How to weatherproof your relationship
A study at Harvard University in 2010 showed that healthy loving relationships in our lives improves our physical and mental health significantly. We know that when we are physically unwell we can go and see our GP, but what do we do when the source of our pain is unhappiness in our closest relationship?
First, I think we need to rid ourselves of the idea that love brings all the answers we need. Love is a wonderfully positive start, but to have a successful loving relationship we need to build on a loving start by understanding how to nurture that relationship and keep it alive.
When we start a new job, we understand that we will need to learn a lot in order to be successful in that job and that it may take time and experience to become fully accomplished in our professional role. Sometimes during that journey, we will realise that job is not the right one for us.
I wonder why then most of us never take the time to fully understand the skills necessary to be successful in an intimate relationship. Just like anything else new that we do, we need to learn how to manage that relationship in order to give it room to flourish, we need to acquire the skills that will see it bloom and help us through the bad times. Instead, we absorb the myth that “love will find a way” and sometimes it does, but what if it doesn’t?
A couple’s counsellor can help you look at the reasons why you and your partner are not communicating effectively with each other and help you navigate through the difficult times. Perhaps more importantly they can help you develop strategies to manage future difficulties, ways to be open and honest about your feeling with minimum damage to each other and the relationship.
Here are some tips for good communication.
Listen to your partner
It is often said that “we listen to reply, not to understand”. Especially in an argument, this is very common. All the time we hear our partner speaking, we are absorbing only part of what is said as we plan our retort.
Try and consciously switch that off and instead really focus on what they are saying to you, take time to consider it, keep your breathing slow and allow yourself time to consider and feel what they have said before responding. Not only will this help you to truly understand but it will show your partner that you care for and respect their views. It can be useful to agree on a period of time for each of you to talk during which the other will only listen. Remember you can acknowledge your partner's point of view without needing to agree with it.
Use the spirit of curiosity
This can be a fabulous tool when you are trying to understand someone, whether it is your intimate relationship, a teenage child or your older parents! Ask open questions that are not loaded with judgement in order to help you truly understand the other person. Allow curiosity and interest in your tone of voice rather than anger or sarcasm.
Studies show that in face to face communication approximately 86% of what we say is conveyed by tone of voice rather than actual words, in telephone conversations this goes up to 93%. So keep your tone curious and interested. “It would really help me if I understood why... is so important to you”, “ Can you tell me a bit more about why that upset you?” This approach is a win/win, your partner will feel heard and you have the opportunity to understand them so much better.
Avoid “all and never” statements
Come on we have all done it! “You never help with the housework!”, “You complain every time I see my friends!”. Is it really true? These statements feel justified when we say them, but often they are exaggerations, and they risk the other person feeling hopeless and unacknowledged for the times when they do get it right.
Instead, focus on a more balanced approach: “ When you went to bed last night leaving me to clear up after dinner it felt unfair as I was tired too, next time can we check in with each other and make a plan to cover it together?” In this example, you state clearly what made you unhappy, why and how you would like to manage it differently in future. It has a much higher chance of being met with a reasoned response that an all/never statement.
Of course, there may be some very painful issues to discuss such as infidelity, addiction, worries over children, grief, or problems starting a family. No matter how painful and difficult the issue is, it will always have a better outcome if discussed with an intent to heal or cause no pain, rather than to wound.
In my couples counselling therapy, I use Transactional Analysis quite a lot. It is a long and complicated sounding name but it is really about communication (transactional) and how we manage it (analysis). One of the central themes of Transactional Analysis is “I’m OK, You’re OK”. It is always looking to help both people create a better understanding of each other and to feel OK, rather than to lay blame or judgement at one person’s door.
I think many couples are worried when they come to counselling, they will be pronounced to be the one who is “to blame”. I do not look for blame, I try and help couples find healthy ways to relate to each other and understand each other. To help couple find ways to resolve differences without scorchingly painful arguments that leave scars it is hard to heal.
I may also look at how each part of the couple learnt to manage feelings and arguments in their earlier years, especially childhood, as this can form part of a lifelong pattern that may have worked well in childhood but be unhelpful now. For instance, an older child may have learnt that shouting at a younger sibling in the same way their parent would is effective in preventing them from stealing their toys. That success means that pattern is carried through life and when in an argument with an intimate partner they unconsciously attempt to recreate that success by adopting a parental tone even though repeated experience proves that it is no longer successful or welcome.
I believe strongly that we can learn how to conduct ourselves well in a relationship and that this can create so much joy in our lives if our partner also has the same goals and is equally willing to learn. I would love to see couples embarking on a relationship have these discussions so that healthy habits are formed early in the relationship rather than waiting until it is in crisis.
he average cost of a wedding in this country is estimated at approximately £20,000, how much of that is invested in ensuring the happy couple knows how to create a truly harmonious loving relationship that can weather stormy times? It is time to stop hoping “things will resolve themselves” and start really investing time, love and yes sometimes a little money, on learning how to have the relationship you really want for the rest of your life.