When it comes to relationships, think of having a ‘Love Bank’. When you first start dating, there's generally a vast amount and time and energy spent on your relationship. Consequently, there are lots and lots of deposits and the bank balance grows and grows to over-flowing. Unfortunately, as reality settles in – we have work, friends, family, children, community commitments, etc. and it just isn't sustainable to continue directing so much time or energy solely on each other. Often times, the little energy we have left, while well intentioned, can be misdirected. We think to ourselves “I’d really like that … so I’ll do that for them” and if your partner's needs are the same as yours, this will work well. However, if they aren't, those efforts will fall flat. You can find yourself trying harder and harder, to be more giving, caring, helpful, etc in an effort to get things back on track, but find that no matter how hard you try nothing changes. We begin to feel confused, frustrated, resentful and even hopeless.
But here's the key. When you understand what is actually important to your partner (not what you think should be important) you can focus your energy and target the exact things that really matter to them the most. For instance, if you think a clean house is important, you might run yourself ragged at the end of the day making sure everything is perfect and have no energy left to spend time chatting with your partner. Chatting may actually be the thing that they value most, and would much rather clean more in exchange for quality time with you. Targeting the wrong things is a lose/lose scenario - it equates to withdrawals from your 'love bank'. Not only will you feel unappreciated, your partner will feel like you don't care - which is the exact opposite of what you're trying to communicate! Each time you 'get it right' you create deposits and keep the balance high.
So start with yourself. Do you know what’s most important to you in a relationship? Are you able to ask your partner for what you want? Negotiate win/win outcomes? Do you know what they really want? Could you both be misdirecting your energies? Take a few moments to think about the things your partner does that you genuinely appreciate and let them know. By opening the channels of communication you give each other the opportunity to keep the deposits flowing.
Good communication is the key to any successful relationship, and communication problems are one of the most often cited reasons my clients come for relationship counselling. Be proactive and address issues before your relationship is bankrupt.
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DEBORAH FARRELL (MCounPsych)