The relationships in our lives have the potential to bring out what’s best in us and also what’s worst, having the extraordinary ability to help us become more aware of ourselves if we learn to take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions and our deeds, instead of blaming our partner.
A couple relationship can be a space where we have the opportunity to grow and evolve, but it can also turn into a true ordeal, having the potential to destroy our life. For a relationship to be a space of personal evolution, where we can feel happy and fulfilled, we have to take into account certain things.
First of all, for a relationship to be functional and to last, the partners need to be compatible in the most important aspects. It’s important to have common values, a common vision on life, common future plans. If you don’t think the same way, if one sees things in one way and the other in another way, if one has some desires and the other one others, the relationship may be interesting only in the beginning, but in the long run this is the ground where conflicts, misunderstandings, non-acceptance and suffering appear. It’s difficult and complicated for a relationship to function if there is no similarity but complementarity. Such a relationship works by relying on compromises and sacrifices. It may be exciting at the beginning to notice that your partner has exactly those characteristics that you seem to lack because it gives you the feeling that they "complete" you, only that we aren’t anyone’s other half, but our own whole, so the other one won’t be able to actually complete you, and in time those opposing aspects and differences between you will become more and more difficult to accept or tolerate.
Starting from this basic structure, which is compatibility, we will continue to discuss some aspects that contribute to the relational harmony. What can you do?
Take responsibility for your thoughts, emotions, behaviors and needs - we often encounter the situation where we blame our partner because they make us feel in a certain way „because of you I got angry” or we get upset if they don’t want to do what we want and we blame them for selfishness. We expect them to meet all our needs, because that is their duty, even if this involves sacrifices and compromises on their part. We often make reproaches, we often misinterpret their words or gestures, we make assumptions instead of clarifying the situation, we get upset and refuse communication, we expect our partner to guess what we want, to read our thoughts, or we say to them, "If I you love me, you should know" or "if you cared, I wouldn’t have to tell you." If we are wrong, we don’t want to recognize it or take responsibility - everything becomes a power game where we must keep our guard up, as high as possible, and take every opportunity to take revenge. All these behaviors maintain a power struggle, but they don’t contribute positively to the dynamics of the relationship. What can you do in return?
- express your feelings and grievances, but avoid to make reproaches. You can say “I feel… when you… and I wish to....” instead of saying “because of you”.
- avoid generalizations such as “you always…”, “you never…”. The truth is that they’re false affirmations which increase the existed tension, because nobody makes exactly the same thing, all the time, in every given situation.
- say what you want - it’s unrealistic to assume that your partner can guess your needs, wishes and thoughts. It’s natural to express yourself, but your partner doesn’t always have to say “yes”.
- when your partner does something that bothers you, think what exactly bothered you so much. Why did it bothered you? Is there something from your past that resembles what you are living now? How did you react then? How do you react now? Do you notice a pattern? Let’s take a hypothetical situation: you’ve won a certain competition but you have the feeling that your partner didn’t show you enough appreciation. You get upset and you start to reproach them that you’ve always been by their side and that you’ve always glorified them every time they had an achievement, but they aren’t even able to speak highly of you (though they did that, but not as much as you wanted it or not in the way you wanted it). Your mind returns in the past, and you remember how your parents were never happy with your grades or what you did, no matter how well you did those things. An older wound is reactivated, and your reaction is exacerbated. From a simple impression you get to fight and you stop talking. It often happens that the way you feel in a relationship doesn’t have so much to do with your partner as it has to do with you and the way you have structured yourself as a result of past experiences. This means there may be some triggers that arise from interacting with your partner, but which set off some automatic thoughts or exaggerated reactions. There may be some dysfunctional beliefs or patterns of behavior which you should approach to better understand and change them.
- try to see things from your partner’s perspective, put yourself in their shoes - when you tend to criticize or judge them, think if there are other reasons (than the reason that you think) for which your partner behaved in a certain way.
If you are a critical person and you have the tendency to focus on your partner's weaknesses, on what they don’t do right, highlighting their "mistakes" (and I’ve written mistakes with quotation marks because it can only be about different perceptions on the same thing, about different standards) notice whether something changes in your relationship when, for example, for a week, instead of focusing on their flaws and what is wrong, you focus on their qualities and achievements, no matter how insignificant they would seem. Because, yes, to appreciate and admire your partner represent the basic pillars in a relationship.
A relationship is like a flower, if you don’t take care of it, it withers and dies. Take care of your relationship by showing your partner how much you love them in a way that can be emotionally effective to them (there are several love languages like: words of affirmations, quality time, gifts, acts of service, physical touch), by paying attention to them, by supporting them, by understanding them, by listening and accepting them. To accept your partner as he/she is doesn’t mean to accept destructive, toxic, abusive behaviors, it doesn’t mean to support their addictions or to respond to the pathological games they play. In such situations you can only guide them to seek help, but under no circumstances should you sacrifice for them or continue a relationship based on compromises out of pity or fear. Accepting your partner as he/she is means to "embrace" them altogether and to welcome them in your life, being aware of both their weaknesses and their qualities; to not try to change them to better fit an ideal in your mind or to better meet your selfish needs.
It’s also very important that when you start a relationship not to lose your independence, not to forget about yourself, your dreams, what you enjoyed until then. As there is time for “us”, there must be time for “me” too. Take time for yourself, for your hobbies, desires, passions, goals, for your dreams - whatever makes you feel good with yourself, whatever nourish you mentally and spiritually, whatever contributes to your human evolution is first and foremost part of the "debt" that you have to yourself because you have been given the chance to enjoy life on this earth and, second, it has a positive effect on the relationship. Don’t isolate yourself from other people by shutting yourself up in a bubble with your partner, but continue to cultivate your other relationships, and keep in touch with your loved ones.
Take care of yourself whether or not you are in a relationship. Work continually on your personal development, become aware of your thoughts, emotions, patterns of behavior. Be proud of yourself, appreciate yourself for all your qualities and achievements and seek to understand, integrate and overcome your past wounds. Make peace with yourself. Learn to be happy by yourself because a relationship won’t bring you happiness if you don’t know how to be happy on your own. Seek to continually enrich yourself because only this way you will be able to offer from your abundance to others.
Dr. Ursula Sandner