Relationship Tune – Ups
I have many couple clients who leave with great hope and sense of “we can do this”. There has been enough listening, clarification and understanding that they have been able to release the emotions and hurt and develop “fair fight” strategies. Then something comes up down the road when they can’t seem to apply the same techniques to get the same result.
So what happened? Relationships are the most challenging tasks we have in life, but are also the most rewarding. Part of the reason for the new challenge is that while we have our individual life development stages (baby, toddler, tween, teen, adult, senior) that may be out of sync with our partner, family or children.
Relationships have developmental stages (getting to know you, lust, bonding, commitment, working through challenges, stabilization (or not), caretaking and end of life). When children are added to the mix there are three developmental stages which might be out of sync with each other! For instance, a teen still needs support and independence at a time when the parents may be called to take care of ailing parents or are struggling to establish themselves in a career. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to fully meet all these competing needs.
Tune-up means returning to fundamentals – what are the core beliefs and values that we share as a couple/family? When these are in conflict how do we balance competing needs? There is no easy answer because this is a moral dilemma – should children come first, or partners or patients or employers, or oneself? In previous blogs I discussed moral dilemmas.
The hardest thing for us is to accept is what we cannot change in ourselves or our partners. There is much wisdom in the serenity prayer – it applies to relationships as well as addiction. May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
We all come into relationships with many unwritten (and often unaware) rules and expectations. Part of the tune-up is discovering what is hidden so that a mutual decision can be made about what we agree on, what we can accept, what we cannot accept and what we will/won’t do.
Long term committed relationships are built on openness, compromise, generosity, acceptance, compassion, mutual respect and forgiveness - a future blog I will be sharing. These are more or less difficult depending on our origins, history and circumstances. It is possible to co-create these qualities as long as there is no physical, emotional, spiritual, social and/or financial abuse.
Tune-up time means that we either missed something important, or something wasn’t relevant at the initial consultation or something significant has changed. By having a pre-existing, working relationship we don’t have to go back to square one. We can celebrate what is still working, be curious about what isn’t and add in the missing piece or clarify a key misconception. Usually, this strengthens the relationship, but sometimes irreconcilable differences are exposed. By mutual and honest exploration without blame or shame both parties know why they can or cannot continue to stay together.
I say to all partners in distressed relationships, especially if there are children. If the relationship is to end it is important to understand why – to not make the same mistakes in the future and to ensure that you have done everything possible to make it work so you can say to yourself, each other and your children – we did everything we could, it just wasn’t right for us. I will address separation and divorce in a future blog.