When I see the occasional story of a couple reaching an incredible relationship milestone like 50 or 60 years of marriage, I can not help but wonder. In our world of fast turnarounds, short attention spans and pervasive communication, it’s no surprise that relationships founder after relatively short times.
And who thinks relationships are easy? If we’re talking about intimate, close bonded relationships, then those are tough gigs. The falling in love bit is the easy part. Full of those early relationship chemicals, we tend to project our ideal selves on to the other person, and see them as virtually flawless.
Overtime, that initial infatuation, instinctive, almost animal attraction and projection give way to a different quality of feeling. Many people talk about a deepening of love, a more profound and intimate experience. With that also often come bumps in the road. And it’s how we negotiate those that often defines the success and satisfaction of our relationships.
Much depends on both our experience in other relationships and our experience of relationships during childhood. If we witnessed parents who dealt with conflict through violence or abuse, or who could only express anger through shouting, this may become our own template for dealing with conflict. Or if our parents gave each other the silent treatment, that’s maybe how we deal with difficult feelings in our relationships now as well.
One of the ideas in counselling and psychotherapy, and central to the psychosynthesis way of working, is that we are all trying to become whole in our lives. What do I mean by that? Well, our existence as a being starts when we are at one with our mother, in her womb, two beings separate and yet together as one being. One school of thought is that from the moment of our birth, leaving the womb, we are no longer in unity but start a lifelong journey to try to rediscover that unity. And much of our yearning, longing to be in relationships and loneliness stems from that being at one with, and then separate from, our mother.
I often see relationship issues when that gets confused. If someone doesn’t have a clear sense of themselves, and the boundaries between them and their loved ones is unclear, they can find it difficult when things get tough. They might not be able to distinguish between what are their feelings and what are those of the other person. They may not easily understand that the other person may have different feelings and that can create confusion, distress and conflict.
I mentioned earlier that at the start of a relationship we often project our ideal self on to the other person. Later on the opposite can happen. We end up laying what we can’t bear in ourselves onto the other person in our relationship. If you find yourself often angry, or disappointed with your partner, there may be good reason. But if your thoughts or feelings are often accompanies by ‘you never’ or ‘you always’ or ‘you should’ it might be worth reflecting on your part in that story. Were those things you experienced or witnessed at another time in your life. What is the significance and meaning of this behaviour to you?
Counselling can help you get a bit of distance from what’s going on, to get really heard with your story and also to start to recognize the part you might be playing in what’s going on.
Resources for relationship help
Relate – couples counselling
Author: Matt Fox, Counselling Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbot
Photo by Abhi Ryan, licensed under creative commons.