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How do you define your relationship and what are the most important facets of it?
As we “get to know someone” we form decisions about them, us, and a relationship. What are the things that you look for? As our relationships develop and mature, how have those things changed? I often hear "he/she isn’t the person I married”.
Something that is critical in understanding the lifecycle of our relationships is to understand what it is that pulls us and holds us together. Is it a feeling, sexual chemistry, a sense of safety, that they complete us, a feeling of trust, similar thinking or mindset? Those are just some examples and there are, of course, multiple reasons.
Many times we are carried along by the energy of being in a relationship, the “honeymoon stage” where all things seem to align. We speak the same sort of language and behave in ways that feel as if we are in harmony and our communication is aligned. Planning a future becomes about moving in together, getting married/committed, where to live, children. All of these are really valid conversations!
Underpinning these practical considerations are the drivers that we live by - let’s call these our core values. These are the underlying themes that fuel all of our actions either consciously or unconsciously. If our actions are not aligned to these then they will not be sustainable in our lives. Knowing and understanding our core values is critical to create the relationships we truly want.
Let’s talk about an example of a client I was with last week, let’s call him J. J is very career focused, likes to think about a lot of things, is logical, intelligent, physically active and independent. J’s partner of 5 years, let’s call her B is emotional, dependent, laid back, not overly physical.
There is a lot of love between J and B and both acknowledge that they have learned from each other’s differences. They have discussed moving in together and finally set a date to do that.
For J it was important for him that the time reflected certain things being done – a plan for moving, how they would work together, how they could have their own time and some clear goals for moving forward. In the meantime, B lost her job and wanted to feel secure and be looked after and decided that they should move in together straight away.
Both have a common value of support and yet in speaking to both, they felt unseen and unsupported by the other. B wanted J to spend every weekend with her; relax and flow through life. J wanted to get through a list of things to do and fit in as much as possible. J needed his own space to just be with himself, to catch up with his friends and engage. B wanted them to spend all their time together and would get infuriated when J took his own space. B was advised of her pending redundancy at work and continued on until she was laid off and then was quite relaxed about looking for another job and wanted to move in straight away so that she could feel looked after. J was busy looking for jobs for her, helping with CV’s and mapping networks to approach for opportunities.
Both were being supportive in their own minds and yet the other was feeling unheard, unseen, and unsupported. We worked on aligning intentions and actions to the others need in a way that would help both to feel like they were being supportive and being supported. We also identified that J was a perfectionist who measured success (and failure) on doing things which reflected on his own internal self-worth. B had low self-esteem and wanted to be looked after and rescued. Both of these originated from their own unresolved belief systems and once they both saw this, there was more empathy and connection. The intimacy increased when both could express their feelings, be heard and acknowledged.
When they came to see me, they were at the point of giving the other an ultimatum about the relationship. Once we had identified, understood, translated and created a common language for the core value of support, they very quickly found ways to move forward. The love was very obvious and the intimacy was better than they had experienced since they first started dating.
It is a good idea to look at your 3-5 core values. Things like safety, trust, team, fun, loving, kindness, loyalty, respect, equality, living life to the max are common examples.
It is the miss-alignment of core values that creates major disruption in relationships. If you haven’t done this already with your partner then do both of yourselves a favor and try it.
For some planning, a meeting to discuss will work. For others maybe a “date” over dinner or maybe a walk on the beach or by a river is great. Either way, make sure you have time to prepare and are in a calm/relaxed frame of mind.
Here are some tips:
• Understand that you are doing this to have fun and create/develop your future together.
• Have pen and paper to take notes about what the other says.
• Take turns, listen carefully, and limit your response while they are speaking about their core values to “ I hear you” or if unsure ask if they could please clarify as you don't quite understand.
• Write down what they express as their truth.
• If they say something that is not your perspective then acknowledge them e.g. “I hear you. That is not my intention. For me/My truth is....”
This may take some practice as sometimes there may be some obvious ( or not so obvious) power plays going on and it may need some mediating to come to a common view. A key thing to remember is that the intention to do this is to develop your relationship! It will help to come with an open mind, open heart and a desire to want to connect even when you may feel like you want to be right.