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Being an adult in relationships

Posted by on Aug 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

Being an adult in relationships

There are many reasons couples end up in counselling. A lack of intimacy, affairs, drifting apart, fallen out of love, constant fighting and boredom are among the common reasons couples come into my office.  All of these things can be dealt with a high rate of success in counselling if both partners are willing to take responsibility for their role in the current situation, put the effort into repair and rebuilding, and work on themselves.  Serious relationship problems usually arise not because relationships are going through a difficult time, but because individuals still use immature ways of dealing with them.

When we are kids we use certain tactics to get what we need and want in life.  This is how we learn how far we can go and what is socially accepted.  Most people grow out of egocentric and manipulative behavior and go on to function effectively in relationships.  However, if our childhoods were chaotic, unpredictable or abusive, these immature ways of functioning (and surviving) can be exaggerated and we may take these traits with us into adulthood, unconsciously creating dysfunction in our mature relationships.

The personality types that cause the most chaos in relationships are:

controlThe Controller: One partner thinks it is their right to tell the other how to dress, when they can go out and how long, who they can associate with, and so on.  That’s not OK.  Just because someone has said I love you to another does not then give that person permission to control them or their actions in any way.   Every one of us is a unique precious life and only we can decide what is best for us.  If our partner goes out with someone we don’t like, so be it.  If they want to go Africa and live in the wilds for 6 months, we need to live with it.  If they want to get a tattoo of the devil on their face, we need to drive them down to the tattoo shop.  This is their life, not ours.  We do not own anyone apart from ourselves.  And at any time we can choose not to be with them.  But if we choose to be with them then we must be with them for who they are. We must support and encourage them in all of their endeavors, even if it is not what we would have chosen.

The Manipulator: Another dysfunctional partner I see is the manipulator.  This person has a no holes-barred approach to winning at all costs.  They will twist the words of the other to win an argument.  They talk behind your back and pit you against someone else if it means they win.  They constantly engage in games to get their own way.  They will lie to make a point or exaggerate impact of an action.  They threaten, try to get you to admit things you didn’t do or tell you what you were thinking. They make you feel bad for having certain opinions or do things they are fully aware that you do not like to repay a debt.  Not cool.  Manipulation should be left in the 6th grade where it belongs. (or not!)

The Passive Aggressor: A close relative of the manipulator is the passive aggressor.  Using tactics very similar to the manipulator, the passive aggressor manipulates situations to suit their own needs.  However the passive aggressive partner never tells you what they really think or feel and prefer to present a happy face all the time underneath harboring grudges and resentments waiting for the opportunity to use underhanded tactics to make their distaste known.  The may roll their eyes, make you feel silly /stupid / uninformed for having a certain viewpoint, say everything is OK when it isn’t, try to make you feel like there is something wrong with you, say words like “whatever” or “fine” or blame “your emotions” for the problem.  They may shut down and refuse to engage in dialogue about important issues. They will talk to their friends and family behind your back all in an attempt to get back at you without having to actually face you. Well, it’s time to get a backbone and “say what you mean…and mean what you say.”

The Victim:  “I can’t take it anymore”, “Why does he constantly do this to me?”  “I have tried everything and still she doesn’t respond”.  This is probably the most common of all dysfunctional relationship roles I see.  This person always thinks that their partner is doing things deliberately to hurt them or all of their problems are the other person’s fault.  Well I hate to break the news, but bar the odd personality disorder or serious emotion issues, most  relationship problems are caused by the interaction between the two people and not one person alone.  Time to take responsibility for your part in the relationship and your contribution to the current situation. Time to take the reigns and be the hero in the relationship rather than waiting for the other person to “buck up”.  Change your step and the whole dance will change.

So what does an adult relationship look like?

There are many components to an adult relationship.  Fundamentally, it means putting your partner’s needs before your own.  I always tell my clients that the best way to get your needs met is to meet your partner’s needs.  If you are always putting your needs and wants first, then you will continue in the negative cycle.  So how do we do this?

  • First seek to understand and then seek to be understood
  • Never react, instead taking a step back and give yourself time to respond in a thoughtful way
  • Never use anger, insults, criticism or contempt
  • Use compassion to always try to gain an understanding of your partner’s point of view
  • Catch yourself whenever you find yourself being passive aggressive and try to be more direct (with kindness)
  • Put the relationship before individual needs and wants

If you make kindness and compassion the basis for your relationships instead of “what can I get out of this?” then miraculously you will find all of your needs and wants mysteriously get met.