We recommend the following tips for ways to revitalise relationships and increase your level of intimacy with others.
We call these tips timeless because they’re relationship advice that never fails to work!
1: Don’t Make Assumptions
Our minds like to minimise the effort they put into thinking – hence it seems a good thing to make assumptions about what’s happening in the feelings and thoughts of another, in any given situation. But we don’t necessarily know what is happening for another. It’s counter-productive when these assumptions lock the other person into a way of being experienced that’s not true for them.
Part of the practice in relationship and couples work is to question such assumptions. The simplest thing is to check them out with the other person, if necessary.
2: Don’t Take It Personally – Really!
This is a hard one: our easiest assumption when someone cuts us off in traffic is to take it very personally. And that’s just stranger to stranger! The stakes can be much higher in an intimate relationship.
We can guarantee that at times we will take things personally. Our brains are built, in part at least, for attack and defence. One way through this is to examine the feelings that underly our strong reactions. This is what fuels our reactions, and this is where we can find the truth of what is actually happening for us.
If appropriate, we can commence a potential transforming dialogue with the person who triggered us, and learn from the event. Counselling and therapy can facilitate such a dialogue.
3: Don’t Pretend Nothing is Wrong
Stonewalling or pretending that nothing is wrong can be a damaging strategy in any relationship. As can walking out on a partner.
The strategy puts the other in the dog house. It’s a passive way of using aggression, but it’s aggression none the less.
Accepting that something is wrong in the interactions with another, and finding a way to raise the issue with that person, allows the possibility of exploring something new for both people. We need an emphasis on “I feel…” statements (rather than “You did…” statements) for this to be successful.
4: Don’t Fall Into the Anxious Vs. Avoidant Trap
A quite common pattern in relationships is one person being the anxious chaser and the other the avoidant distancer. (In fact, in the good times they’re very attracted to each other, and that may be a factor in them getting into a relationship in the first place!)
The trouble with this dynamic is that the more the chaser chases the more the distancer distances. Much good work can be done in Relationship Counselling in uncovering the ways in which this dynamic is unconscious in a relationship, and enabling the partners to find a middle group of security in which they can meet. In some cases this work holds the golden key to intimacy.
- See also: An Adult Attachment Primer
5: Don’t Do Tit-For-Tat
Some relationships are built on an unconscious model that makes a relationship more like a business deal than a meeting in emotional intimacy. “I’ll give you this if you give me that.” “I’ll do that for you if you’ll do this for me.“ (Or, when things go wrong in an argument, another version is: if you’re nasty to me I’ll be nasty to you.)
As with any dynamics that are in partly unconscious (out of the conscious awareness of one or both partners) Relationship Counselling can enable gentle inquiry into where this dynamic plays out and how it blocks the development of couple intimacy.
6: Don’t Do Knee-Jerk Defence
Knee-jerk defence is a quick defensive response to anything someone hears that they consider confrontational. It’s a protective strategy that serves well for survival in hostile environments. (Some may have encountered these at home, school or work, earlier in life.) However, it will never work in developing intimacy in a relationship.
The problem with the quick defence is that in a relationship the other doesn’t feel valued or heard. They have no support to explore a topic more deeply.
7: Don’t Project (well, at least notice when you do it)
We all project – that is, believe that what we see out there, often in relation to other people, is actually there and not within ourselves. However, our clever, resourceful minds use this mechanism to disown emotions and beliefs we are unable to own: be they either good or bad.
So a manager at work becomes a negative father, when he “reminds” me of my own father; my daughter I decide is naughty when she “reminds” me of myself as a child.
Working with projections brings those “reminders” into our own awareness, where we can see how they inform the way we are in relationships. Working with them can loosen the grip these projections have on us and our relationships.
8: Don’t Overgeneralise or Catastrophise
This Issue is damaging in that it pushes the other person away. They may decide that what they’re already doing (or trying to do) for the relationship is not noticed or is of no use at all. They may find it very unfair. They may stop trying so hard in the relationship.
Being on the receiving end of catastrophising makes some people decide to “sit on the fence” in a relationship. They won’t fully commit if they see there’s a chance it may all fail. Fence siting is damaging for any relationship (see more below).
It’s another of the dances that we do in relationship: the person doing the overgeneralising may in fact be asking for more intimacy, but doesn’t realise they are. Relationship Counselling can help them explore other ways of asking for what they want, that don’t push their partner away.
9: Don’t Sit On the Fence
As mentioned above, this is an insidiously damaging strategy that can appear safe. It appears safe because no one wants to commit to something that they’re not really sure of. But the strategy risks bringing the very thing that is feared into reality – the end of the relationship.
We recommend that if a couple really wants their relationship to work they should make a deep commitment to the process. Such a commitment seems to set in train unconscious energies that help the work.
10: Don’t Do “Negative Bleed”
People who are continually negative are tiresome to be around. It’s that simple, especially in an intimate relationship! But the person being negative might not be aware of how much their partner is experiencing this negative energy coming from them. If both partners are prepared to look at this then the reactions (of both) can be explored.
What’s really going on in such a relationship? Why does one feel they need to be so continually negative?
11: Forgive Quickly and Often
Most relationships that thrive and attain an ongoing level of close intimacy must at some time address the question of forgiveness. Forgiving is a humble decision that, although things that happen in a relationship might not always be “right” or fair”, these minor (and sometimes major) things must be dissolved into forgiveness for the relationship to grow.
Both parties win, the forgiver and the forgiven!
True forgiveness doesn’t involve a hierarchy. This would be the forgiver, on a higher or superior level than the forgiven, looking down and conferring forgiveness. Instead, true forgiveness is a leveller; we forgive the other, and forgive ourselves for our reactions to them.
We learn humility rather than staying superior.
12: Answer Security Questions Quickly and Often
Discoveries in neuroscience show that primitive brain reactions are fast. This is why, if we want to ensure a deep living bond in an intimate relationship, we have to not allow the primitive part of the brain of our partner to fall back to defensive fight, flight or freeze behaviour.
One way to guard against this is to get to know when our partner is asking a security question (rather than a practical question). It’s subtle, usually not in the words directly. We need to learn this language of security.
A security question, once decoded, is really asking “Do you love me?”, “Is it safe to trust you?”, “Do you treasure me?”. This question needs to be answered in substantially less than a second if primitive, negative brain reactions are not to be invoked. The answer should be one of reassurance, so that a deeper exploration of the issues that raise the insecurity can be explored.
Learning to know what security questions look like, and when they are being asked, is something that can be investigated in Relationship Counselling.
If you’d like support around implementing these tips in your relationship, please give us a call.