Being in a permanent relationship either marriage, living together or as partners is not easy and this can be especially true if you have been abused.
But what should we expect from our partners when we get married or move in together?
Grieving For Your Old Life
Being part of a couple is a big change from being single. When we go through a big change in our lives there is an element of loss for what we have left behind. You may feel a sense of grieving because you have now lost your single life and lifestyle.
As we grieve and adjust we may experience different strong feelings – feeling angry or perhaps depressed – before we can accept and enjoy our new circumstances. This is normal, you are grieving the loss of your old life. But it can be hard as not only are you adjusting, but people around you may expect you to be very happy – especially if it is after a big wedding.
Try and find supportive people to help you through this period of adjustment who understand that being part of a couple is not always a bed of roses. Don’t panic and think you have made a big mistake – rather accept that you are going through a huge personal upheaval and it is OK to have feelings about it.
When you start living together you can expect there to be highs, lows and a lot of different emotions in between:
The fun bits
If you have just got married or are setting up home together for the first time it can be fun and very exciting. For example unpacking the wedding presents, perhaps redecorating and planning how you want your place together.
But living together also brings with it challenges:
Living with someone full time is very different from dating. Having to share space may mean having to re-think how you run your home life. For example, you may be very tidy but your partner may be much more “relaxed” (!) about how they live – consequently this can bring conflict and pressure to the relationship. The way out of conflict is discussion and compromise. Both people have to give a little – so you may have to keep your clothes off the floor and in the washing basket, but then your partner has to be understanding if you don’t always do it in their time scale.
Having to let go of some ways and habits
Like living with anyone new you have to say goodbye to some of the way you spend your spare time, in order for there to be harmony in the home. You don’t have to give everything up but you will have to make adjustments in the way you live your life. You may be an night owl and like sitting up until three am emailing your friends or on Facebook. However your partner may expect you to be tucked up in bed with them by eleven! Again, this is going to be an area that you are both going to have to give a little on. Adjusting and making new habits to make the relationship work often means you have to communicate with your partner more than you did when you were dating.
Hitting The Reality Of The Day To Day
At some point in the relationship we wake up to the fact the relationship and the other person has changed. When you are settled in a relationship there a natural resumption of life before dating – the relationship is not as intense as at the beginning. This is especially true after marriage or starting to live together. If you think about it when you are first dating it is unlikely (and it would be quite worrying!) if you on your first date you both switched on the TV and spent all evening watching Eastenders instead of talking and getting to know each other. However, it is the case that as time passes in a relationship there is less talking, attention, perhaps kissing!
This is part of the progression of the relationship – but it can bring with it feelings of sadness that the attention and intensity is no longer there. Sometimes people leave a relationship at this point in the hope they can re-create the exciting intense part with someone else. Unfortunately this often just repeats the cycle.
However, we don’t have to accept that romance is no longer on the menu when we are full time partners! We can be creative about bringing a sense of excitement and passion with our partners. But we do have to recognize that the relationship is now progressing to a different level – and this brings new challenges as we face the future together.
Getting Through The Storms
As the relationship progresses there are going to be highs and lows, conflicts and stresses. This means that the relationship changes. This may mean:
You create a more accurate image of your partner:
As you go on in your relationship you begin to let go of any illusions you may have had about your partner and begin to see them in their real selves – a vulnerable person with struggles and issues to deal with just like you!
You embrace the shadow side of your personality:
You accept that you have negative traits that need working on just as your partner has areas of difficulty too. Accepting we have issues that need sorting out is the first step towards dealing with them.
You learn to value your partners needs:
Often when we first meet someone we want them to meet our own wishes and ideals for a relationship. However during the relationship we need to let go of the idea that our partner is there to meet our all needs and desires – and divert some of our energy into meeting his or hers.
You become more intentional in your interactions with your partner:
When we are under pressure or feelings are running high we tend to react without thinking. We need to consciously train ourselves to interact with our partner with as much consideration as we can. This takes a lot of practise and discipline but it is a very important skill to have, especially when we are in a conflict situation. Things said in the heat of the moment are not easily forgotten.
Learn new techniques to satisfy your needs:
Rather than cajoling your partner to meet all your needs. It is important to take responsibility for your own needs and to have other people in our lives to support us. One person cannot be everything to us. Even if we have a very good relationship with our partner we still need our friends, families and communities to give us support.
Search within yourself for strengths and abilities:
We can’t rely on our partners to sort out our whole lives for us. We need to look for to ourselves at times to come up with the answers to our lives and situations. This is important in order not to revert into roles where one person plays the child and the other the adult. We need to have a relationship that is adult to adult.
You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage or partnership:
To have a good marriage or partnership is not just about picking the right partner. It’s a realization you have to be the right partner. Crucially, that successful relationships require commitment, discipline and the courage to grow and change. Marriage and partnerships are hard work!!!
(Source: Adapted from Ideas in “Getting The Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix Published by Pocket Books 1993)
Dealing With Conflict At Close Quarters
When we are in a relationship and under pressure, conflict and anger can become very difficult to manage especially when feelings get heated. It is important to keep your anger respectful and safe. Some issues to think through regarding anger are:
Does the way you express anger with your partner get you what you want?
Does it help you to be taken seriously and get the respect you deserve?
We may need to take some steps in order to manage our anger in a healthy way. Some tips to handle anger are:
Notice when you are beginning to feel angry e.g. reddening of face
Use this as a signal that something is about to happen.
If you are able to, remove yourself from the situation to give yourself time to think.
If not take some deep breaths and focus on that for a couple of seconds.
Try and think long term. This is especially important if you are prone to “fly off the handle”. Think through your options. “If I say this I may feel better for the next five minutes but will I regret this behaviour in an hour or week?” Reflect to yourself “Am I hurting myself here by doing something now I later wish I hadn’t?”
Current Anger Links To Past Anger
Write down your feelings at the time or as close to the incident as possible. It may be just single words for example: Hurt / Tearful / Rejected / Unheard / Frustrated
Try and think if you have experienced this feeling of anger before and where.
Has your current situation triggered something from your past?
Notice any patterns of feelings. For example, you may feel “My partner doesn’t appreciate all I do for him”. This could be true but it could also relate into how you have been treated in the past – perhaps never feeling valued in your family or in other relationships.
This gives you the chance to see that although you are angry with your partner it also associates with other people who have hurt you. You may need some support in order to deal with your past pain – and you may like to consider a professional counsellor. It is important to deal with past anger and hurt so current anger is not baggage from the past but relevant to the situation you are in today.
A Time Out works in a situation of conflict. This is a safety net for the relationship that can stop an argument escalating into something bigger – that you both regret later. If conflict in your relationship is becoming very heated it is a good idea to implement a “Time Out” Rule for both of you.
Time Outs follow a pattern:
You are in a fight with your partner and you begin to notice the signals of anger.
Physically this could be:
- Tightening of the chest
- Reddening in the face
- Churning stomach
- Pointing with fingers
You also start to discern your language:
- Is it getting more provocative
- Are you getting louder
- Have you started name calling
- Are you swearing at your partner
Once you spot these signals agree with your Partner that you both need to take a break. Agree a specific time for a Time Out. For example twenty minutes. You will then separate for twenty minutes – and it is best to physically separate and leave the room.
Agree you will meet again in twenty minutes and you must both do this. Otherwise next time you call a Time Out the other person might not believe you will return and the Time Out won’t be trusted.
Time Outs are very useful if you are going through a lot of pressure in your relationship. Creating the space in a Time Out means that when you come back together to talk you will feel calmer, more in control and both of you are likely to get a better result.
It encourages safety in the relationships and helps to build trust between the couple.
If Anger Is Out Of Control
If your relationship is becoming more and more volatile do not try to deal with this alone – always get outside support and help. You can do this via your GP or go to a professional organisation that has experience to help you – for example Relatewww.relate.org.uk. If your relationship becomes violent dial 999 and call the police. Domestic violence is very rarely a one shot deal and almost always leads to more and greater violence.
Dealing with conflict effectively will also help us to be able to be assertive but not aggressive. This will mean that we will have a better, more open relationship where we can express our feelings and desires to our partner in a way that they will respond to us.
Don’t Go It Alone Together
We need support to stay in the relationship sometimes!
It can be useful to get specific support when your relationship has got very stuck and you are both faced with situations you feel you can’t live with or compromise. For example you feel unhappy with an aspect of your relationship and it doesn’t seem to change, or there are big pressures on your relationship e.g. money worries, family problems. There are specific agencies and services you can go to for this – one of the most well known is Relate – their website address is: www.relate.org.uk.
Being in a permanent relationship can be wonderful – but it can be stressful as well – so keep in touch with your friends when you move in or get married. Having a partner isn’t the end of the road for friendships. It is important to have others around us and support us to help our marriages and partnerships stand the test of time.
Things To Think about:
- Do you think you allowed yourself to grieve leaving your single life?
- Do you feel like you can openly discuss issues with your partner?
- What sort of compromises do you think you have made in your relationship?
- Do you feel it was equal to that of your partner?
- How do you handle conflict in your relationship?
- Do you think implementing a Time Out Rule could help you both?
- Have you got friends to support you in your partnership or marriage?
- If not is there anyone you could consider reaching out to?