So here we are at the Easter / ANZAC public holidays, and like many people I speak to, it is ‘How did we get here so quickly’?
With over three months passing since Christmas and the first term of school is done, I look back over this period and remonstrate the amount of work, tasks, logistics, driving, sport events, school functions, time on planes, taxis and hotel rooms I have spent and wonder … how did we fit it all in?
Indeed, life is busy, so how do we continue at this pace and stay connected in our relationships. John Gottman quotes a study of professional couples where both are working full time, and it is found that during their week there is less than 30 minutes of conversation between the 2 of them and the majority of this conversation is on logistics e.g. who is dropping the kids off to their extracurricular activities, what to buy for dinner and so on.
This cannot be OK. I appreciate we are all busy. Nevertheless we need to make, indeed create, opportunities in our relationship to connect, to generate fondness and friendship, to update each other on how we are traveling through time and space individually and together.
So how we can we do this?
The following are three suggestions on how this can be achieved. They don’t necessarily cost money, but they do include time and the both of you.
Turns out the answer is a resounding YES! In the last 40 years or so world class researcher John Gottman has been looking closely at what makes relationships work and what makes them fail. His findings have been astonishing in their accuracy. Seems that successful couples understand a range of concepts, skills and strategies that improve their ability to manage conflict, continuously deepen their friendship and intimacy, create a deep sense of shared meaning, and develop high levels of trust and loyalty.
Imagine Sally and Ron, they have been together for several years, they are walking through their local park when Sally says, “Wow, look at that beautiful flower!” Ron is now confronted with a sliding door moment. If he takes door 1 he will turn towards Sally by saying something like, “Yes, it’s very beautiful. You really love flowers don’t you.” Or he could make a more neutral response by saying simply acknowledging her with a “Mmmm.” This is called turning towards a bid for connection.
If he takes door 2 he will completely ignore Sally’s comment and just keep walking. This is called turning away from a bid for connection. Or if he takes door 3 he might say something like, “For goodness sake, how often do we have to admire a pretty flower. They’re flowers, they’re pretty, I got it!” This is called a turning against a bid for connection.
Many couples ask, what changes in your life after you have a baby?
The better question to ask is … what DOESN’T change!
These transformations, modifications and reformations can be too many to list here today – but we will focus on 4 facts that are backed by research – that do affect many couples once they bring a new baby home.
1. Did you know that 67% of all couples become unhappy during the first 3 years of their baby’s life? Only 33% remain content!
The transition to parenthood can be a complex maze that many couples simply do not know that they need to prepare for. The new parenting books often fail to acknowledge the challenges that a couple will face when they bring a new baby home that often can affect the very core of their relationship.
The last few decades of human research have clearly demonstrated to us how inescapably relational and interconnected people are, however, most therapists still primarily work with individuals, most of whom present with serious, persistent problems in their intimate relationships.
Part of the reason is that many clients themselves avoid couples therapy. Sometimes they resist because they aren’t sure if they want to stay in the relationship, they are ambivalent and perhaps hope to get some clarity from seeing a therapist individually.
Sometimes they fear the unpleasant things their partner might say about them or they are scared about how volatile things might get if they raise issues they are unhappy about with their partner present. Sometimes the thought of really talking about what’s not working in their relationship feels too hard and there is not enough safety or trust in their relationship for them to allow themselves to become vulnerable about their hurts in front of their partner.
The holiday season can be a wonderful opportunity to take time out from the stressors of daily life, the pressures of work, the never-ending list of tasks and duties and to connect with your partner, children, family and friends. The holiday season is much anticipated and highly valued by many. It is the end of one year and beginning of another. A time for reflection on the past, a time for planning for the future and importantly a time to be present with the important people in your world. The holiday season can often be rich with rituals that bring people together, sharing experiences, traditions and connections.
It is also true that the holiday season can be a very difficult time where relationships can become strained and disconnected, where expectations and ideals are not discussed or shared, where miscommunication and tension can arise.
What is your partners favourite song? Favourite Ice Cream flavour, flower, sports team, movie, holiday destination, their favourite memory in your relationship, their birthday, anniversaries?
Do you know these answers about your partner in the present moment?
John and Julie Gottman call this Building Love Maps.
Just because you have had a baby, doesn’t mean that the universe will give you a break and put a hold on all of the external stresses that happen as a part of everyday life! In fact, all of the same challenges are still there once you become parents, but once you have a baby, your conversations with one another can tend to become 100% baby focused – and all other issues take a back seat.
So, when stressful situations that happen outside the home are continually not acknowledged or discussed, they can cause a build-up of anxiety, anger and withdrawal amongst couples – even though the situations did not originally involve them AS a couple, the fallout of not talking about them certainly can BECOME a relationship issue!
Most people would agree that heartbreak is the worst kind pain to experience. There is no easy medical intervention that will help. That dull, chronic pain feels like it is with you everywhere you go, and it can hit you like a kick in the guts at seemingly random moments when you are least expecting it. It is often at the core of your thoughts, and typically haunts you right before you go to sleep and the moment you wake up.
The problem is that most people don’t process their emotional pain.
I can’t tell you how many times we get asked for advice about how to make your relationship a success. Questions like: “If you could only identify one thing that makes relationships work, what would that be?” Of course, this is a trap, as there is simply not one strategy alone to make a relationship successful. Relationships need to work on multiple levels simultaneously. Couples need to continuously work on their friendship system building a strong sense of really being known by each other, being there for each other in small and significant times. Couples need to manage conflict with a sense of curiosity, that conflict is an opportunity to learn about each other. Conflict that is done with gentleness and respect is critical to a successful relationship. Relationships need to have meaningful rituals of connection and a mission for the future where dreams and goals are understood, shared and supported. However, if I was pushed to answer the question above, I would probably say that a critical aspect of relationship success is to know, understand and honour your partners dreams. To be in sync with your partners life long journey and to support their dreams and aspirations, journeying through life, sharing and supporting each other’s dreams is a wonderful gift.
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