Five steps to the perfect relationship
We caught up with relationship counsellor Nicholas Rose. Rose specialises in same-sex relationship counselling.
We kicked things off by asking Rose what makes same-sex relationships different to straight relationships.
“Gender does add an additional dynamic and complexity to same-sex couples…” explains Rose. “But, gay and straight couples generally follow a similar cycle in their relationships.”
According to Rose, relationships generally go through three main phases:
- Storming: The passionate beginning of the relationship.
- Forming: Agreements, boundaries and expectations begin to be established.
- Norming: When routines and patterns begin to be established.
Of course, couples can experience issues at any of these stages of the relationship cycle. According to Rose, the underlying cause of relationship problems is generally to do with change of some kind.
“It’s essentially a breakdown in understanding between the two partners – something that was previously clear has now become unclear…” explains Rose. “For example, one of the partners may suddenly be working long hours and it may not be clear to both people why this is happening, or the frequency of sexual contact may have diminished over time and this is causing confusion, or one partner may want to change the agreed boundaries regarding sleeping with other people or where Christmas is spent. All of these are examples of how a change of some kind can negatively impact a previously stable relationship.”
Based on his experience with clients, Rose categorises the most common change triggers as being:
- Bereavement or loss
- Issues around children
- Health issues
- Financial issues
Why choose counselling?
We asked Rose about what factors might be at play that lead some couples to try relationship counselling, while others just break-up.
“Often, one of the couple has had a positive experience with counselling in the past, or friends may have intervened and suggested counselling, or a specific argument has been so destructive that they’ve realised that they need professional help.”
Rose suggests that the length of the relationship also seems to play a key factor.
“Human attachments form and generally strengthen over time – the longer that you’re in a relationship, the harder it is to leave. Six months in, it may be relatively easy to walk away from someone – after 15 years, that’s a much tougher proposition.”
What does a healthy relationship look like?
Rose advises that a healthy partnership will generally enable the couple to:
- Mediate: The couple are able to identify the source of conflict and agree a compromise.
- Referee: If there is a point of conflict then the conflict is contained and worked through - as opposed to escalating out of control.
- Facilitate: Able to listen and speak with each other without blaming.
How do you ‘referee’ conflict within a relationship?
At the start of a counselling programme, Rose often finds himself stepping in to play the role of referee – but his aim is to work with the couple so that they develop the tools and techniques that enable them to effectively use this communication framework themselves.
“At the start, it’s often as simple as showing a couple that’s okay to call a ‘time out’ or to agree a safety-word…” explains Rose. “Once the couple have learnt how to prevent conflict escalation, they can move forward to start to look at the issues causing the conflict and work to understand each other’s points of view. The bottom line is that there is no right and wrong, it’s about finding the right way for that couple to communicate - they have to have a commitment to reach agreement, this will then enable them to rebuild trust and intimacy.”
Five steps to spot relationship problems and keep your romance on track
Look for change and articulate this to your partner
For example, “I notice that we don’t hold hands in the street any more, I wonder why that might be?” or “You shouted at me today, you haven’t done that before, what’s happened?” The key here is to articulate your questions in a safe way, not to be confrontational.
Don’t make excuses for the other person by interpreting their behaviour
For example, “We haven’t had sex for a while, I guess he must be stressed about work.” Avoiding a problem will only compound the issue.
Make regular time for each other
This is particularly important as your relationship matures. Be present for each other. Create the space to really listen to each other.
Never assume that you understand your partner or that they understand you
Humans are complex and emotional beings. Try and understand what’s motivating the behaviour instead of focusing on the impact of the behaviour.
Get help early
Don’t leave it too late before seeking professional help. The earlier that you start to tackle potential issues within your relationship, the easier it will be to navigate through them.