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What is a relationship? A psychotherapist’s perspective

Most of us enter into a “Relationship” expecting it will make us happier, more fulfilled, safe and secure than being single.  We often believe that our life will become more enriched and exciting when we are involved with someone.

Yet many of us discover that after the infatuation has past our “Relationship” makes us less happy or even miserable.  Why does something that starts so good often end up being flat, bad or even nasty?  In this series of articles Jim O’Connor explains the reasons why this happens and what to do about it.

Research suggests that there are core reasons why people do not do well in relationships; they don’t choose the right partner, they don’t know how to connect and finally they don’t know how to continually develop that connection.  Over this series of articles Jim O’Connor shows you how to create a relationship that will make you happier and more fulfilled for being in it.

Most of us never consider what we are getting ourselves into before we find ourselves locked into a relationship that is playing havoc with our emotions. But knowing what a relationship is and how it works will help you  to escape the traps and make it what you want it to be.

Relationships are dynamic

A relationship is a dynamic between two people that constantly changes according to the contributions of each person.  In other words it’s a constantly changing balancing act between what you both contribute.  Get the balance right and it flows like a dance.  Don’t get the balance right and it very quickly becomes a cage fight.

What’s more a relationship is something that grows as the connection deepens and matures.  Being a dynamic means it follows rules of engagement, and if you know the rules and you abide by them not only will you choose the right partner, you will be able to connect with them and then spend the rest of your lives creating the kind of connection that both of you enjoy.

Relationships are conditional

The bottom line rule about relationship dynamics is this; relationships are conditional.  In other words what you get out of your relationship is dependent on the condition of what you put in. If you want to get happiness and fulfilment out of your relationship then you have to meet the conditions for happiness and fulfilment. Fail to meet the conditions and it won’t happen.  If your relationship isn’t what you want it to be it is because one or both of you are not meeting the conditions required.   In lay terms contribute rubbish you get rubbish, contribute quality you get quality.

This is a concept we already apply in daily living. Take gardening for example.  The condition of the garden reflects the condition of what goes in to make up the garden.   If the soil isn’t right for the type of garden you want; if the water isn’t right, if the sun isn’t right, if you don’t give it enough time then your garden can’t ever be right.  It doesn’t matter how well meaning or enthusiastic a gardener you might be if the conditions don’t support what you want you can’t have what you want.

What makes it complicated is that you have to meet the conditions of happiness and fulfilment for two people, not just one.

Individual happiness and fulfilment vs interpersonal happiness and fulfilment

In simple terms happiness and fulfilment is when all of your needs and wants are met and all of your fears and concerns are resolved.   When we talk about happiness and fulfilment in terms of a relationship we are referring to two types of situations; individual happiness and fulfilment and interpersonal happiness and fulfilment.

Individual happiness and fulfilment is something that comes from within.  It is what happens when you are able to satisfy your own needs and wants as well as resolve your own fears and concerns without depending on anyone else to do that for you.

A simple way of explaining this state of being is when you are happy and content with who you are and with your situation.  It’s when you don’t need the approval of others nor do you need anyone to behave in any particular way for you to be happy.  It’s when you are self supporting, self caring.

Interpersonal happiness and fulfilment is when two or more people enhance each other’s individual happiness and fulfilment by the way they think and act in the relationship. It’s when you feel safer, more secure, more loved and cared for, more empowered and more excited because you are in a relationship than you would experience if you were alone.

For a couple to experience this you have to have a healthy connection.    The better the connection the better the interpersonal happiness and fulfilment.  When the connection isn’t healthy then each person’s happiness will decrease.   Interpersonal happiness and fulfilment is dependent on connecting.

The conditions for maximum connection

Happy, fulfilled individuals make happy fulfilled connections.  What this means is that the first place to start working on your connection is with your own happiness.  Your relationship can’t turn you into a happy person, but happy individuals can make a relationship happy.

This is where most people go wrong. If you believe that your partner will make you happy then your happiness is dependent on their thoughts and behaviours.  The problem with dependent happiness is you depend on them saying and doing certain things in order for you to be happy.  If they don’t do what you want you will become unhappy.   We’ve all experienced this situation and it is not pleasant to live constantly in fear of your partner’s mood shifts.

On the other hand if you don’t depend on your partner to make you happy then when they are in a crappy mood you won’t be all that distressed.  You will simply see it as their concern and think to yourself.   “Oh my partner is unhappy, I wonder why?  Maybe I could help them be happier.”  Or you might say to yourself “They’re stressed I’ll ask if they need anything that might make them less stressed”.

For a connection to occur and go on to thrive it needs “Mutual Positive Regard”.   The easiest way to understand this concept is to realise that your needs and wants are just as important to you as your partner’s needs and wants are to them.

Our needs are usually the same, but our wants may be different and that’s Ok; difference is what makes relationships interesting.   But when it comes to connecting you can’t if you don’t consider the other person.   An additional benefit of mutual regard is that research shows that caring feels as good to the carer as it does to the recipient.

JimJim is the director of Clear Day Consulting a successful Counselling, Coaching and Psychotherapy service with offices across Sydney.   He has a Masters degree in Applied Psychotherapy, a Bachelors degree in Health Sciences with a Minor in Psychology, as well as a Graduate diploma of Counselling, Grad Dip of Chiropractic, an Advanced Certificate in Clinical Hypnotherapy and  a Cert IV in Training and Assessment.   He has worked for the last 25 years in the area of health and wellness beginning his career as a lecturer in Clinical Neurology, for Students at the Sydney College of Chiropractic.  He practiced as a Chiropractor for 11 years while completing his training in Psychology and Counselling.  For the last 10 years he has run a successful practice from offices in Macquarie Street in Sydney’s CBD.  He is currently reviewing the most up to date research and is writing a book on the subject of relationships.  Jim specialises in Relationship Psychology and has helped hundreds of couples and individuals alike na

One thought on “What is a relationship? A psychotherapist’s perspective

  1. July 3, 2013 at 8:15 am, Gordon said:

    Great article! He really spelt it out to me and how to connect with my girlfriend better 🙂 I just need to start being happy with me – thanks!

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