Finding the right balance of equality between partners is important. It's not about being 50/50, but rather what brings about a sense of fairness for everyone. It also needs to be open to negotiation over time as the relationship and the individuals evolve. Another important element is respect – respect for each other and respect for the relationship.
Both equality and respect help to form the basic foundation of the relationship: the roles each person plays and the rules that are to be followed, which both help create the boundaries of the relationship.
Assumptions can be a problem when it comes to roles, rules and boundaries, because each person comes into a relationship with a different understanding from their past. Some of these elements are spoken, but many are not, and so each person is acting on their own experiences, not the other person's.
The best way to avoid the pitfalls of unspoken roles, rules and boundaries is to make them explicit, which isn't always easy. Talking with a couples therapist can help get through this process if partners don't feel they will be fully heard or if they don't feel safe enough to bring up the discussion in the first place. Working with a couples therapists can help to get everyone in a place personally and mentally so that the necessary conversation can happen.
If you feels you will be heard and you feel safe bringing up what you want to say, then next is timing the conversation and letting the other person know before hand so they can bring their own thoughts into the discussion, rather than it being a monologue.
One final important type of a balance in a healthy relationship: Personal activities vs. shared activities. It's important to be able to do things on your own, with friends, family or alone. In addition to the trust that this helps foster, it means personal interests are not lost, something that could lead to resentment. Shared activities help strengthen the relationship by building up memories and experiences that can be reflected on later.
This Valentine's Day, sit down and think about your relationship. Roses, chocolate, dinner, a movie, etc. etc., work fine as expressions of caring, but a healthy relationship goes much deeper.
This topic of the week was written by Brian Swope, MFT