Recently I attended a conference on the subject of Couple Therapy here, in Vienna. I have to say, I really enjoyed the conference and most of all it has inspired me in writing this post.
The main idea I’ve got after this conference is that to survive as a couple in our days you need to cultivate a positive relationship with your partner and with yourself. Strong, positive relationships do not occur by chance, but are built on positive practices and are, according to a great deal of research, the source of creating energy and vitality which might have a profound impact on our lives, including health and longer life expectancy.
Another good reason why we should cultivate positive relationships is that in every couple there will come crisis. In my opinion, a couple who shared many positive experiences, has better chances to overcome these crisis and even more, partners who have a more positive approach will see the crisis as opportunity to take the relationship to a deeper level.
One of the first questions I ask couples when they come in my praxis is to tell me the story about how they met and what was it that made the partner attractive to them? So we take a look at the happy times in their history and this very often transforms in a beautiful love story. Because yes, most of us got married because we were in love and when in love, troubles are not so important. If telling positive stories about your couple makes you happy, what can you do to create more of these positive moments?
To begin, think about the couple as having three components: you, your partner and your relationship. Creating a positive relationship means according the same importance and value to each of these three components.
LET’S TAKE YOU AND YOUR PARTNER
Each individual in a couple needs the freedom to be him/herself, to develop its own interests with the support and acceptance of the partner. This leads to uniqueness, autonomy and the feeling of being accepted and respected as individuals. A person feeling good with him/herself has more strengths, resources and willingness to invest in creating and maintaining a positive relationship. Invest time in knowing yourself and your needs, in knowing what makes you happy, what makes you sad! This plays a valuable part in building the grounds of a positive relationship. Expecting only from the others (husband, wife, children) to make you happy, might work for a while, but on the long term is not a good solution. Remember that YOU are your best friend! For you to know yourself you also need to acknowledge your emotions, to recognize an emotion when it’s there. Why is this important? Because emotions lead to thoughts and thoughts lead to behavior.
If you can do that, you have more chances to develop abilities of emotional self-control, abilities that we need every day in our interactions with the others. When you master self-control, you will experience more calmness and you are more connected with you and your partner. That translates into more affectionate behavior, even when you fight. On the contrary, lack of self-control in a fight can lead to contempt and aggression spiral out of control, which can bring irrevocable damage in a relationship. Because emotions are contagious, it makes a lot of sense to cultivate positive emotions. If you are not convinced, than try and think of past experiences: did you enjoy when you met let’s say a friend who is often angry or sad or do you prefer being with someone who is joyful, amusing?
We all know what are the negative emotions, but maybe not all of you know what are the positives ones: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and the last, but not least: love. To maintain a healthy body we know we must eat at least 5 fruits or vegetables a day. Eating a broccoli once in a month will not do the work. It is the same with positive emotions: cultivating these emotions is a daily work that on the long term will help us becoming better versions of ourselves.
Your relationship means “us”: the way you connect with your partner, the way you share moments with joy, sadness, and yes, sometimes conflicts. It means taking decisions together and acting like members of the same team (my husband’s favorite line☺). The nature of your relationship is strongly influenced by the way each of you feels about yourself (your self esteem) and by the way you communicate.
Positive relationships are built on a strong base of friendship. This includes not only reciprocal respect and joy in being together, but also a deep understanding of the other: what are his/her dreams, anxieties, characteristics, fears, likes and dislikes. Positive communication plays an essential role. We all know that tone makes the music. This is not to say that relationship interactions must never include any negative statements. There are always negative elements in any strong relationship and not accepting our differences can lead to lack of authenticity and putting our needs on the side. On the contrary, positive communication ensures that your message is delivered accurately, straightforward and sincere. The most important attributes of supportive communication are to be descriptive rather than evaluative. I found very useful the use of non-violent communication created by Marshall Rosenberg. In his book he describes communication as having four components:
- Observations ( for ex: “you came late last night”)
- Feelings ( “I feel irritated/ disappointed/sad…”)
- Needs (“…because I am needing more time with you”)
- Requests (“would you be willing to take some extra time for me?”)
When we use such way of communication we have a higher chance of closing constructively a conflict, actually finding a solution without being drained of energy from a fight.
To summarize, I believe that it is certainly not an easy task to cultivate and express positive emotions or to succeed in practicing positive communication in a time when we are busy with work, us, children, friends, but as I sometimes say to my clients: life is made of small moments, we are born and we die in small moments, why not be careful in how we live these small moments? A solid house is build brick by brick and so is our relationship.
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