I offer couple counseling to heterosexual, gay, and lesbian marriages and partners, helping couples identify and change dysfunctional patterns, resolve conflicts, co-create a fulfilling relationship, and achieve a marriage/partner "tune up" as people and situations change over time. Family life changes (birth of a baby, school-age children, adolescents, co-parenting, new job, loss, move away from a community, life transitions, empty nesters, etc.) often are challenging and difficult transitions, that can push adults into unchartered territory with accompanying anxiety and distress. Healthy relationships give each partner freedom to develop and pursue individual goals, trust the other, collaborate on decision-making, develop task-sharing, communicate effectively, respect differences, appreciate their partners and accept imperfections. In any healthy relationship, common stages occur as shown below. Healthy relationships allow people to grow, maintain autonomy and connection, find solutions, attain healthy goals, and have corrective relational experiences. It's possible!
Based on my observations, study, and experience of what promotes and maintains healthy and equal relating, consider the following, some of which was found on the American Psychological Association webpage:
· Differentiate from your family of origin so that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings, and you honor yourself and your uniqueness, a major developmental task.
· Build togetherness based on a shared intimacy, while setting boundaries to protect each partner's autonomy.
· Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual or intimate relationship and protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations.
· For couples with children, embrace the roles of parenthood and absorb the impact of a baby's entrance into the marriage. Learn to continue the work of protecting the privacy of you and your spouse/partner as a couple.
· Confront and master the inevitable crises of life.
· Maintain the strength of the marital or partner bond in the face of adversity. The marriage or partnership should be a safe haven in which partners are able to express their differences, non-violent or non-abusive anger and conflict.
· Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
· Nurture and comfort each other, satisfying each partner's needs for healthy dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support.
· Understand the stages of a healthy relationship I've listed above. Be willing to reevaluate, change expectations, look at new options that fit current situations.
Listen to each other; provide mutual support, acknowledgement, validation and respect for each other's perceptions.
Work so that each partner feels heard and undertstood.
Appreciate and support each other's individual goals, activities, interests, friends.
Agree to disagree.
Consider family of origin and patterns in relationships that may be affecting each partner.
Continue to work on developing healthy patterns and a safe and healthy relationship.
Have rituals of connection such as a morning "goodbye hug," sitting on the deck for sunset, texting "I love you."
Thank your partner for taking out the trash, making dinner, cleaning up, organizing a picnic, etc.
Try couple counseling for a "check up" and to help reduce conflict, gain understanding, and appreciate why one was attracted to the other in the first place.