Today, sorting moorings by the beach, I was observing how the buoys had chains of different lengths and weights. They are all held in place by these chains and shackles to help keep the boats in close proximity to where they belong. They are tethered, and have only a little leeway-which for a boat means it is safe.
I was reflecting on how this links to the primary relationships in our lives and how at all times, particularly during lockdown, some couples have felt happy to be in such close proximity and have found many benefits. Some have found it very difficult to not be able to drift away and have the space they are used to and need.
Within relationships there is said to be either four or five types of intimacy but I like to simplify that to three areas. The ‘attraction’ which is intimacy and includes sex, the ‘business’ or day to day running of life and the ‘friendship’ area of a relationship. Each partner needs to feel that there is a general balance in these areas over the period of the relationship for them to feel content within that relationship.
Sometimes one area takes a backseat for a while and another is more important. If there is a financial crisis the ‘business’ side may take on more importance for a time, for example. In Relationship Therapy we also often talk about The Ideal, The Real Deal and the Ordeal.
The Attraction, During The Ideal part of the relationship you often have a romanticised idea of what a relationship looks like. This will often come from what you observed growing up (maybe trying to recreate something you saw or attempting to recreate the opposite). Couples often come along to counselling as this ‘Hollywood’ version of the relationship, where they are highly physically attracted to each other and having sex at every opportunity, is diminishing and they feel as if they are failing or worried that means that the love is leaving.
It is time then to look at the Real Deal. Is that level of relationship generally possible to maintain? Is it realistic? What does it mean that this is changing? And both (if there are two in the relationship) will make sense of the change differently.
This difference then causes the Ordeal, conflict over how often ‘normal’ people have sex, differences between each individuals’ wants and needs and what sex means to each person. Might it be a way to stay connected, say sorry or express love? Does being intimate mean penetrative sex or does touching or holding hands ‘count’ ?
This conflict then impacts on the relationship. Most of us would rather discuss anything other than what we like in bed!! We are shocking at talking about sex. Most often we DO NOT communicate well and communication, or lack of, is what brings most couples to my therapy room.
The Business side of a relationship just means day to day life. At the beginning of a relationship, maybe when you moved in together did you discuss how to run this side of thing? Many people don’t.
During The Ideal time in the relationship partners you are excited about making a home together. Because you love each other so much you often feel like ‘things will work themselves out’, if you consider it at all. Down the line when The Real Deal kicks in and one person feels as if they have all the responsibility for something issues can arise. If you have an idea that you are ‘no good with money’ and leave it to the other to manage without discussion resentment can build which leads to conflict and The Ordeal.
Generally you would not take on a business without a discussion and yet often you enter a relationship with no discussion or communication at all. The balance can be maintained by learning to communicate around day to day issues. For example who picks the children up from clubs, who puts the bins out or who cooks dinner.
The Friendship part of a relationship relates to what you do socially or in your spare time and who you do that with. In The Ideal time of a new relationship often friends are put to one side and a lot of time is spent on your relationship. Finding out about each other, being curious and asking questions. If you are in a long term relationship when was the last time you learnt something new about your partner? Are you still curious? Or are you spending more time in the Real Deal where maybe you are so tired with work and children that you have forgotten about being friends. Instead of pulling together you can pull apart and conflict can arise and take you into the Ordeal where bickering starts or you feel distant or neglected. Where you may be attracted to the other person in the early days as they were ’carefree and fun’ you may reach the Ordeal stage where this can turn into the thought that the other partner ‘is irresponsible and childish’.
We can end up drifting away from our partners so we may try and keep someone chained and close, like the buoys and chains keep the boats close. If our communication is all at sea then we may not feel content.
The good news is that we can move from Ordeal to Real Deal and dip into Ideal if we learn to ask for what we want and compromise but this takes clear communication between you.
If you would like to work on your communication or understand more about the communication in your relationship please look for a Relationship Counsellor, currently they are working online, it is better to notice now before you get out of your depth and improve your closeness before you sink!!
Things to try to help your curiosity and build communication….
The Gottman Card Decks App-A free app with questions, statements and ideas for improving your relationship from The Gottman Institute.
Mind mapping there are a number of websites about how to mind map which is a great tool for helping you discuss all the areas of your life.
Be curious about your partner and their life, ask questions about their day, dreams and goals, their ideas and opinions…. So often you ask so that you can tell rather than asking to learn.
Contact me, Jane Hancock, on firstname.lastname@example.org to either make an appointment or to find out if I can help.