On Valentine's Day, a relationship counselor shares the 3 Cs of a healthy and happy relationship
This Valentine’s Day, myUpchar spoke to consulting relationship counsellor and psychotherapist Dr Aman Bhonsle, about relationship problems and more.
Most relationship problems build up slowly, without you even realising. When they start, they seem so small that we assume that they’ll go away themselves with time. For example, communication is a huge problem that leads to the end of many romantic relationships. But did you know that a first sign could be something as small as preferring to text about your deeper feelings than telling your partner face-to-face? This Valentine’s Day, myUpchar spoke to consulting relationship counsellor and psychotherapist Dr Aman Bhonsle, about such relationship problems and more.
When should a couple try therapy?
Usually, the need arises when there is a conflict that the couple is unable to resolve on their own. People come for therapy when they’ve reached the tipping point - when they think that all other options have been exhausted. Some others also come during what is called the ‘challenged phase’, in which there is a crisis that is threatening their relationship.
What is usually the nature of these problems?
Some issues may sound petty like “he leaves the light on at night when I’m trying to sleep” or “We can’t fix a budget for essential things so grocery shopping is a challenge”. Usually, they underline deeper issues though. For example, people will say that their partner no longer touches them as they used to and they don’t hold hands in public. When I ask them why they haven’t just told their partner directly, the response is, “I just assumed they knew, this is how people are supposed to act!”. This betrays a sense of miscommunication and mismatched expectations, which is a big issue I see with couples.
What is the goal of relationship therapy and what can it do for couples?
As a relationship counsellor, my role can be explained by the example of GPS guidance. The couple has to decide what their goal (or destination) from therapy is. For some, it is to communicate better with each other, and for others, it is a specific issue that they can’t reconcile between themselves. My job is to provide a path to this end by using various approaches. I think of it as ‘emotional guidance’. Often, people don’t understand their own thoughts and, in their frustration and anger, derail their relationships.
Broadly, relationship therapy takes a two-pronged approach. The aim is to guide people on an individual level and the couple as a unit; only by examining yourself can you hope to untangle any long-standing issue with your partner.
What makes a relationship healthy?
The reality of a relationship is that it has to be worked on and it is wrong to think that things magically fall in place even if you have a firm foundation. If your relationship lacks awareness and intentional effort, it will suffer due to neglect. Healthy relationships are built on the 3 C’s.
- The first C stands for creativity: you will find that after a certain point in the relationship, things fall into a pattern and you will passively follow a routine. You will likely go out to the same places together, eat the same kind of food, fall into the drudgery of going to work, coming home and checking out. You need to be creative when it comes to keeping things fresh and fun in your relationship - get out of your comfort zone and visit a new place, join a class together, engage in conversations that go beyond the superficial. It’s not easy to break the rut, but initiative is the fuel that drives relationships.
- The second C stands for communication - which is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. This doesn’t mean you’re constantly rattling off whatever is on your mind. In fact, think of it in terms of making time for your biggest asset. If you are entering shaky territory like talking about sensitive issues, take a step back and ask for some space. Use this time to gather your thoughts and take up the conversation once the anger has dissipated. In the process, you would have weighed your words and avoided saying things you can’t take back. While this sounds straightforward, it requires maturity. Practice by taking as little as two minutes before responding to something that riles you up or you disagree with. The short pause will do wonders to your composure.
- Finally, the third C - collaboration, which is another important long-term goal. In my experience, those couples that have shared goals, and those who have worked towards something together like helping each other with their careers and personal growth fare the best. Perhaps this is because they are more meaningfully involved in each other's lives and because shared experiences build trust and empathy. So, join some classes or do some charitable work together.
Where do relationships go wrong?
One worrying trend that I’ve noticed is what I like to call ‘Texting relationships’. Many couples these days will have most of their conversations online. I’ve come across cases where couples who have been together for months can talk only on text and get tongue-tied and shy in person.
Further, these relationships appear to be based on memes and emojis. It is much easier, and less authentic, to declare your love to someone on a text message because of the sense of detachment the online environment provides. You can send heart emojis while doing a bunch of other things and not looking your partner in the eye. I think this has really impacted intimacy and had a hollowing impact on relationships.
How do you know when it’s time to end a relationship?
At the end of the day, love is about respect. If there is mutual respect and compassion in a relationship, the couple will go the distance in terms of making an effort and providing a nurturing environment for each other.
If you are feeling bullied into a certain lifestyle, or if your habits, social circle, background, opinions are being disrespected, you must think about what is keeping you in that relationship.
Also, if your partner communicates only to inflict harm and is not willing to work on the relationship alongside you, you are under no obligation to work on it either. For a relationship to work, both people need to be willing to put in the effort, not just one.
Dr Aman Bhonsle is a managing director, youth and relationship counsellor and trainer in transactional analysis at Heart to Heart counselling centre in Mumbai.
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