What does it take to be a partner in a successful couple relationship? Your answer may range from “I have no idea” to “All you need is L-O-V-E”. The truth of the matter is that being in a lasting relationships requires action! “Couple-ing” is not a spectator sport. A healthy relationship requires that each participant is able to give and receive love and affection. Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist and creator of emotionally focused therapy (EFT) for couples, has discovered three factors that relationships must have in order to be truly healthy. These are accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement. Yes, you will see that these are verbs. Let’s take these three factors and plug them into some stages of couple relationships.
Falling in love is easy so let’s assume that you are already past the Awkward and Basic Attraction stages. The biochemical of oxytocin and dopamine make you feel so good that it you see the object of your affection through “rose colored glasses”. Often couples are in love with being in love without really knowing what it takes to really be a committed to one person.
Now you both are thinking about taking the relationship to the next level and are looking at the possibility of a long term relationship. This is the stage that creates some challenges due to deeper conversations regarding values, lifestyle, and expectations of the relationships. With effective communication and the 3 critical factors of accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement the two of you can get through the tough times together and learn to trust each other. Both parties have to choose to work at the relationship. Yes, choose is another verb! This is the stage where power struggles occur and blaming each other for disappointments and misunderstandings. Each person is struggling to be heard and understood within the relationship. Below are actions that get you closer to the intimacy stage:
- Accept and appreciate each other’s differences
- Learn to share power and realize that using force will never get you what you want in love
- Realize who you are and what you have (as a couple)
- Give up your fantasies of harmony without struggle
Relationships take effort. If both partners are not willing to do the work then re-evaluate why you are together (one or more of the three factors may be missing in action).
- worked through the Awkward, Basic Attraction, and Uncertainty stages of adult relationships.
- have a good idea about who you are and who your partner is (the good and not so great) and you choose each other anyway.
- realize that a safe, comfortable attachment is far more valuable and attractive than earlier lustful feelings.
- begin to feel the balance (verb) of togetherness and separateness.
- are emotionally and physically accessible to each other and are learning to respond more fully to the other’s needs.
The trap at this stage is thinking that your work is done. The couple work continues. There are too many verbs here to highlight- just know you need to pay attention and stay actively involved in couple-ing.
You and your partner are authentic with each other and can resolve the power struggles and uncertainties with effective communication. You are emotionally engaged with each other without being consumed by strong emotions. This is no small task in couple-ing. When partners have shared experiences and deeply care for each other’s well-being, it is often challenging to empathize and support without trying to “fix” the emotional upset. Partners may even work on projects together that give back to the world (e.g. charity work, business, family). A word of caution- save time to continue nurturing your relationship (nurture is a verb!). It is a trap to get so busy giving to the world and growing the family that you forget about the intimacy and fun that brought you to this stage of couple-ing.
If you and your partner are experiencing challenges in your couple-ing, I have experience working with couples at all stages of relationship building/reconstructing.
If you are interested in learning more about individual, couple, or family therapy please call me for a 15 minute consultation 940-222-8703 Ext. 705. To schedule an appointment online click on “Dr. Pam”. Need assistance with premarital counseling? We have a group beginning for couples who want to start out on the right foot! Call us today for more information.