationship Reset Fallacy

Posted on March 4th, 2024 by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C

relationship resetsRelationships are hard. They take work. Sometimes, they struggle.

If your relationship is not in good shape, know that (1) this is a normal thing to go through, and (2) it can get better.

Couples counseling can do a lot to help you turn things around. It’s a shame that many couples don’t even consider this option until things are on the brink!

Sometimes couples come to counseling wanting to know how to “reset” their relationship so they can start over fresh with a clean slate.

This sounds like a great way to restart and rebuild the relationship, demolish the whole house, and build a brand-new one. But I generally caution people to stay away from this approach.

I want to explain why resetting your relationship doesn’t work.

  1. Old patterns are still in place.
  2. Old hurts haven’t been addressed.
  3. You don’t have any new tools to work with.
  4. The fundamental issues that led to your relationship problems are still there.


So, while the idea may sound appealing, there are several reasons why simply “resetting” a relationship may not be effective.

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Why Resetting Your Relationship Doesn’t Work

Let’s delve deeper into the four reasons why resetting relationships doesn’t always work:

1. Old patterns are still in place

old patterns still in place

The things that drive you crazy in your relationship are probably not a collection of one-off problems that somehow keep coming up. It’s probably the same or a few issues that keep happening. Fights over money or the kids, tension around your sex life, repeated miscommunications – whatever it is in your relationship that you know isn’t working.

The idea of putting that all behind you and starting over is certainly appealing. The problem is that old habits die hard. Old patterns are hard to break without a conscious effort to do something different. If you’ve had numerous arguments about, say, household chores, those will continue to cause tension. This will persist unless you directly address the issue and change how you manage them.

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The Need for Personal Change

You may also have to make changes in yourselves if one of you is lazy, entitled, obsessive about neatness, or whatever issue that contributes to the chores problem.

Sure, you can agree to wipe the slate clean and not argue about this anymore. But until the old patterns are addressed and changed, one or both of you is still going to be irritated about the chore situation, which will grow back into the same old tension. It’s going to build right up on top of the old problem, the one you thought you wiped away but which is magically resurrected in the face of the same provocations happening again in your relationship.

If your house is poorly constructed, it doesn’t help much to knock it down and build it again the exact same way!

2. Old hurts haven’t been addressed

old hurts haven’t been addressed

That brings us to our second point. You may think you’re resetting the relationship, letting go of things that happened in the past and looking to the future instead. But in reality, that is nearly impossible to do.

There are hurts that you can probably move on from simply by making the decision to do so. You can forgive your partner for calling you an unpleasant name or losing their temper once in a while.

But what if the name they called you really hit deep? What if you wonder whether your partner actually thinks you’re stupid, hypersensitive, or unattractive? If you’re insecure about something like this, you can’t just suddenly believe that it’s not an issue for your partner and feel totally secure that you are respected and valued as you are.

What if there’s been a breach of trust? You found your partner sexting with someone else (or worse) – can you simply choose to become trusting again overnight simply because you both agree to make everything okay now? Unlikely.

Your partner’s actions have caused you pain, potentially deep pain. If you don’t confront and mend this, it will inevitably resurface after the “reset.”

You can’t tear down a shaky house and rebuild it if there’s still a crack in the foundation.

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3. You don’t have any new tools to work with


fundamental issues are still there, affecting the relationship reset

Even if you manage to forget the past and the accumulated hurts in the relationship. The “new” relationship is likely to be similar to the “old” one without new ways of doing things.

Okay, so you’ll stop arguing about the chores, and both just pitch in. But what happens when someone forgets a chore? Or when nobody wants to sort the socks after they come out of the dryer? If you haven’t learned new communication skills, the friction points that arise in every relationship will cause trouble again.

Likewise, a problem that existed before may still need a solution, even if you could genuinely agree not to hold onto how it previously affected you. For example, if your sex life is flagging and you’re both frustrated about it, you may decide to start over. But if you don’t know what to do differently, it will probably go back to not quite right and not enough pretty quickly.

If you don’t like how your house is built, it probably won’t help much to build a new one using the same contractor with the same architectural approach and tools.

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4. The fundamental issues that led to your relationship problems are still there

you don’t have any new tools to work with

Sometimes troubled relationships are really awesome relationships that just need some tweaks to help manage the normal frustrations of couplehood and of life. But it’s also normal for there to be deeper issues at play that you need to address.

There may be a fundamental mismatch in your relationship that isn’t going to change simply by choosing to “start over.” Maybe you want kids, and your partner doesn’t. Maybe your partner wants to become more religious, and you want to become less.

Disagreements and Their Implications

These disagreements do not necessarily mean the relationship isn’t viable (although that may be your ultimate conclusion). They definitely require careful consideration and resolution, not merely a “reset.” They’re not going away just because you say so!

Then, there are the parts of ourselves that we bring to the relationship. We are all affected by the things we’ve been through in life (especially early on). Someone whose father abandoned the family could understandably have trust issues. Someone who suffered sexual abuse as a child likely has trauma to deal with that is affecting them and their relationships.

There are also issues that are inborn that can play a big role in your relationship. Someone with an anxiety disorder may well be very rigid about neatness in the house. If you’ve always lacked motivation in general, chores are indeed likely to be a point of conflict.

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Addressing Differences

But even parts of ourselves that aren’t maladaptive or dysfunctional might need to be addressed: you’re pragmatic and orderly, while your partner is spontaneous and free-spirited. You’re an introvert and a homebody, but your partner loves to party. Again, these kinds of differences don’t necessarily have to kill the relationship, and one way of being is not better than another. However, you need to deal with them properly so they don’t just lead you back down the same unhappy roads you went down before.

If the foundation you’re building on isn’t solid enough, if all your timber is bent, or if your bolts and screws aren’t of the same size, rebuilding a house is pointless.

What to Do Instead of a Relationship Reset

couple counseling relationship reset fallacy

If resetting a relationship isn’t possible, what do you do when the arguments, the resentments, and the problems threaten to weigh down and collapse it?

You roll up your sleeves and get to work.

It may be impossible to repair all the damage in a physical house all the way down to its foundations without knocking down the whole thing. But in a relationship, you actually can.

The patterns have to change. The hurts need to be addressed. New tools need to be learned. Fundamental issues need to be identified. These can all be done. It’s not easy, and it’s not quick. (That, of course, is the appeal of the reset idea – it can be done instantly and effortlessly. If only it worked!) But it’s also not impossible.

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The Role of a Couples Counselor

You’ll need the help of a skilled couples counselor. Please don’t give up if you don’t get anywhere with the first person you try. You may need to try more than one therapist to find the right one. (Unfortunately, there are many bad therapists out there.) Someone who knows what they’re doing can help you fix up even a severely strained relationship, much better than a reset can.

That said, there are no guarantees in life. Either one or both of you might be too exhausted, too hurt, or too far gone to will or have the capacity to make things right. Not every relationship survives, even with the best help available. Putting in the work to repair it has a much better shot of success. It’s more beneficial than attempting to ignore all that has transpired by trying to restart the relationship.

Don’t give up yet. But don’t assume you can erase all that has transpired simply by force of a declaration. Get ready to do some emotional labor to save the most important relationship in your life, and you may yet get back to the relationship you always wanted.