Keeping Your Relationship Balanced
Keeping your relationship balanced, through an equal distribution of “giving” and “receiving” with your partner is the same as keeping your relationship intact or “afloat.” Sometimes it is hard to conceptualize what is going wrong in your relationship where couples’ counseling can be useful in helping you make sense of how your relationship may have lost its balance. Keeping your relationship balanced is being referred to here as the ability to express and take care of your own needs while also allowing space for your partner to have the same freedoms. For example, there are times when you have a bad day and need support from your loved one. Then there are other times when your partner may have the same need and call on you to be emotionally available to them like he or she was to you when you needed it.
When we think of a partnership, most of us imagine someone who we are committed to, have passionate feelings towards, and a balance of give-and-take in terms of the efforts made to maintain the joys that the relationship offers. Realistically, we all face changes and challenges that can alter the flow of how our relationship works which can be scary and anxiety-producing. These unplanned events can be due to many factors including major changes or losses in either partners’ lives. Regardless of the cause of the change, or whether the relationship ever felt balanced, I offer you the following exercise to do with your partner to help in keeping your relationship balanced.
Imagine you and your partner are on a river about to embark in a long canoe ride. There is yourself on one end of the boat and your partner on the other. In this analogy, the canoe itself on the water represents your relationship with all the “ebbs and flows” that could emerge within the relationship. As the canoe goes down the river, you may encounter smooth sailing or water rapids. Regardless of the external conditions, you and your partner need to navigate all the rough spots and keep going forward. If you have ever been in a canoe, you may know that it can sometimes be challenging to stay afloat due to the narrowness of the vessel and how each person in the canoe are paddling. Unlike a rowboat, each person gets only one oar and needs to synchronize the way you both paddle in order to get anywhere. For example, each person needs to paddle on opposite sides to move forward and communicate openly about how to steer when a turn needs to be made in order to keep the canoe moving in the way you both planned, otherwise chaos can develop; similar to resolving a relationship conflict!
Let’s suppose that you and your partner can only bring five of your most important interpersonal qualities or strengths on the canoe (as if these traits are in tangible boxes) that you can use to help keep the vessel afloat and move forward in a cooperative way. In addition, the five qualities that you are bringing cannot be the same as the other person. For example, the first partner may bring a sense of direction, honesty, courage, survival skills, and the ability to listen. The second partner may bring skills in conflict resolution, creativity, the ability to teach, flexibility, and the ability to communicate assertively. All ten of these traits can be useful in not only a smooth ride, but also serve as characteristics that each of you bring positively to each other as you both navigate the journey ahead. If the dynamics of your relationship are similar to staying afloat in a canoe where the goal is to work together in keeping your relationship balanced, how would each of you answer the following questions:
- What are the five most important positive qualities that each of you bring to your relationship that are different from each other?
- If one of you were having a hard time steering the canoe (or doing their part in the relationship) how would each of you step in to help the other?
- If you were to get tired, irritable, or scared from being in the same situation too long (similar to not wanting to paddle the canoe anymore) what would you want your partner to say or do in order to communicate their support to you and how would you want him or her to compromise with you?
- If you and your partner cannot agree on certain issues (such as which direction to travel in the canoe), what is a way you can work it out without putting the other person down?
- How can you and your partner resolve having different needs and expectations that may cause conflict in the relationship while also maintaining a sense of dignity and self-respect for the other? In using the canoe analogy again, if one of you only want to travel a short distance or not want to spend time taking a break, how would you communicate about this?
- What strengths do you envy about each other if you were to acquire one of your partner’s strengths for yourself? What are the reasons you chose this item?
The good news here is that in a healthy relationship, there is an opportunity to capitalize on each other’s strengths, rather than feeling jealous or resentful. Afterall, both of you are in the “same boat” or canoe, where the goal is to stay afloat and move forward. Not working together to “navigate the waters” in your relationship, can leave you feeling disappointed. Afterall, a partnership is just that…two partners that are facing the challenges of everyday life together, whether it is on a canoe or in your house!
In couple’s therapy, one of the goals is to examine how you and your partner work as a team in keeping your relationship balanced and identifying what may be getting in the way. To further examine how your positive qualities and strengths can make an impact in your relationship, schedule an appointment for couples counseling today at 215-922-LOVE or www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/contact.