Relationships – Nothing More Challenging
So why are relationships one of the biggest challenges of all?
Remember the beginning of a new relationship. You had stars in your eyes; ‘This could be the one’. You felt like you were walking on cloud nine. Your energy skyrocketed and you felt invincible. You jumped out of bed each morning with vigour and excitement.
So what happens after a while to make your relationships wither or even turn ‘soul mate’ to ‘love hate’?
Nature is at play here beyond our awareness so it’s not your fault or your partner’s.
We are born to love and be loved. It is a fundamental part of being human. Love nourishes us and enables us to do more than we can on our own. Firstly, with our mother or primary care giver and then as an adult we search for a replacement – yes you guessed it – an intimate partner. What we wanted as a baby, we search for as an adult -someone to love and care for us. Your partner is like a replacement parent. We need our adult partner to not only be our lover but we also want them to act as if a caring parent with our best interest at heart by getting to know us and attending to our needs.
The nature of the relationship we developed with our parents contributes significantly to our current adult relational style, either: as anchors (fairly grounded and able to sway with what comes your way), as islands (independent and self-regulating), or as waves (attract and repel others, need others to help regulate emotions). There is no right or wrong style, they are just different.
At the start of a relationship, we tend to behave like ‘anchors’ as we put our best selves on show.
However over time, our true relating style is revealed and here is where the fun begins!
Awareness of your style and that of your partner and how to be what the other needs at times of challenge is key to diffusing conflict and strengthening your relationship.
Obviously, two strong anchors together are more likely to manage life’s concerns with less difficulty and life tends to be less complicated. An anchor with either an island or a wave can help to dilute the negative aspects of their tendencies unless; the wave or island push the anchor into becoming an island or wave to defend against what’s coming at them.
Two strong waves together are likely to have a more tempestuous relationship and tend to be more full on and full off. Emotions are ‘out there’. They can swing from being very caring and loving to hurtful (maybe even hating) in various ways towards their partner. They tend to be the couples that break up and make up; can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other.
Two strong islands together can each crave the closeness of an intimate relationship then when they’ve got it find it suffocating so will find a way to float away for some ‘self time’. They are the ones that tend to care for themselves and are self contained. Care for the other is restricted. They see that as the job of the partner.
And when a wave and an island come together: As the wave comes in with big emotions the island may feel threatened with the intensity so float away. This can make the wave upset and feel abandoned so they tend to follow the island trying to win their love back only to push the island further away until some time has passed. Either the island will have reset and floated back towards the wave. Or the wave will say sorry to the island and off they go again til the next time.
With each long term relationship we are presented with the opportunity to work through our own unresolved issues that usually began in our earliest relationships (with parents) or keep reenacting them which isn’t particularly helpful. People who can’t or aren’t ready to do the work required to address unresolved issues for what ever reason (and this is usually beyond awareness) tend to unwittingly sabotage their intimate relationship. It is within the longer term relationships that unresolved issues get activated. That’s why it doesn’t happen with friends or work colleagues. Alas, things can be very different.
Shifting to a long term successful relationship requires effort and commitment to reap what can be astoundingly wonderful, enriching and fulfilling.
- Be willing to accept your partner as your ‘pain in the butt’ because we all are at times, including you. When your partner is acting like a pain in your butt, it’s a signal to you that there is an opportunity to do something different than you’ve done in the past to help influence the outcome. The ball is in your court! Keep love and compassion for your partner as the basis for what you do next.
- Form a ‘couple bubble’ in which you and your partner agree to be a sacred space of love and compassion for each other. Each needs to feel safe and cared for by the other as priority. Know how to soothe your partner. Check in on feelings of being loved and safety particularly when facing big challenges.
- Accept your partner’s past (the good and bad) as it will be in the present and the future. Join in the responsibility of owning it and assist your partner with love and compassion with the not so good stuff.
- Build awareness about yourself and your partner and share what you find most helpful and unhelpful when you’re under pressure
- Give your best to each other rather than to others or work colleagues.
- Strengthen your couple bubble by building in rituals just for the two of you: like a 3 second cuddle on seeing each other after having been apart – to show your partner they really matter and you are grateful for each other. Have a regular date night where you look into each other’s eyes (no mobiles) and chat about hopes and dreams. Keep discovering how you can add value to each other and enliven your partner with your company.
- Have some separate time (for personal development, challenge or hobbies) as well as together time. A little time apart allows each other to experience the broader world and helps evolve your couple bubble. It also saves your bubble from becoming suffocating.
- Have regular sex: to keep intimacy alive; boost your immune system; and enhance your clarity of mind and creativity. Women find intimacy leads to sex and visa versa so make it a healthy habit. Have some variety and fun now and again. Put in place boundaries to ensure you both feel safe and cared for.
I highly recommend every couple read: ‘Wired for Love. How getting to know your partner’s brain helps you defuse conflict and strengthen your relationship’ by Stan Tatkin.