Tools for Couples Happiness — 02 May 2010
Three tools for practicing loving behaviors

Let us diffuse the myth about how hard it is to get along with a partner. People say it often enough until it becomes a “fact” for them. Why is it that many other couples do not find their relationship to be fraught with misunderstanding, hurts, conflict or fights?

It is true that mates differ from each other in their needs, wants, preferences and choices. However, this is not what causes common rifts. What leads to anger, hurt, frustration and deep discord often stems from the perception of not being heard, understood, respected or acknowledged. Not having one’s opinions, wishes or needs recognized is tantamount to not mattering. This state of perceived insignificance prompts the survival instinct to retaliate in misguided effort to restore one’s worth in the eyes of the mate.

There are behaviors that secure the worthiness of each individual through the use of Compassion, Clarity and Courage.

Richard Schwartz, the creator of Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy model theorizes that each individual has an internal system that is like a family of Parts that serve the person. There is also a Self, the “passive, nonjudgmental observer or witness that has the clarity of perspective and other qualities needed to lead effectively”. People in this state of Self “describe feeling ‘centered’, a state of calm well-being and lightheartedness. They feel confident, free, and open hearted. They describe being in the present”.

The origins of worthlessness date to childhood. Dr. Schwartz states, “If a child is told, verbally or nonverbally, that he or she is of little value, young parts of the child organize their beliefs around that premise. They become desperate for redemption in the eyes of the person who gave them these messages. Thereafter these parts carry the burden of worthlessness, which makes them believe that no one can love them”. “It is as if the person who devalued the child stole his or her self-esteem and holds title to it. The child then believes that to survive, he or she must get it back from the person who took it away. In this way, the person on whom the child depends becomes the redeemer.”

In intimate relationship during adulthood, the redeemer is the partner. We pick our mate through our intuitive sense of his/her resemblance to our original caregivers and hope we can reclaim our worth through the partner’s approval. Those who do not succeed in getting the validation they deserve stay distraught, fight and find relating to the partner to be a hard and painful process.

However, you can adopt, or refine your interactive ways, to give your partner and receive from him/her the validation of your worth.

• Use your compassion to imagine what your mate may need and then provide it. For example, provide a welcoming greeting, a warm smile and express your delight at seeing him/her when you reunite. If your partner is worried, offer reassurance, if he/she is pleased about an achievement, use words of praise and delight.
• Use clarity in explaining any situation that distresses you- as being your problem and not your partner’s. “I get worried when I don’t hear from you by the time I expect you to arrive.”
• Use courage by owning your part of the problem first. “I realize I may not have been very clear with my navigation instructions before we got lost.” Or, be grateful to your mate for sacrifices he/she is making for you. Replace, “It won’t harm you to do something for me for a change” with “I value your extending yourself to participate in this activity that is not your favorite, because I wanted to go.”

When you operate from compassion, use clarity and courage, you are using three of the traits of your true Self. These authentic, loving ways emphasize your mate’s preciousness, redeems his/her esteem and creates true intimacy in your love relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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