(from Alan Heeks book)
Some basic good relationship guidelines, a compass to steer you through the seas and keep you away from rocks, shoals and storms.
Agree groundrules and honour them. Sexual fidelity is often the crucial one – but ensure you know and agree about whatever matters deeply to both of you – it could be money, handling conflicts, or who takes the rubbish out.
- Keep communicating honestly. Have regular check-ins. Even if your habit is to keep your feelings to yourself, make a major effort to share with your partner what’s really going on for you – but make sure you express emotions carefully – see box on page 8.
- Know your fears and avoidance tricks around intimacy, and consciously try to change them. You may have deep habits which look like inevitable parts of your life (such as a vital, demanding job, or health problems), and which enable you to reduce intimacy. Admit these to your partner, ask her to support you as you work to change them.
- When you’re upset, take responsibility. Probably your partner did something which ‘caused’ your upset: but your reactions are your responsibility. Start by looking at your own emotional patterns, and seeing what old distress is aggravating your current reaction. Probably childhood feelings are running, and the child in you wants a mummy or daddy to comfort him. Start by parenting yourself. Only when you are calmer, talk to your partner about what they did that upset you.
- If you’re angry, don’t suppress it, don’t dump it. Anger is one of the strongest and most dangerous emotions, and that’s true if it explodes inside or outside. Learn the methods of anger management, take a workshop, see a counsellor, and use them alone, and with your partner.
- When it gets really bad, keep physical contact. Sometimes feelings are so raw that words can only make it worse. Just holding each other, or swapping some loving touch and massage, can help both of you feel connected and safer.
- Know what projections you put on each other, and don’t be run by them. Most of us project onto our partner the difficult aspects of our opposite-sex parent in childhood. I had a controlling mother, so I see my partner’s current actions through that lens. It really helps to know what you’re projecting, name it to your partner, and screen your emotions to take this out, before you express feelings to her.
- Stay open, keep giving. Your partner may be acting shabbily, dumping emotions and projections onto you, or acting aloof. You may have good reasons to be angry, to shut down, to stop putting yourself into the relationship. I can recall going for weeks on end with my partner and me just sulking. Do all you can to keep your heart open, to keep giving your love even when you’re hurting, to see her behaviour as coming from her pain, her patterns, not from malice. If you can stay open and keep giving, you will grow from the experience, and you’ll both reap the rewards.
- Treat relationships as a project. This advice may appal women – but I’m writing mainly for men. Like other important projects, be clear where you want to get to, see what new skills you need, and invest time to learn them. And get support – from close friends, from a men’s group, from workshops, or from a professional. This is a project of the heart, with huge pay-offs.