Our self-esteem, contentment and capacity to flourish are influenced significantly by our relationships with family, friends or partners. Healthy relationships can provide us with support, affection, excitement and love. However, when relationships go wrong, they can be a source of distress and sorrow.
Human relationships are infinitely complex and problems can manifest from many different sources. It can be helpful to take time to explore and unpick the mixture of these influences. Potential influences include:-
- Difficult relationships from the past which make us less able to trust others
- Pressure from others to begin or end a relationship
- The media leading us to form an idealised view of relationships which is at odds with the reality for most couples.
Developing successful relationships
Research suggests that the following characteristics are helpful in nurturing successful relationships within family relationships, friendships and partnerships:
An acceptance of difference: embracing difference within a relationship rather than attempting to change the other person to be the same as ourselves.
Capacity for boundaries: understanding others cannot meet all our needs although we may aspire for this at times.
Operating mainly in the present: avoiding focusing repeatedly on past grievances or basing a relationship on the hope of future improvement.
Respect for individual choice: adapting a relationship to respect each person’s autonomy and right to choose his/her own path in life.
Skill in negotiating: discovering each person’s wants and needs and then working out a way to fulfil these different goals without one person having to compromise totally.
Sharing positive feelings: sharing kindness and thoughtfulness within a family relationship or friendship. For a couple, sharing sexual intimacy.
Two common misconceptions that hinder the development of a successful relationship include:
- Believing relationships that need working at are not worth having
- Believing the other person in the relationship should know how you feel
In fact, a healthy relationship requires work and adaptation through a shared responsibility for its well-being. Changes made through honest and open communication, encourage the expression of feelings and the avoidance of misunderstandings.
Can you talk about problems? Relationship counsellors often recommend you speak for up to fifteen minutes about a problem whilst the other person listens carefully, interrupting only to clarify their understanding, or help you express yourself clearly. The other person then takes a similar amount of time to explain their point of view, followed by a shared discussion for half an hour to try to resolve the problem. If you don’t succeed this time, the problem can be returned to in a few days’ time.
How well can you negotiate? Consider these four steps:
- Find out what each one wants. Do you know what both you and your partner are hoping for? You need to consider both your own perspective and that of others.
- Look for common ground. This is helpful in establishing what you are not negotiating about particularly when negotiation is in danger of failing.
- Broaden the basis of the negotiation. A negotiation often fails because it all hinges on one thing but often there are many negotiable aspects of a situation.Look for opportunities to trade. It is unlikely you both place the same importance on particular issues.
- Identify the important issues for you both and consider trading what is most important for you by giving way on what is most important to someone else.
Do you have fair expectations of your relationship? A good relationship can provide you with love and support but are you looking for it to provide you with something only you can achieve? E.g. hoping it will provide you with a sense of purpose or worth or protect you from a deep personal fear. Conversely, are you accepting a relationship that only brings you continual unhappiness and grief? If so you may be accepting a far lower quality of interaction than you deserve. It is particularly important you seek the right support to change or end an abusive relationship.
The Good Relationship Guide
Dr Maryon Tysoe, Piatkus Books, 1997 Written mainly for women, this guide uses psychological research in an attempt to understand and improve relationships.
How to Be in a Personal Relationship: Skills for Beginning, Strengthening and Maintaining an Intimate Personal Relationship. Stephen Sampson, Cindy Elrod, 2008
Manage your Mind – The Mental Fitness Guide Gillian Butler, Tony Hope, 2007 Includes a useful section on improving relationships.
Women Who Love Too Much. Robin Norwood, Arrow, 2004
Norwood describes loving too much as a pattern of thought and behaviour, which certain women develop as a response to problems from childhood.
Games People Play. Eric Berne, Penguin Books, 2004 Looking at the psychological games we play in order to live with one another.
Overcoming Relationship Problems
Michael Crowe, Robinson, 2005 A CBT self-help book to help you deal with the difficulties that arise in close relationships.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
John Gray, Harper Collins, 2002 A guide aimed at improving communication within your relationships.
I'm OK, You're OK
Thomas Harris, Arrow Books, 1995. Helps explain how to gain to control of yourself, your relationships and your future.
The Dance of Intimacy: A woman's guide to courageous acts of change in key relationships
Harriet Lerner, Harper Collins, 1999 A guide to fostering intimacy in all relationships.
Cracking the Love Code
Janet O'Neal, Piatkus Books, 1999 A guide to honesty, understanding, communicating and getting what we want and need in a relationship.
Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage
Maggie Scarf, Ballantine, 2008 Examines how relationships work, how the past may influence them, the underlying causes of marital tension, the predictable stages of a relationship, and the role of sex as marital relationships evolve.
Is it Love or is it Addiction?
Brenda Schaeffer, Hazelden, 1997
You Just Don't Understand: Women and men in conversation
Deborah Tannen, Virago, 1992
http://www.loveisrespect.org/ An American site so some resources might not be available in the UK, however there is lots of useful information on this site.
The University Counselling Service is available for students and staff of the University of Warwick www.warwick.ac.uk/counselling
Please see list of other self-help references.
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