During a second or third session with couples, I often ask “What needed to happen for us to be having this conversation right now?” After perplexed looks and a re-statement of the problems that are occurring in the relationship, their suggestions dwindle. Only a handful of times have I heard the answer I am looking for: We booked an appointment and showed up. When difficult times loom in a relationship, it is essential to focus on its key agreements. Is it about observable behaviour; is there a definite time component? If they do not, there is a high probability that criticism and blame of the partner are invoked.
I Am Responsible for Myself
Simply put, a relationship requires the willingness to take responsibility for my actions, my thoughts and my emotions. Not at all easy to do. We like to blame others for our misfortunes. In doing so, not only do we give our power away but we make another responsible for our happiness. For a relationship to grow, each person needs to own their behaviour, thoughts and emotions, if not initially, as soon as one can calm down. “You make me so mad” becomes “I am so mad when I stub my toe on the golf club in the hallway.” The focus is on my feelings and my partner’s behaviour in the form of a complaint.
I look at intimacy as two sides of a coin. On one, intimacy involves letting my partner know who I am. Gottman refers to “shared dreams”and “love maps”, both of which require the willingness to invite vulnerability by being vulnerable. I see a committed relationship as the best place to learn about oneself through ever deepening self disclosure to another,what Buber called the “I Thou” relationship.
I Receive my Partner
The other side of the coin addresses your willingness to receive your partner’s self expression. In the early life of a relationship there is generally an excitement about getting to know everything one can about this new exciting person. As the years move forward, there are inevitably aspects of out partner we may not like. A common mistake occurs if we attempt to thwart our partners right to choose. Even if we rationalize we are doing so in their best interest, the attempt is a demonstration of our unwillingness to respect out partner’s right to be.