"Relationships are really hard...if you care about the person." - Dave Hemstad (Comedian)
If you really think about it, relationships aren't that difficult as long as your partner:
- understands and anticipates your needs
- understands your quirks and idiosyncrasies
- likes similar things as you
- sees things from your point of view
- approaches tasks and problems with the same mindset as you would...
(See where we're going with this?)
Maybe you're looking at the list above and thinking that it's not like that at all; that the disagreements and conflicts that ensue are much more nuanced than that. But are they? The list above isn't exhaustive, but it is a snapshot of some of the broader themes that are revealed when we examine the core issues surrounding the conflicts and disagreements in our relationships. We think it, but may not necessarily say it: "A relationship would be much easier if it happens the way I want it to." Yes, it certainly would. But it wouldn't really be a relationship (at least, certainly not a healthy one) if this were the case, would it?
Or perhaps in reviewing the list above you're thinking these aren't unreasonable expectations at all. Would you be of the same opinion if your partner were holding these views?
Relationships entail the mutual and ongoing sharing of values and ideals. This is hard work if you love and care about your partner because you both would likely have very different perspectives with respect to particular ideals. Relationships are easy if your partner's needs, ambitions or concerns don't matter. However, if there is singular focus on what only one person's needs are, there is greater risk for your relationship to become toxic and/or exploitative.
To avoid this from happening, and to foster a healthy relationship here's what you can do:
1. Learn each other's love language.
Dr. Gary Chapman coined "The 5 Love Languages", outlining how every individual has a unique way they communicate their love with others. Coming from different life experiences, it is likely your partner will communicate in a love language different from yours. As a result, your interpretation of each other's love and affection can be greatly affected if there are things that get lost in translation.
2. Do things together
This is more than going on trips, or taking on a huge home project together. This is really about the process of getting to learn and understand each other. By doing even small tasks such as cooking dinner, running errands, or choosing a movie together, you get a window into how your partner thinks and why. This also allows more opportunities to learn how to communicate effectively with each other.
3. Develop healthy and effective communication with each other
Communication can be a huge challenge in a relationship, especially if you and your partner speak different love languages, or you don't know each other very well. This is why communicating with each other is most effective when the objective is to learn and understand your partner's point of view, and provide feedback that communicates your understanding. It helps to engage strategies such as:
- active listening: listening by reflecting to your partner how you understood their message
- assertive communication stating your needs and concerns clearly in a non-aggressive or non-passive way.
4. Build empathy
Building empathy can be seen as a combination of all the above points. More than that, it is the experience of feeling with each other, and this requires mutual respect and understanding. We are likely to become frustrated in our relationships when we are stuck in seeing things only from our perspective, and without understanding how and why our partners experience the relationship the way they do. You can read more about the importance of empathy here.
Relationships are hardly easy if you care about it enough because it involves ongoing, unselfish work. However, if you are both willing to do this work together, these are just a few strategies that could help you build on what you already have.
In many cases, it helps to navigate the issues and concerns you have about your relationship with a therapist. Feel free to contact me to discuss how therapy can be helpful to you.