We live in times where there is a focus on our individual dreams, who we are as people, self-development books are mainstream and social media is ripe with content, of how to be better a better person for ourselves and for our relationship. There has never been a time where the focus on the self has become as prominent as it has now. We have steered away from the emphasis on community, living in homes where we no longer know our neighbours, feeling more isolated than ever. It wasn’t until the pandemic that we were forced to slow down, forced to look inward and realised what we really needed to thrive. For so many people, it was to feel connected, not just to our immediate family, but to a wider sense of community. For others, it forced us to look at the relationships with the people we live with, without the outside noise of busy schedules and other connections. So many realisations came up for people as individuals, and who they were in relation to their significant other. We figure out who we are as people in relation to those around us. As we grow up our parents and environment have a significant influence on who we become as individuals. Once we reach adulthood, it is our intimate relationships that serve as a medium for understanding who we are.
Understanding who we are in a relationship.
When we enter an intimate relationship, the early phase is all about learning about each other and entering each other’s worlds. Our new partner may be very similar to us or the opposite. We may like to do the same things, or we are open to try new things that our partner likes. This is a phase that is all about exploring and enjoying the honeymoon phase of the relationship. The honeymoon phase can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. During this phase we may continue doing what we enjoy doing but with a partner by our side, or we learn to compromise by engaging in activities our partner likes to do. We also start to learn our communication styles: Are we sensitive to criticism and become defensive? When there’s conflict do we feel the need to withdraw? Or are we critical?
Other significant events can reveal more aspects of ourselves. For example, travel can with our partner can bring out parts of us that aren’t as prominent in everyday life. Our partner may like to go with the flow and plan things at the last minute, whereas we like to plan months in advance and stick to a schedule. Living together can also uncover parts of ourselves, that we didn’t know were important, until we live with someone who lives in a completely opposite way to us. For instance, if we like an orderly, clean and tidy home, but our partner is okay with being messy, this can be a struggle for some couples to navigate. This can cause frustration for either partner. Particularly if we have been accustomed to living in a certain way, before living with our partner. For many of us, we don’t know this is an issue until we are faced with something that is different to what we are used to. But having differences such as these, doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed to fail. In fact, according to John Gottman, psychologist and relationship expert, 69% of our issues with our partner, are perpetual unsolvable problems. A healthy relationship isn’t about having no differences, it’s about how to navigate the parts where we don’t align in a healthy way. Such as having conflict management skills.
Relationship counselling can help navigate who we are in the relationship
As we learn about who we are in the relationship, sometimes it can help to unpack why we do what we do. For some of us we can explore this ourselves with self reflection. But for others, we may need a bit more help. Relationship counselling can help us to understand why we do what we do in our relationship, unpack our history and what we’d like to change for the better.
Aslanian, A. (2022) For better or for worse: Conflict and connecting in crisis, The Gottman Institute. Available at: https://www.gottman.com/blog/for-better-or-for-worse-conflict-and-connecting-in-crisis/ (Accessed: 25 August 2023).
Bigleyj (2023) 8 kinds of love and our 5 love languages, Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/understanding-love-stages-and-languages/ (Accessed: 25 August 2023).