Couple Counselling – Is our relationship good enough?
February 14th, Valentine’s Day is probably the best known saint’s day recognised even by those who may not be particularly religious. Valentine’s Day now has many different faces. It is a commercial love fest, an opportunity to demonstrate feelings for a partner or a time for the shy to make a gentle move towards his or her beloved. In the days of ‘me too’ it may also be an unwelcome occasion when inappropriate proposals are advanced and rejected.
As far as lovers are concerned Valentine’s Day can be a time for reflection on the current relationship. For some that will involve celebration but for others there may be doubt and misgivings. Sometimes emerging questions can become harsh. “Is this it? What has happened to us? Where is the person I first met? What has happened to the love, the sex, the passion? Where is the romance in all this?”
The unrelenting commercialisation of Valentine’s Day also has consequences. It undoubtedly encourages idealisation of love and relationships with perfection radiating from the advertisements.
Perhaps the timing of Valentine’s Day in our seasonal calendar is a little unfortunate. When the sun shines and the sky is blue the world is an attractive place. Working in Chichester and living close to the sea I can certainly accept that is true for West Sussex. But in February the reality is that winter still threatens with grey skies and cold. If that encourages a somewhat critical view of the environment around us then it may not be surprising if those negative vibes also influences your view of the behaviour of some people close to you.
So how can you view the relationship with your partner when Valentine’s Day comes around? What should the measure be of your relationship be? One interesting phrase which is often discussed within the counselling world is that of being ‘good enough’. The proposition is that if we can wean ourselves away from an unrealistic perfectionism we may then see people, events or relationship as being acceptable, of meeting our needs and of being ‘good enough’.
Rather than being ‘damned with faint praise’ this idea of ‘good enough’ is a way of acknowledging what is well. That things work. They are acceptable. They are ‘fit for purpose’. There is real value in what exists with strength and solidity. And if that is true of some ever present aspects of life such as work, our neighbourhood and friendships then perhaps it is also true of our most important relationship.
Yet for some that sense of ‘good enough’ will never be sufficient. There has to be more. Good enough is not actually acceptable. Perhaps this moves us into considering other key phrases or ideas. One concept which I often discuss with clients in my practice is that which emphasises the importance and persistence of personal choice. It involves acknowledging the freedom that you have with the ability and the right to choose what is appropriate for you.
The person who should decide what is acceptable is you whether your age is sixteen or sixty. And that is true for relationships just as it is for other aspects of life. Of course despite this focus on choice there will be some elements in our life which are set and which we can do little about even if we may dislike them. Our height and age are obvious common sense examples. But there is much else that we can change if we really want to do so.
Change brings consequences but then the same is also true of just passively accepting the status quo. Perhaps that explains the difficulty that some may have when considering those aspects of life which are fit for purpose, certainly good enough and yet somehow still retain the capacity to continually disappoint.
As far as relationships are concerned communication is often seen as the key issue. Taking time to reflect on our pattern of communication both as an individual and then within the relationship can help us to gain a clearer sense what works, what is effective and what is not. This can help us to identify what it is within the relationship that is causing challenges for you as an individual.
That period of reflection can become the first step towards change. That change may indeed involve altering the way in which we communicate with our partner. That change may in turn encourage us to feel more confident about raising difficult issues with a partner who may be unaware of the impact of those concerns. A candid dialogue with a partner can help resolve disputes. That open discussion could also involve the introduction of a trusted friend or colleague acting as a mediator.
If some form of mediator may help but there is unease around trust and confidentiality another option may be to talk with a counsellor either on an individual basis or as a couple. Whatever the approach adopted this time for reflection and then discussion could prove to be an important step in helping you to decide where you are in the relationship and what the next step should be.
Let’s return to 14th February. Valentine’s Day may be over hyped by those commercial interests but it can be a fun romantic day. It can also be a time for working through relationship issues with our partner. Some careful thinking now may help ensure that in twelve months’ time the winter sky remains a very positive blue at least as far as your most important relationship is concerned.