In our deepest relationships, there comes a time when when our partners push us into places of profound discomfort. If we’re lucky, our first response to this challenge might be “Wow, this is work!,” but for so many of us, the complaint is a loud “our relationship is just not working!” As a couples counsellor, both of these are reasons clients walk in the door, asking for support, tools and ultimately, a new way to manage some of their most important relationships.
We can all probably agree that being in relationship with another human being sometimes creates huge challenges. This is because our partners see us and we see our partners from a unique, sometimes all too clear (!) perspective. With such a view point, we can see parts of ourselves and our partners that may look messy, thoughtless, confused or even downright mean. Often with a terrifying and blinding spotlight, all of our character flaws full and centre stage may feel like a horrifying and dangerous game with huge stakes. And, when humans stand in the spotlight like that, our defence mechanisms rush in to try to help us cope and we may respond with anger, shut down, or numbing out, to name a few.
Coping mechanisms are just that – mechanisms that help us cope in times of stress, such as when we perceive we are under attack or our relationship’s well-being is being threatened. Dr. David Schnarch, known among other things, for writing The Passionate Marriage, calls the intimate relationship, “a people growing machine” because relationships literally grow us as people. Growth sometimes looks like We’ve become then both an individual and a partner to another being, and this is both beautiful, rich and fulfilling, while it’s also often scary, and fraught with difficulties regarding how to love in the midst of challenges.
Some of us see these bigger relationship challenges as insurmountable, a reason to run away, and an invitation to leave the relationship itself. However, it may be worth considering these challenges as an invitation to grow, change and meet the needs of being in an intimate relationship. I like to reframe the challenges that intimate relationships create as a new learning opportunity. Let’s face it, some learning we would never chose to do if we don’t have a good enough reason to do it! It takes a lot of love and commitment for the hardest work to be accomplished.
Looking at how we are in our intimate relationships is never easy. The most important learning we do in life never is! However, the potential for growth and increased contentment, ease and clarity is here and now.