At the moment I seem to be drowning in couples work. Even a local resident kookaburra is having relationship issues. He looks very cute in the photo but his behaviour has caused him the loss of at least 3 relationships. This has been, literally, due to a reflected sense of self as David Schnarch might say. When ever it sees itself reflected in a window it assumes it’s another male and so spends the rest of the day wrestling with it. Very annoying, but it does bring to mind the importance of the ability to self regulate especially when in a relationship and so avoid becoming too other focused.
Following on from last month’s blog in which I wrote about our thresholds for not getting what we want, I’m not sure if I emphasised enough – that in a sense – both parties need to have a turn at more or less equally winning and losing. This balance is an important counter to the build up of powerless resentment, or the will for power going underground – so to speak.
Part of this balance is gained through having a collection of individual practises that comfort us when all does not go well. These are generally simple things like going for a run, gardening, watching a favourite TV program, or going for a walk. The list is endless but the aim is to restabilise oneself before tackling the current relationship issue. Whilst it can be great sport to have a rant with your partner, rarely is there any resolution when you’re both angry. This is one of the reasons couples come into counselling, so that they can have a conversation with a therapist who keeps the escalation in check.
Commonly, couples make the mistake of moving onto trying to participate in a relationship ritual before they have stabilised themselves with their own personal soothing practises or rituals. This places too much pressure on the relationship as the fix all. It invites that very tempting utopian idea that another can fix our lives for us. It’s such a lovely thought, the idea of a soul mate who can mind read our every need.
This is a particularly problematic relationship mindset for a number of reasons: firstly, there’s the potential of exclusion of friends and extended family who are often very important sources of love and comfort; secondly, it keeps us focused on what our partner is doing and trying to change them, even though we do not have the power to do this. This, in turn, keeps disappointment alive seeding resentment and discontent.
So assuming we are regularly doing the things we need to do to keep ourselves more or less emotionally stable, then it’s onto relationship rituals – these define and feed the richness of the relationship. They can range from sharing the same likes in food, sport, sex, beverages and leisure to sharing similar ideas about lifestyle and philosophical values. It doesn’t matter which of these are present or the activities that are woven around them, but there needs to be enough that is shared to define the couple as an entity in their own right. These activities and values bond a couple and become the phenomenon that both feeds and buffers the couple from the trials of life. But this all takes time.
Time is becoming a significant relationship issue. Technology isn’t helping – it steals time with its instant emails, text, gaming and social media. All this makes it incredibly hard for a couple to put a boundary around themselves. Whether it’s trying to have a conversation or trying to enjoy and intimate or peaceful moment, the mobile phone in particular, will often interrupt. It feels like every couple has 2 lovers in their relationship, and like actual lovers, it erodes the intimacy and quality of the connection between the couple. I’m beginning to wonder whether as part of the relationship building questions like – do you want to have children? Where would you like to live? etc etc. We need to include the question – what is your level of skill at ignoring and/or turning off your mobile phone! The answer to this might determine the future of the relationship.