Two Things that are Essential to Any Couple’s Relationship

by Nathan Chua

I am not one to say that I have easy answers to all of life’s problems. I hope the title does not mislead you into thinking that there are only two things that you need, to have a better relationship. Please note these are essential, but not the sole needs of every couple, who would each have their own set of unique circumstances affecting them. At times, their struggles concern other matters such as responsibility, physical intimacy, child-rearing, money management or trust. For this blog post however, I will focus on two deficits that I find common among couples that I meet. Let’s call them the Two C’s of Loving Relationships.

First C is for Connection.

In a blaming and shaming culture, it is easy to fall into adopting a false stance, or a false self. We essentially try to hide who we are, in the face of the shame that we experienced, most often early in life. To minimize emotional pain, we dig deep into our comfort zones, where the need to express some of our more vulnerable emotions, is held in abeyance. We therefore lose that inherent ability to show our emotions as they truly are.

This inability to show authentic emotions is connected to how couples feel toward each other. Couples only see the angry side of each other. I often wonder how a weeping and distressed individual that I see in my office, could be treated so harshly by the other. It is rather simply because this helpless and vulnerable state, is not what is normally displayed at home. Home has become unsafe. The relationship is no longer as real as it had been when it was just beginning. The result is each partner just expecting the worse out of the other, as they only see their angry and resentful selves, with no reason to believe that change can come anytime soon. Connection is lost and will be hard to come by if vulnerable emotions are kept hidden.

Second C is for Compassion.

This should not be confused with guilt or pity. Compassion is a genuine concern for the welfare of the other. Caring enough for your partner, that the last thing you’d like to see, is witnessing him or her in deep pain and sorrow. Guilt on the other hand, is a focus on the self and not on the other, while pity is too distant, and denigrates the dignity of the other. Without compassion for the offended person, it will be hard to connect and heal the inevitable emotional wounds, that are bound to be inflicted in all close relationships. Compassion is the fuel that feeds forgiveness, and the glue that connects our souls.

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How couples can fight fair

by Nathan Chua

If there is one thing that can be named as something that is certain to happen among couples, it is conflict.  There is a familiar quip among those in the helping business, that people will not hesitate to spend millions for a wedding, but can’t seem to fork out a few thousands for therapy.  Couples are mostly unaware of this absurdity.  They prepare for an elaborate wedding ceremony, that has little to no consequence on the long-term health of their relationship.

Anyway, since it is no longer a question of whether conflicts will arise or not, it is a matter of how such disagreements can draw two people together, rather than drive them apart.

Here are what come to mind:

Be factual, not historical

Yes, it is unfair for anyone in a relationship to keep bringing past hurts to spite the other.  Remember, I added the qualifier, “To spite the other.”  Please note though that it is not always wrong to raise past hurts.  However, airing those concerns at the outset, will mean you don’t have to bring them up in the future.

Mind reading vs. expressing desires

I have seen this play out in the counseling room countless times.  Couples feel uncomfortable asking for what they want.  In their minds, their partners should already know without being told.  On top of this, they are just as uncomfortable when their partners do the very thing they ask for, thinking it is contrived and insincere.

Don’t be afraid to say what you want and what you need.  You will have differences in the ways you express and receive love.  Try to be open, honest and assertive.

Demanding instead of wishing

When you voice out what you want, make sure to express it as a wish, rather than a demand.  Unfortunately, this does not always work when there is so much contempt built up.  I recommend doing this with a counselor, who can help you express your wishes and be heard.

Overgeneralizations vs. specificity

Words like, “always” and “never,” normally arouse anger or defensiveness in your partner.  Be specific.  Try to focus on the act that you wish did not happen, for these acts don’t usually happen, “always.”

Denial vs. ownership

This is one of the most critical skills that couples need to learn.  Without this, couples will be locked in an unending blame game, trying to win a battle to determine who started it all.

Ownership gives your partner a sign that you are mature enough to acknowledge your imperfections.  Denial will drive you further into fierce arguments.  Accept your humanity by knowing you both have a role in your struggles.

For a last word, understand that conflicts are not to be avoided.  In fact, they should be welcomed.  To use a rather crude analogy, boxers are in the end expected to go up the ring and fight.  However, they are also expected to do so under rules that would make it fair.

In relationships, fighting can be healthy, only if it is done fairly.