More on Couples

I’ve decided to do another blog on couples for this month, mainly because I’ve had lots of good feedback on the last two and so thought this month I’ll try and pull them together in a sort of overview of my thinking around couples work.

A relationship is a little like a trip to Luna Park - You never quite know what you're in for.
A relationship is a little like a trip to Luna Park – You never quite know what you’re in for.

The pressure on a couple is ongoing and relentless as they move through the life cycle. Throw into the mix – work, children, extended family, friends and what ever else happens along the way. Consequently it’s often easy to lose sight of your partner and hard to remember what attracted you to him or her in the first place. This is often step one in relationship work. What are the shared core values? Do you both want the same things currently and for the future? Is there enough that is shared to help you through the tough times? Is there enough respect for difference? Or is everything a battle? Every long term relationship is a team event – what sort of team is it?

The relationship rituals both identify and preserve the quality of the team. Relationship rituals can only work when there are sufficient individual rituals. It’s a bit of an irony but you can only be safe as a couple if you’re able to stabilise your own emotions as individuals.

When your partner is distracted it's good to find a way to occupy yourself.
When your partner is distracted it’s good to find a way to occupy yourself.

The total reliance on your partner for your emotional wellbeing is dangerous. For starters it’s too much for one person to carry and secondly that level of reliance on one person fuels anxiety. How can anyone feel calm if they inherently know that they are completely dependent and vulnerable to the actions and will of another. Or have someone completely dependent on them.

The inability to trust your own ability to comfort yourself and so the reliance on a  partner or friends is one of the areas I always focus on. I believe it’s incredibly important because it means a relationship that is more or less equal, will not be possible. The reliance on others for self regulation will always result in a skewed hierarchy and potential misuse of power. This could be by either partner depending on the dynamics of the relationship.

The pelicans in the foreground believe they should get all the food
The pelicans in the foreground believe they should get all the food

As we struggle to create relationships that are equal and fair – we are all a bit in the dark. This is something else that I work with all the time. This sense that we are all pioneers, trying to do relationships in which gender doesn’t define the power distribution. Back to relationship rituals – the sorts of things that couples like to do together, have embedded within the all the significant elements of their relationship. Whether it’s going out for a meal, a walk, having sex,  sitting and having a chat and a drink at the end of the day – whatever couples like to do together builds and maintains the connections between them.

What is considered to be fair, varies not only from person to person, but also at different life stages. So it’s important not to think of fairness as a static phenomenon, but as something that shifts according to the current demands.

As a general fairness guide it should incorporate occasions when  the pleasure is equally shared, or each have times of initiating, or compromising – recognising and appreciating when sacrifices are being made by your partner.

This acknowledgement of when you partner compromises, is an act of kindness. Both are potentially acts of love – the compromise and the acknowledgement of the compromise. In many ways small acts of kindness are my relationship assessment guide.

Is there a sensitivity to the other that is reinforced by small acts of kindness: things like making your partner a cup of tea, or doing something helpful when they are tired, are acts of goodwill and love. These small acts are much more important than the grand gestures and are often overlooked in the busyness of everyday life.

No relationship is perfect, everyone has their ups and downs.  The question: what can you live with? determines whether one stays or goes. Living in a mean spirited relationship is a very lonely place. This is also a factor that I always consider. Having the choice to stay or go is a privilege of our time, but it can also tempt us to have unrealistic expectations of what our relationship can give us.

Always consider: ” Is what I want reasonable?”

The fairy tale ending of living happily ever after - is a terrible cultural trick
The fairy tale ending of living happily ever after – is a terrible cultural trick

2 thoughts on “More on Couples”

  1. A great series (of three so far) on couples, and at the risk of being a bit cheeky it makes me feel all the more comfortable and settled in my now single state. Having said that my parents had a lifelong love affair of 60 plus years, and I doubt they gave a second thought to compromise, or shared values, or being resilient and capable of self-soothing individually and self-regulating definitely wasn’t ever demonstrated. They found a way to navigate through the disappointments, the challenges and the joys in a way that seemed without any conscious effort. Their relationship had its own set of dramas, arguments, and misunderstandings but as children and even adult offspring we always knew it was rock solid, one impenetrable unit rather than two individuals. But now that my Father has passed away I see my Mother living a half-life that is about filling the days and wonder at the price that devotion to their relationship may have cost them both? At the risk of a generalisation it might be speculated that contemporary relationships have at the core the right to happiness, individually and as a couple and while this may have been aspirational in the eyes of my parents, it did not seem to drive them, the sticking together through thick and thin no matter what underpinned and seemingly strengthened their relationship. With the benefit of hindsight it was on the one hand a model of a strong relationship and on the other the very type of relationship I did not desire, being of the more independent personality type I had the view (and still do ) that a relationship should not require the loss of self.

    1. Thanks Sue, that’s a great reflection and certainly rings true for me too! In retrospect I found marriage, at times, exhausting and I know my mother definitely did! A component that fed this fatigue for both of us was struggling to hold onto aspects of ourselves as individuals.This is very much a work in progress and I think we’re in the throws of a cultural revolution about how we do relationships. It’s making me think that for my November blog I might do something around gender influences on relationships.

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