Tuesday 31 March 2015

Why do we choose our partner?

Why do we choose our partner?  It is an interesting question that deserves exploring. Most of us have the choice of thousands of people - so why choose the one you did?

We all have our 'shop window' where we display our goods; our best qualities, talents and loveliness. We look in each others' windows and stop to admire the fine goods on display.  But, we tend to attach to a person, not for what they have on display but for what they have hidden in their dark store cupboard.  Out of view is the place where we hide our 'skeletons'; our secret fears and our discarded and rejected aspects of ourselves.  It is these that cement us and unite us to our partner!!  These are also what reappear to torment us when the fireworks die down!

The father of Couples Counselling, Henry Dicks, said there are three main reasons why we choose our partner: Social (the same social group, age, education etc) Conscious (that person will help me to be who I need to be) and Unconscious (the skeletons) Without us realising it, they have the same 'issues' often presenting in opposite ways.

If a couple hit problems it is usually because these buried 'skeletons' have come out of the cupboard and are haunting us afresh.  The problem may be one of  'feeling second best' or 'not good enough'.
One partner might have covered that up by becoming top salesman, the other might be shy and retiring as a result - but the crucial injury remains the same and causes havoc when opened up again.
In the period of realism there is a chance to rework your own skeletons but all too often the feeling is one of being haunted by the fear that you have always wished to escape.

Why do we fall in Love?

Lets start by looking at how and why couples fall in love - why we choose our partner and what happens to our senses.
It’s horrifying but true that the majority of both relationships and businesses fail within two years*. And for similar reasons!  Lets look at how two people ‘fall’ for each other. "Attraction" is the first stage.
When we fall in love, Nature tricks us into a state of unreality which stop us from seeing our partner’s faults with a cocktail of chemicals. These ‘stars in our eyes’ lull us to undertake overwhelming tasks ahead with little logic. Similar perhaps to when we start a business.
These are Dopamine, Serotonin (the happiness chemical) and Adrenaline which get the heart racing; similar to those induced by Cocaine!  This stage of love, featured in films, becomes addictive for some people.  It lasts six months to two years- then reality emerges.
There follows an “Attachment Stage” that allows us to get on with our lives together. There, Oxytocin  and Vasopressin  known as the ‘cardigan and slippers’ hormones allow us to feel comfortable and secure.
Once we are in a long-term relationship we have to choose between the two modes: Attraction (excitement) and Attachment (security)  Some couples steer a path between the two.  Changes often push a couple move towards one or the other; a new baby, work changes, a house move or even an affair! Long relationships usually successfully steer a path backwards and forwards with enough safety and excitement to sustain them.  Many couples choose one and you can clearly see which choice they have made by how they act, dress and socialise. Some take risks other like routine.
The average length of a marriage is now seven years*. bearing out the old “seven-year Itch” when partners become disillusioned with each other.Research (Lawrence Kurdek in Developmental Psychology) says ‘dysfunctional beliefs’ or unreal expectations were to blame.  These include thinking that arguing is bad, sex should be perfect and that your partner should understand you. According to Relationship Researcher, John Gottman, the four things that destroy relationships are sneering, contempt, criticism or withdrawal. All of these faults are over-corrections from our irrational first attraction. But surely there is a better, saner way to do it.
Moving from idealisation to realism is a tricky but essential stage for any couple - in love or in business. It is the post-honeymoon stage where we become aware that our partner has warts and the serious business of working out a way to live together with joint goals and hopes is done.
*Office of National Statistics

Couples Annual MOT for the Fogles

How refreshing to hear Marina Fogle say that she and husband Ben values an annual MOT to keep their relationship ticking over. (The Daily Telegraph Saturday March 28). In their Household it is up with annual checks with doctor, optician, dentist and car mechanic.

The admission from this famous, beautiful and talented couple sends shock-waves to us mere mortals. 

Marina, founder of The Bump Class, teaches ante-natal classes, while Ben undertakes his televised adventures. She tells her expectant parents.”...the greatest gift you can give your baby is to take the time and energy to nurture your marriage.”

She advises seeking help while there is plenty of time, energy and spare cash .“If you can learn how to be strong while the going is easy you will be better equipped for the more challenging terrain”. 

This is such fantastic advice - Improving communication and learning to tackle small problems builds the foundations for tackling the bigger ones which follow as pressure and responsibilities increase. It is essential to reinforce the foundations of the relationship before embarking on another venture - whether that is starting a business or having a baby.

The Fogle’s were faced with the overwhelming sadness of a stillborn baby and sought Couples Counselling. This has since helped with relationship issues. Her friend’s unexpected wedding present was 10 Couples Counselling vouchers from a relative going through a divorce at the time. 

Couples Counselling is also an opportunity to clarify or update your ‘contract’ of being together; what do you expect to contribute and receive from each other.

Marina sees parents trying to give their children the best start in life with expensive accessories and education. “But so often they overlook what is arguably the most important thing they can give their child: a happy stable home. And if a couple of hours a year can help achieve this, then why on earth wouldn’t you?” said Marina.

She makes an important point. Twenty years ago couples undertook Prenuptial Counselling during a steady engagement. There they discussed their hopes and fears of topics such as communication, finances, sex, arguments, work, in-laws. Today the pressures are huge; expectations are up, demands are higher and many couples buckle under the pressure with little realistic support. 

Favourite film Hope Springs- A Marital comedy starring Meryl Streep undertaking Couples Therapy after 30 years together is on television too!  This week may well be busy for Couple Counsellors.