How self-aware are you in your relationship?

When trouble hits relationships, it tends to be common for most partners to point the finger the other way and attach blame for difficulties to their partner. Particularly in the second stage of a relationship, after the initial enchantment has worn off, couples often engage in a power struggle.

At this stage of your relationship, your beloved partner shows many cracks and there is a sense of disappointment and disillusionment with the relationship as a whole. This process tends to be quite gradual, until you may come to the point of wondering who you are within this relationship. The person you started out with seems so very distant and so very different from the person you are living your life with now. Usually this initial sense of disappointment is proceeded by a phase of denial, where partners actively work at ignoring the traits in the other that are troubling them.

Addressing these difficulties may be too painful and may also mean that you are openly acknowledging that your relationship is not as perfect as it used to be. At some point into the denial, partners then have a choice of working through their difficulties or indefinitely engaging in the power struggle in a mutual blame game, where the partner is the greatest source of frustration and disappointment in life. This situation can go on for quite a long time, years even. Couples who have not managed to enter a new phase of acknowledgment and negotiation may come to a point of utter despair.

In the power struggle, unconscious processes are at work that are largely related to healing some of the wounds that we experienced in our earlier life. Partners are chosen on the basis of offering an opportunity to fix what could not be fixed in childhood, adolescence or early adult life. Our partner becomes the substitute mother, father or sibling who was overcritical, unloving, destructive, anxious or angry. Through our partner we attempt to create a different experience than the troubling one we had when younger. In that sense our partner at the beginning of the relationship offers us a giant screen onto which we can project all of our longing and hopes. Once the happy movie has ended and the screen is rolled up, our sense of disappointment at the reality that is opening up can be quite devastating.

In a more conscious relationship both partners pay more attention to their childhood wounds and the healing that needs to be done. Some of this healing takes place by each individual taking a step back and taking stock. There is an acknowledgement that both partners contribute to difficulties in the relationship either actively or passively. Partners will listen to what the other has to say and take on criticism in a less reactive and defensive way. By the same token, both partners take responsibility for starting a constructive dialogue if they are frustrated in the relationship. 

One of the hardest aspects of a more conscious relationships is also to accept that your partner is quite separate from you: he or she will often think, feel or behave very differently. While this can be frustrating at times, "How can they be so wrong?" It is also worth remembering that you benefit from each other’s change in perspectives and that your partner may balance out areas of difficulty for you. Being more conscious in your relationship also entails having a greater understanding of what you don’t like about yourself. Often the partner is criticised about behaviours or traits that we don’t like in ourselves.

In a relationship where both partners have more self-awareness there is an understanding that relationships do require continuous work, care, attention and commitment. This is where counselling can help. Talking to each other, recognising and clarifying perspectives, even if challenging, is key to a understanding each other’s inner world. This can help to make more room for being understood and ultimately for having your needs met. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Angela Dierks, BA (Hons), MStud (Oxon), MA Integrative Counselling, MBACP (Acc)

I am a dedicated therapist and work with individual clients as well as couples on a range of issues.

I hold an M.A. Integrative Counselling (with Distinction) and a Diploma in Couple Counselling and Psychotherapy am BACP accredited.

I completed a BACP accredited Diploma in Clinical Supervision (CPPD) and offer supervision to other therapists.… Read more

Written by Angela Dierks, BA (Hons), MStud (Oxon), MA Integrative Counselling, MBACP (Acc)

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