Relationship Check-Up

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

Now that Spring is at the doorstep, it’s a great time to tackle tuning-up tasks.  How about adding a diagnostic scan of the most important relationships in your life?  The positive payoff for doing this checkup regularly can be huge since relationship has the potential to be an extraordinary source of renewal, sustenance, and joy.  At the other end of the spectrum, without due care and attention, relationships can become unbelievably stressful and draining.

Over time, every relationship will develop intoa definite pattern of interaction.  If you were to sketch out the pattern of oneof your important relationships as it has evolved over time, what would yourecord?  Two lines weaving closely together, moving in and out as twoindividuals balance needs for closeness and separateness?  Two lines graduallymoving to a parallel pattern?  Or two lines gradually becoming more and moredistant?  This tune-up will invite you to commit to investing attention andenergy into creating a pattern that you consciously choose with your relationalpartner.

The second step on this check up will invite youto do a personal inspection!  In every longer term relationship each partnertends to play out a particular role.  In our work as counsellors, we have foundthat it is natural for most people to want to focus on the role played by theirrelationship partner.  Yet, try as we might, we cannot change our partners, andso the only effective place to have an impact on the quality of relationship isto take an unflinching look at ourselves.  The following questions provide agreat start to our inventory:

  1. What do I do in this relationship when I am at my worst?
  2. What kind of relationship partner do I want to be?  Are these the same qualities that I want to have in a partner?
  3. What will I have to do, change, or adjust in order to be an effective relationship partner?
  4. How am I preventing myself from being this kind of partner?
  5. What skills and knowledge do I need to acquire to become a better partner?   What am I prepared to do to gain these tools?

The final stop on this brief check-up is a lookat your approach to dealing with conflict.  In our work with couples, we generally see three different approaches to dealing with conflict.

  1. Attack and Defend.  Here energy is put into figuring who did what, often followed by counter-attack, then resentful compliance, confusion, and withdrawal.  The emotional payoff is feeling bad about yourself and your partner.
  2. Avoid or Deny.  This approach is generally used to side-step difficult emotions of anger, fear, or sadness while maintaining a semblance of harmony.  Problems are kept out of sight where they cannot be solved and where they continue to irritate and fester.
  3. Self-Disclose and Connect.  Readiness to use this approach is supported by an underlying comfort with experiencing a full range of feeling yourself and also allowing your partner the right to experience the same complete range.  This approach depends on the skill of verbalizing feelings clearly and respectfully.  It also requires you to be an attuned listener.

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