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Jan Day5 min

The Secret to Staying Married

by Jan Day Before we meet a partner, it’s common to think that meeting someone and being in a relationship is the Holy Grail, the answer to all our problems. And it’s often not quite so straightforward. Being in a relationship can be one of the most rewarding and nourishing parts of life. Together we can be more than the sum of our parts; the mutual support can give us a secure base from which to explore, risk new adventures, have families and grow. Relationships can allow us to evolve, showing us our shadows, stretching our hearts and teaching us the meaning of love.  And, of course, it can also lead us into conflict, judging, fighting, controlling, blaming and manipulating. All our darkest sides are likely to emerge in a relationship, especially as time goes on. This is natural, perhaps especially, if we are loved and feel safe.  How we deal with the darker sides of our nature, our conflicts, differences and difficulties shapes the path of our relationship – perhaps even more than how we show our love. Relationships can be a place where we reveal ourselves totally. Deep intimacy and closeness depend on this. And it means we need to learn how to look after the relationship including our struggles and conflicts. 

The Keys to a Good Partnership

The Key to a good partnership is knowing and having a joint relationship vision or intent.  Who are we to each other? What are the fundamental principles of the relationship that we agree on and that serve us both? Do we put our relationship as a high priority? Or are we more attached to looking after our own needs and getting what we want at all costs, or giving our partner everything they want in order to keep the peace, or going into our dramas and patterns because “that is who I am”. Or are we more concerned with prioritising our independence or career?  The key to an ongoing relationship is jointly agreeing to what kind of relationship we want to create together. It gives us guiding principles that can support us in those moments when our more “me-focused” behaviours take over.  How we communicate is another key. How often do we say “I love you” and give appreciation? How can we co-regulate (calm ourselves and each other) so that we can discuss difficulties, differing priorities in regards to children, sexual desires, time alone, monogamy vs open relationship, finances. If we can’t co-regulate then when we need to deal with these issues, we’re likely to get reactive, escalate the tensions and let the wounded inner child/teenager within us take hold of the steering wheel.  In the early stages of a relationship, we’re flooded with love chemicals that make it easy to see what we love in our partner, show our love generously and overlook our differences and irritations. Once we’ve made a commitment, or after one or two years, the work of a relationship starts. That’s when we need to know what we want to create together, what our relationship means to each of us, or perhaps acknowledge that we really don’t want ongoing commitment, that we seek the excitement and passion of new love (which is compelling and quite addictive for many people).  If we want the stability of a secure, functioning relationship, we need to agree on a foundation for our relationship, whatever our individual attachment style. The important part is coming to an agreement that we both want and that works for both of us. If we both really want an open relationship or want to live partially independent lives, that also works as long as we both want it.    These are the foundation stones of keeping a good relationship going:

Appreciation

In the early days of a relationship, it’s easy to voice and show appreciation. As time goes on, the attention we give to appreciating our partner becomes more and more important and softens the space between us. It makes it easier to navigate the niggles and address and talk through what we don’t appreciate.  In his research with couples, American psychologist John Gottman found that for every negative interaction, a secure, happy partnership had five positive interactions. A ration of 5 to 1!  If we’re unskilful, lash out, ignore our partner or put them down subtly then over time and without awareness of what is happening, we can become a threat to each other. For good survival reasons, humans pick up and sense threat at five times the magnitude than warm words of appreciation. Which means we need to be super aware of what we’re doing and its impact when we’re letting rip in an argument without any regard to the lasting damage we are doing.

Prioritising the Relationship 

That doesn’t mean you can’t have an argument and sometimes you might just both want a good fight to clear the air and both be able to melt into a cuddle afterwards. It’s about knowing each other and what is too much. And holding on to what is most important – being right or winning in the moment or looking after the relationship. When you know the relationship is the most important, there may be moments when you say something like “I can see this is getting too much. Can I give you a hug / let’s watch a movie together and we can talk some more about it tomorrow”. If we’re in a good relationship, we’re tuned in to each other and not willing to push each other over the edge.  Difficulties arise when we let our differences and conflicts take precedence over our connection. Which is more important? Proving I’m right and you’re wrong? Showing my power and getting my own way? Giving in and collapsing to try to avoid pain? Or looking after the relationship.

Looking after Each Other 

We need to learn how to look after each other. We need to know each other so we can do that and so we don’t keep pushing each other over the edge. We need to notice if one of us is pushing down their needs and trying to be a peacemaker to the other’s demands.  Sometimes that might mean leaving an unhealthy relationship in which you’ve become accustomed to “looking after” your partner and their needs. Looking after the relationship does NOT mean always putting your partner first and giving them what they want. That is co-dependency. 

Dealing with Conflict

Conflict is important. To manage it, we both need to be in connection with ourselves and with our partner. That means learning to keep our heart open even when we are angry or upset. We need to notice when things are too much and one (or both) of you has lost yourself / got numb or frozen or disconnected.  We both need to be able and willing to listen through the other’s eyes and understand each other’s perspective – even when we don’t agree.  We need to be able to express anger while still connected to our heart and catch any temptation, however subtle, to convert anger into aggression (ways of being hurtful / sarcastic etc). Looking after the tough side of our relationships is very much part of having a healthy loving relationship and staying together.

Jan Day

Passion, Power and Love is Jan Day’s New Year Workshop and runs from Dec 28th to Jan 2nd 2024.

Info and booking here: 

janday.com