The one common thread underlying all thriving relationships

holding hands

In all the relationships that I have witnessed crumble, dissolve or implode, there is at least one common thread:

There was not at least one partner in the relationship that took a stand for how the connection FEELS.

In all intimate relationships, there is a dance that goes on – finding balance between the needs of the two individuals within the relationship, and the relationship with its own set of needs. Naturally, the two individuals within the relationship will have their own separate interests and pursuits around career, free time, hobbies, social life, and so on. Maintaining a sense of individuality within the relationship is essential – because relationships thrive when two people bring something unique into the relationship, which creates something bigger than what either of them could achieve alone.

BUT – if one person in the relationship hasn’t got their finger on the pulse when it comes to how the connection FEELS, then over time, one partner is likely to start feeling lonely, invisible, unloved and isolated. When someone starts voicing these feelings, it is evident that how the relationship feels has taken a back seat.

If you value your relationship and want it to thrive, then learn how to tune in to the subtle signs that something feels disconnected, and start finding ways to express your desire for more togetherness.

Here are 3 ways we can do this:

1.Get clear about how you want your relationship to FEEL, so that you are more aware when it steers away from this feeling. For example: “I want a relationship that feels fun, loving, exciting, connected, safe, passionate” and so on. When we are clear how about we want our relationship to feel, then we can tune in more easily to the opposite feeling, such as when it starts to feel stale, stagnant, isolated, distant, or unsafe.

2. Use connecting language to steer the relationship back towards more connection when the two of you become disconnected from each other. For example: “I miss spending time with you. I want us to find ways that we can do fun things together. How about you?”.

3. Find activities that both of you enjoy doing together, and structure your lifestyle to support this sacred couple time. If your entire lifestyle is centred around individual pursuits and family duties, then there will not be much time left over for the partnership.

If your relationship has deviated well off the path of connection, fun and adventure, you may benefit from working with a coach to make the adjustments so you get back on track.

 

Dr. Tracey Hunter

Psychologist and Relationship Coach

How much of a role does the past play in our relationships?

reflective

Far too many times in my practice, I have heard the phrase: “But that was in the past.. there’s no point going there – I’m over that”.

The truth is, our past plays an enormous role in the beliefs or “schemas” we have developed about love, closeness, intimacy, conflict, power and control, affection, having a different opinion, wanting space or privacy, and so on. Without bringing awareness into the messages that we received growing up about attachment and connection, we are bound to repeat these patterns and play out these messages and roles in our adult relationships.

Take an example of a child who grew up in a household with a lot of conflict, yelling and controlling tactics by a parent. That child will learn to become fearful and hypervigilant of even the slightest sign of upset or negative mood in another person. Not only will they develop a strong fear response to other people’s mood, but they will unconsciously make a decision about how to best cope or adapt to this kind of dynamic where another person uses rage to control the other person.

Some children, depending on their temperament, may choose to be compliant and subservient, and figure out how to placate the other person whenever they seem upset. Other children may find other people’s negative moods so overwhelming that they may actually learn how to detach, escape and cut off from their immediate emotions and bodily responses, possibly later using substances as a form of self-soothing. And other children may have the kind of temperament where they feel more empowered when they align themselves with the more dominant parent who yells, and model this kind of bullying and antagonising behaviour in their own relationships later on.

In adult life, our challenge is to examine our own relationship with our chosen mate, and when there are power imbalances, that is, one person’s mood state, needs, opinions and choices dominate over the other person’s mood state, needs, opinions and choices, then work will need to be done to strip away the old habitual ways of relating, to make way for more balanced, harmonious and mutually loving behaviours.

Here are 3 ways that we can start to bring more consciousness of the past into our current awareness in order to create a thriving intimate relationship, by reflect on the following questions:

1. “What messages did I receive growing up about my worthiness, my self-expression, my inner world?”. If we received negative messages about the value of our own emotions and needs, then it is possible that we have ingested these messages as truth and they are spilling over into our current approach to intimacy.

2. “If I were to value my own needs and feelings as equally important and the needs and feelings of my partner, what would I need to request more of for myself, and what would I need to offer more of to my partner?”

3. “What ways did I learn to cope with power imbalances and unmet needs in my childhood, that may not be serving me anymore in my adult relationships?”

If reflecting on these questions brought to light a very entrenched pattern that has had a long-term impact on the way you approach your intimate relationships, then seeking out therapy with someone experienced in integrating the past with the present, such as a Schema Therapist, is likely to be of great benefit to your current and future approach to intimate relationships. Otherwise, a less entrenched pattern can respond well to relationship coaching. With enough awareness and integration, it is entirely possible to create a thriving and loving intimate relationship, even when this was not modelled in the past.

Dr. Tracey Hunter

Psychologist and Relationship Coach