A Little On Relationships

Couples therapy is notoriously difficult, although when successful, it is tremendously rewarding. Many elements go into making it the most challenging of all therapeutic modalities, but the overarching one is probably the fact that for each of us “I, me, mine” are the most important concepts in any language. Even though it is rather easy to be giving, generous, and otherwise selfless in the first flush of romantic love, the generosity can be difficult to sustain over time, and its opposite, self-insistence, creeps into our day-to-day interactions. Once the passion of the early stages gives way to the inevitable awareness of finding oneself tied to an imperfect being, quite different in his or her fundamental vision from our own, disappointment and resentment may start to blind us to the beauty and richness of the other. This is not necessarily sad or destructive; however, how we conduct ourselves once the honeymoon ends, and it’s day 1 of the rest of our lives, makes all the difference.
Over the years, I have accumulated some experience of couplehood, through observation of others, clinical experience, and relationships of my own. Here is a quick and dirty (and by no means exhaustive!) list of ways partners in successful relationships act.

In a good relationship, partners:

– Do everything in the spirit of loving respect
– Strive for accommodation, not submission
– Are generous of spirit, believing that they should try to work for the other’s happiness
– Are not spiteful and do not act in opposition to one another just to win, to “be right”, or to make sure the other loses
– Are flexible and open
– Are trusting and trustworthy
– See more or less eye to eye on important issues, instinctively or through deliberate effort
– Recognize that they have crucial differences but make room for the position of the other to exist; acknowledge the differences but do not assign value judgments to them and work as much as possible to go on productively even with the differences
– If they’re fortunate and strong, use their differences, as they become apparent in daily interactions, to facilitate their own and each other’s development
– Are able and willing to express themselves to one another
– Are never harsh or critical of the open expression by the other
– Take responsibility for hurting one another
– Are able to apologize and accept apologies
– Never resort to violence, humiliation, name calling, and other below-the-belt tactics
– Pull their weight more or less equally in a relationship, recognizing it as a partnership
– Do not resort to martyrdom or righteous indignation, emphasizing one’s own contribution over that of the partner
– Keep their remarks about one another to the present situation as opposed to holding onto and dredging up old issues
– Have achieved some kind of sexual harmony, as far as the quality and quantity of sexual activity
– Never use sex as a power lever or a bargaining chip
– Have achieved an understanding of how to handle financial matters that works for both
– Never use money as a power lever or a bargaining chip
– Recognize the values the other has and try to accommodate those values, even if they themselves do not consider them important (e.g., if a wife asks that coats be hung on hooks immediately, the husband will do so, even if believes that hanging the coat “eventually” is fine; wife will make an effort to turn off all the lights even if she doesn’t think it’s as big a deal as her husband does)
– Never insist that the other “just get over himself/herself” (If one asks for family members to clear plates off the table, the other doesn’t roll eyes or say “Come on, what the hell does that matter? You’re too much of a neat freak/control freak,” etc.).