Today I want to focus on couples – married or not.
As many of you know, my practice is geared toward working with adults and adolescents, and a special passion of mine is working with couples. It’s an interesting job, really, because the more I work with others in relationship – the more I learn about my own and I often find myself imparting advice that I could actually rather use myself! In this exciting journey into couple’s therapy I am learning a very important lesson and I thought I’d share this with you all…
Friendship and Positive Sentiment….
At the very basis of a healthy relationship lies a friendship – that is, an ability to like the person you’re in love with. I have seen many people take this for granted and somewhere a long the line they have simply stopped liking one another – They are still in love, but they can’t see why. Friendship is the part that keeps you interested in one another, that keeps you complimenting one another, watching out for one another, playing with one another and, most importantly, laughing with one another. Friendship is the part that allows for argument, but respects differing opinions, that stays involved in creating joy together and is interested in generating common goals together. In relationships, or marriage, couples somewhere lose sight of this – life becomes routine, differing interests develop, separate friends are made, partners stop complimenting one another, they stop playing and laughing together, they stop discussing common goals, and sooner or later they are on different trajectories where arguments become laden with resentment and contempt instead of an appreciation for different viewpoints. Well, at least this is the journey of isolation if the friendship isn’t maintained.
Friendship inevitably leads to fondness and admiration of one another – a sense of “we” instead of “me” and with all this comes positive sentiment. What is positive sentiment and how is this different from negative sentiment? Well, lets give an example – John gets angry with Jane after a hard day at work, effectively he is simply taking his frustration out on her. Jane, while slightly offended and hurt, quickly realizes he is stressed and thinks to herself “Oh, he is stressed. Just let this go – tomorrow he will be fine again.” If this relationship was shrouded in negative sentiment, Jane would probably have thought “He is always going off at me, when will things change?”. When John eventually apologizes and explains his stress, Jane (in negative sentiment override) will think “He is just saying this so I can make him dinner – this is how he manipulates me”. However, if Jane was coming from a positive sentiment position she would be thinking “Shame, he really needs support”. So you can see how positive sentiment keeps the relationship in a supportive, content space, whereas negative sentiment begins to cloud and overshadow judgement – making it all the more difficult to reconnect.
Many couples facing ‘stuck’ conflict, relationship difficulties, continuous arguing and communication breakdown are in various stages of negative sentiment override – They have lost their fondness and admiration for one another, they have lost the friendship. Their communications have become laced with criticism, defensiveness, contempt and isolation and they are struggling to get re-connected. So, what can you do if you are headed down this path???
Revisit the friendship I say! Here are some ideas to get that fondness and positive sentiment flowing again…
- Every day make a point of it to find one thing about your partner that you admire or appreciate – COMMUNICATE this to them
- Try to incorporate a “date night” once a week where you re-connect emotionally. This doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner at a restaurant, it simply has to be a break in routine. Lovely ideas include:
- A picnic on the lounge floor
- Playing board games instead of watching T.V.
- A walk on the beach and an ice-cream afterwards
- A trip to the Botanical Gardens
- Simply have dinner around the table instead of in front of the T.V
- Try to take 10 minutes every day after work to ask your partner about their day (and truly listen to what they have to say)
- Think about your relationship and how you have weathered certain bad times – reminisce together about these victories
- Take time out to discuss your goals – where do you see yourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, retirement? – plan together, create some dreams together – start singing from the same hymn sheet!
- Find common interests and do them together – join a ballroom dancing class, take up fishing, or cycling, or hiking, or camping – basically anything that could become a common hobby
- Plan getaways together. Get some quality ‘away’ time where you are both relaxed.
- Once a month, go somewhere where you can dress up and be beautiful for him, or handsome for her. Make an effort to do your hair, smell nice (and maybe get some nice underwear again!)
- Laugh together
Healthy relationships also have problems… they exist in all dynamics. The way in which these problems are handled makes all the difference and the way in which you handle a problem will always depend on the sentiment you’re in. Try not to tackle perpetual issues when in a negative sentiment override – chances are you will not hear your partner, nor will you feel heard. Build on your friendship first and you will find a shift in the way you handle difficulties…
In future posts I will visit the techniques used in gently and effectively resolving issues, but for now – remember:
“To love someone is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten” – Anonymous