Part 2 - Communicating Better in Your Romantic Relationship

6 February, 2011

The previous blog talked about how to communicate better in all your relationships, and this month's blog is focussing on how to communicate better in what I term your "romantic relationships" - which doesn't mean you are "romantic" in the traditional sense of the word, more the person who is your lover, partner, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend......

It is an interesting time to be alive on the planet, I think. So much has changed in the last 60 years or so in the western world; our roles within our genders have changed and will continue changing. What were traditional and defined in male-female relationships are no longer traditional and defined, which has been and will continue to be hugely liberating for both males and females; whether we are in opposite-sex relationships or same-sex relationships. On the other hand, of course, the new choices we all have in society about how we can live our lives and conduct ourselves can often lead to ambiguity and uncertainty - what do we expect from our partners as a man or a woman? What do they expect from us? And what can we and do we expect from ourselves? Is this realistic and well communicated, or can we string people out for not meeting them, even if they aren't clearly defined in the first place?

And expectations to me are an interesting thing. We have a lot of them in this society, and most of them too high and unobtainable. (Which I have written about in previous blogs, and my hope for people is to develop a way of having high standards without alarmingly high expectations that they can't meet and then tell themselves off for not meeting.) Most people don't take the time they need to put into the their own self and personal development, leaving a lot of our personal needs unmet, which we then, wrongly, expect our partners to meet, and when they don't, this can lead to dissatisfaction in the relationship and arguments. So, what is the balance here and how do we achieve it?

The thing that can happen in "romantic relationships" that doesn't happen so often in friendships or family relationships, although it still can, is the fact that there are (most of the time!) just two of you involved - two people, bouncing things off just one other person, who can't be objective as the other person has their own needs and agenda, and are too, bouncing things off the other person in the relationship! Sound complicated? I guess it is, really! What it means, is because of this kind of dynamic, things can get very, very subjective in there, with no opportunity for an objective view point, unless we ask a friend - and usually the friend will be on "our side" and unable to be completely objective and help us see where we personally need to change. This is why couple's counselling and therapy can be useful, to get that truly objective vantage point when things get a bit messy. Of course there are ways of cleaning things up before it gets to that stage, with some useful communication and strategies.

The Balance

The balance needs to be this: You are a whole person. You know yourself, who you are, what you are about and what you want out of life. You know what you need to do to keep yourself balanced; meaning happy and healthy, and you do these things to look after yourself.

You have a partner that is the same. You come together as two wholes, and make one even wholer-whole - a new system. You do have needs that you cannot meet by yourself; and these needs are met by your partner - a role you play for one another. You are independent in an intra-dependent relationship.

You support one another to be your absolute best, and know what makes the other one tick, and help them grow. You can recognise when your own "stuff" is getting in the way of this, and can take steps to sort that out. You recruit agreed "support" from your partner to do this, yet you do not "expect" they will sort it out for you, or fix you, as you know this can only come from you. You are patient and supportive when it is their turn to do this.

You communicate and sort things out together, and take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings, and recognise when these end and when your partner's begin.

You are in love and secure within this. You know you have your own and each other's best interests at heart. You display love and affection towards each other and a loving and trusting environment.

You are both committed to spending time working on the relationship, and therefore making it work.

How do you get there?

Some of you may already be there - which is great. And you CAN get there in your relationships. It just takes a little work and devotion, that is all, and is also an ongoing process of relatING to one another (not a static thing).

1. Clarity about who you are

I believe and have seen that the best relationships occur when the ingredients above are in the mix - and some of you may have started from a place of relative "wholeness" before you got into a relationship, and some of you may of course still be growing into wholeness whilst being supported in your current relationship.

The key here, is to KNOW yourself. If you are single, then you are in a state where you can take stock of this - where did things go wrong in your last relationship, and how did YOU contribute to that? What kind of partner do you want to be in your next relationship? What baggage do you know you have carried from relationship to relationship and what are you going to do to let that go now? Look at this previous blog if you aren't clear on this stuff yet go here:

What are your values: what is fundamentally important to you in your life, so that you can make decisions about how and where to spend your time and energy and therefore your direction? Do you know? If not, how can you expect to know if you and your partner share the same ideas about what is important in the world? A lot of relationships fail because there are too many values in conflict - what YOU think is important and how you want to spend YOUR time is very different from them. If you are not clear on this yet - go here:

What keeps you happy and balanced? KNOW this, so you don't expect or rely on someone else to know this for you. Get clearer here:

2. Get clear together

Your relationship doesn't need to be in trouble for you to do this - it is just another exciting part of your journey together, or, if it is a new relationship, it is useful to get clear about this at the beginning, to make sure you are on track and these things are aligned. Once you are clear on number one above, and so is your partner, get together and check - how much is aligned, i.e. you want the same things and are heading in the same direction? How much is oppositional? What can be worked on, and what are irretrievable differences that won't work together (wouldn't you rather know this now, rather than five years down the track?). How can you support each other with those complimentary skills you have? Is there enough here to make a life together and be happy?

3. Communicate!

Goodness, this really does seem like an obvious one doesn't it, and how many times have you heard it?! If you have good communication skills, please, please use them, and if you don't, please, please learn them! The ability to be honest about stuff and explain what is going on for you, and checking what is going on for them, and finding a solution together without projecting your "stuff" onto them IS a real skill, and it is totally possible and worth it. It is said to be the key to the quality of the relationship, and in my professional experience is one of the main reasons relationships fail.

There are many reasons people find it difficult to communicate well, it is certainly ongoing work and practice to do this, and again, worth it.


Transforming Communication by Dr Richard Bolstad

The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman.

4. Develop patience

Your partner isn't perfect, and you are not either. Why? Because there are no perfect people in the world, sorry to be the one that tells you that. There will undoubtedly be things that annoy you about your partner, and there will be things you do that annoy them. They will have patterns that don't fit with you, or that inconvenience you. Resist the urge to make them "wrong" for this. Look at yourself too, you have things about you that are also annoying. If the fundamentals are all there (above) then these minor irritations are forgivable. You can only know the difference between what's fundamental and what is "surface level" once you have done the work above, which is why it is super useful to get clear on this stuff!

5. Show love and affection regularly

Again, seems like an obvious one, doesn't it? You would be surprised at how many couples forget! When we are not in touch with ourselves, and we expect our partner to fill ALL our needs, we forget what we need to do to fill their needs. Again, the aim is for this to be balanced between you. I heard recently that the definition of abundance was having so much of something that you can easily give some away. What would it be like to have an abundance of love? So much love for yourself, you can give so much to your significant other, without "expecting" anything back? What would it be like if you both did that? In Gottmans' research they found that successful couples (in long, loving relationships) said just 100 words of positive feedback to one another per day. One hundred words is not a great deal, just a few sentences, and it can be enough to make the difference. It doesn't mean you don't argue by the way, it just means that there is a ratio of more positive communication.

There are many ingredients that make a relationship work, and if you are single you have ample time to get really clear on this stuff, so you can walk into the next relationship whole. If you are already with someone, this will help you get clear together and set some important fundamentals in place. It is work, and it is worth it.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Charlotte. for coaching services in Wellington, NZ.

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