Relationships 101

As a couples specialist I know that every couple I counsel has a unique set of issues.  Even so, I can say with confidence that every couple has at least one thing in common:  they want to feel better in the relationship. So if two people love each other, why do they have such difficulty?

To put it simply, we don’t learn how to be in relationships when we couple, we just hope that things will work out.Couples want to be happy. They want to feel supported, understood, admired and loved.  So why do the couples I counsel all say they don’t feel that?  The reason has nothing to do with intent. I believe people who get together in relationships want to build something special together.

The problem is that people haven’t learned what qualities make a good relationship. Without knowing how to listen to each other, ask for what you need, or resolve disagreements without a fight, most couples knock into each other on a regular basis and get pretty bruised in the process. They end up angry and resentful, and/or disappointed and sad.  It’s a terrible state to live in with someone you love.

So why does this happen? We learn a lot in our life. We learn how to be a student in school. We learn as a child how to relate to our parents. We learn how to follow rules.  We learn how to exist in our world. We understand that we are entitled to a good life. We are also taught that when we meet the right person we will be happy, and everyone wants to be happy.

Here’s the problem, and it usually starts when we are young. Some of us see dysfunction in the families we grew up in and we make a vow to ourselves that we will not repeat the mistakes of our parents. We have good intentions to live better, more peacefully. But all the intentions in the world can not teach us how to be in a relationship. These are not skills you can learn in one class.  No one learns new behaviors in a day. It takes time to understand how to be a good partner and it takes practice to become one.

A good place to start is by answering the following questions. How do you speak to your partner?  Are you kind and loving?  Are you curt and angry? Do you resent your mate and show it by rolling your eyes and shrugging your shoulders? This is the first thing to notice. This is step one in Relationship 101. Be nice to your partner, period. You may be mad about something and want something resolved with him or her. This is a different matter. The first step to being in a good relationship is treating your partner with love, and that means speaking with kindness, all the time.

Step two involves learning how to resolve difficulties before they become fights. Maybe your parents modeled good resolution skills and you do this automatically. When issues arise you speak about them with your mate. You tell your side, you listen to your partner, you discuss the matter and you come to an understanding. Unless you learned how to do this as a child growing up, you probably exhibit very different behaviors when you get upset.  Maybe you yell. Maybe you get quiet and sulk. Maybe you leave the room. If you do any of these, you could benefit from learning how to resolve issues more effectively.

Step three is about asking for what you need.  Something happens to us when we fall in love.  There’s this little, secret place where we feel really vulnerable and we believe our partner knows us so well that they will take care of all our needs, wants and desires that are kept hidden there.  Of course they will, we tell ourselves; they know us intimately, they love us, they would never do anything to hurt us. This is a wonderful belief. Many people feel this way without being aware of it.  Most people don’t talk about this with their partner. But that doesn’t prevent them from believing it and expecting their mate to solve all their problems and make life wonderful.

But this is a fantasy. People, even people who love us, don’t automatically know what we need deep down inside our soul. No one will ever know this unless you tell them. This may be one of the most difficult parts of learning how to be happy in a relationship. You must learn what you need, want and desire, and you must be able to ask your partner for it. No one can read your mind, even someone who loves you.

In couples counseling I help people understand the state of their relationship.  Then we begin to implement new behaviors, paving the way for something better.  This is one way to improve a relationship, and isn’t that what you want, too?

©Copyright 2010 by Linda Nusbaum, M.A., M.F.T. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to This article was solely written and edited by the author named above.

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