Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Art of Relationships

Why Love Isn’t Enough.

The concept goes against everything we have been taught by the media, especially Disney… I am a huge fan of Disney but let’s be honest, the idea of only needing love is not accurate (Despite what the Beatles say). Instead I challenge you to disregard what you have been told and think of the things that make up a great relationship. Things like honesty, mutual respect and trust might come to mind. Can you imagine having a relationship without these things? If it was solely based on love what would a fight look like? Since love is derived from passion it would probably be emotionally charged in a negative way. So how do we fight fair when a fight does arise? We remember that we care about the other person, respect their differing opinion and know that if we disagree respectfully they will listen and reciprocate our feelings.   

This concept was initially presented by Aaron Beck, M.D., a founding father of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in his instrumental book titled Love Is Never Enough.  On a brief historical side note, CBT is a form of psycho-behavioral therapy that focuses on changing thoughts and feelings in order to influence behavior. He suggested that we must first ensure that a healthy foundation has been laid in the relationship in order for it to be successful. His five foundational elements are: cooperation, commitment, basic trust, loyalty and fidelity. 

Cooperation is a basic attitude where you work together to meet mutual goals. Commitment means that you know that you will always be in the relationship together. This is the difference between feeling like “If we have a rocky patch we will work on it together till it gets fixed” versus “If it gets rough I’ll back out”. Basic trust is knowing that your partner always has your best interests at heart and they would not intentionally hurt you. Loyalty is standing by/up for your partner regardless of the situation, even if it is uncomfortable. Finally fidelity is being loyal sexually and emotionally; agreeing to not have relations outside the marriage or relationship. 

Without these basic foundational principles the relationship will not feel secure. One particularly important aspect of a healthy relationship is avoiding statements that harm the foundation. A commonly used tactic is threatening to leave your partner. This is often used when one person is frustrated or hurt and wants the other person to feel that same feeling so they use the threat, “Well then we should get divorced!” (Or something similar).  The problem with this is that it undermines the principle of commitment.  Each time it gets easier and easier to say until one day you actually get to the point that you decide to go through with it. Instead I would challenge you to say something like “I’m really upset right now and don’t want to say something I don’t mean.  Can we take some time to calm down and then come back to discuss this?” Here you are being honest with your partner, and are committing to coming back to work on it for the betterment of your relationship. If you do find yourself in a fight with your partner I would encourage you to also utilize some of the tactics presented by the University Of Texas Counseling Center (below). These tactics and the five foundational elements I’ve mentioned are the basics of what every relationship needs in order to avoid flighty passion and help love survive. 

You can also visit their website for additional resources at: http://cmhc.utexas.edu/healthyrelationships.html.

  • Understand Each Others' Family Patterns. Find out how conflicts were managed (or not managed) in your partner's family, and talk about how conflict was approached (or avoided) in your own family. It is not unusual for couples to discover that their families had different ways of expressing anger and resolving differences. If your family wasn't good at communicating or resolving conflict constructively, give yourself permission to try out some new ways of handling conflict.
  • Timing Counts. Contrary to previous notions, the best time to resolve a conflict may not be immediately. It is not unusual for one or both partners to need some time to cool off. This "time-out' period can help you avoid saying or doing hurtful things in the heat of the moment, and can help partners more clearly identify what changes are most important. Remember - if you are angry with your partner but don't know what you want yet, it will be nearly impossible for your partner to figure it out!
  • Establish an Atmosphere of Emotional Support. Emotional support involves accepting your partner's differences and not insisting that he or she meet your needs only in the precise way that you want them met. Find out how your partner shows his or her love for you, and don't set absolute criteria that require your partner to always behave differently before you're satisfied.
  • Agree to Disagree and Move On. Most couples will encounter some issues upon which they will never completely agree. Rather than continuing a cycle of repeated fights, agree to disagree and negotiate a compromise or find a way to work around the issue.
  • Distinguish between things you want versus things you need from your partner. For example, for safety reasons, you might need your partner to remember to pick you up on time after dark. But calling you several times a day may really only be a "want."
  • Clarify Your Messages. A clear message involves a respectful but direct expression of your wants and needs. Take some time to identify what you really want before talking to your partner. Work on being able to describe your request in clear, observable terms. For example, you might say, "I would like you to hold my hand more often" rather than the vague, "I wish you were more affectionate."
  • Discuss One Thing at a Time. It can be tempting to list your concerns or grievances, but doing so will likely prolong an argument. Do your best to keep the focus on resolving one concern at a time.
  • Really Listen. Being a good listener requires the following: (a) don't interrupt, (b) focus on what your partner is saying rather than on formulating your own response, and (c) check out what you heard your partner say. You might start this process with: "I think you are saying..." Or "what I understood you to say was..." This step alone can prevent misunderstandings that might otherwise develop into a fight.
  • Restrain Yourself. Research has found that couples who "edit" themselves and do not say all the angry things they may be thinking are typically the happiest.
  • Adopt a "Win-Win" Position. A "win-win" stance means that your goal is for the relationship, rather than for either partner, to "win" in a conflict situation. Ask yourself: "Is what I am about to say (or do) going to increase or decrease the odds that we'll work this problem out?"
Jessica Gorman has spent her career working in the non-profit mental health field. She has Master’s Degrees in Counseling Psychology/Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure Preparation and Education/Instructional Leadership and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.  She has worked in a variety of settings including group homes, behavioral health agencies, universities and healthcare clinics. She has experience working as an individual, family, couple and group counselor for both children and adults.  Her personal interests within the mental health field include PTSD treatment (civilian and military) as well as the emotional challenges of parenthood.

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