Relationships – they’re hard work!

Most of my counselling work is helping people manage the disappointments with their relationships. I know I have a distorted view of the world, but it does feel as if seriously entrenched relationship issues are endemic, and for many, unresolvable. When dividing practises (as talked about in the July Blog) have become the dominant relationship dynamic and your partner has become the enemy –  you’re in trouble. This creates an unhealthy environment for all concerned and would be a time when I would argue that divorce is emotionally advantageous to the children.

Luckily, for most couples, it’s not that extreme. The majority of divorces are the result of chronic low grade misery, that one or both get sick of, and so leads them to the solution of divorce. Whilst personally I have found this to be a wonderful solution, I know this is not the case for everyone and definitely, in the main, not ideal for children.

With 46,498 divorces granted in Australia in 2014 (ABS Divorces and Marriages in Australia, 2014 , 3310.0) it’s certainly common! I do believe that once there are shared children, if you can keep the relationship going, life is easier, but it’s impossible to generalise. The unique dynamics of each couple and the impact of these on all the people involved is what determines whether one can stay or go.

Sometimes people can’t work this out. A question that might help is: Do you want your children to have relationships with the same emotional qualities that are in your own? The answer to this can guide if there is enough to work on. Unfortunately one of life’s lessons that I’ve learnt the hard way is our children don’t tend to do as we say but do as we do. It’s pretty awful watching your adult children struggle with variations of your worst relationship dynamics.

One of the central issues for most couples is the process of how decisions are made. This process  is interesting to draw out in a circle – Who does what, when?

If one partner – lets say a male comes home after work and asks: “Whats for dinner?” And his partner for example a female snaps back: “Nothing!” If this is a common occurrence it’s a fixed repetitive pattern that indicates a lack of mutual sensitivity. But if it’s unusual and there is a relationship based on love the male may respond with: “Had a bad day, what can I do to help.”

Another example could be one partner saying: “I want a new lounge suite.” and the other replies: “What a stupid waste of money.” There is no curiosity and no kindness, no will to understand the position of the other. The partner has become the enemy.

Embedded in most couples interactions are fixed repetitive ways of dealing with each other – whether the decision is about new furniture or what you want for dinner, or something more important, like do we want to have children? The process is the same. The clarity around the interaction enables clarity around where your power lies and it’s not with changing your partner. It always lies with shifting your own position. Holding in mind the question: What can you live with?

This clarity around the pattern is important as it leads to what I believe is equally important – an individual’s threshold for not getting their own way. And when they don’t  how do they soothe their disappointment? Or when they do get their way how do they appreciate and acknowledge the position of their partner who has conceded their wants.

We all want to have things go our way.  But when we don’t get our way – How do we cope? What do we do? Is our concession valued by our partner? If so this is love. A simple “thank you” can go a long way. Or is our partner gloating? Or didn’t even notice the concessions made. This is not love.

But in the end we are all responsible for finding emotional stabilising personal rituals that help to soothe the distress of loosing – so to speak. Knowing we can survive not getting our way all the time, is one of the building blocks of resilience in all of our relationships.

The grace with which we can compromise and how we comfort ourselves is incredibly important for successful relationships – assuming the same person isn’t always compromising to the will of others. We all need a balance between the ebb and flow of winning some, losing some.