Finding balance in life isn’t easy, and trying to obtain balance in a relationship is no simple task either. Balancing work with love, love with other relationships in your life, and life’s little domestic issues that will inevitably crop up with the passion needed to sustain a long-lasting relationship.
We asked Windhoek-based psychologist, Heidi Burmeister-Nel for her take on what makes a balanced relationship, and she gave us the following advice.
Focus on the positive
What makes a relationship good, balanced and healthy? Heidi notes the work of researchers John and Julie Gottman, who followed relationships to figure out how they can be done right. They found that there are basically two types of relationships; those that last (the Masters) and those that don’t last (the Disasters). The Gottman institute found that the Masters tend to follow the 5 to 1 principle. This means that for every one negative thing they do or have in their relationship, there is at least five positive things to fall back on. “We all make mistakes, and we will all hurt or disappoint our partner, but if we consciously focus on kind and positive gestures, the effect of the inevitable negative ones are far less potent.”
The 5 to 1 principle is based on being kind and considerate to one another, “Kindness and consideration is doing small things; sending a message during the day to ask how you are, packing a lunch box, taking out the garbage, asking your partner if they need anything from the shops when you drive home. It’s the small things.”
Masters of relationships are not afraid of conflict. In fact, Heidi notes that Masters “can have a lot of conflict, but they have learned the importance of the HOW in conflict.” The How means how you speak, respond and listen during a conflict. “It’s the art of communication, listening and self-soothing. Masters have learned that if somebody wins a powerstuggle, both have lost.”
“Master what Sue Johnson (author of Hold me Tight) refers to as the ARE technique. During conflict and communication, be Accessible (available to your partner), Responsive (respond in an emotionally appropriate way to your partner’s emotional state), and Engaging (stay present in the moment).” It’s important to regulate our own feelings of distress during conflict, so as to understand what our partner is going through. This will inevitably lead to a better understanding for both partners.
Couples that can master the ARE technique show their partner that they matter, that they see them and they understand their pain and frustration. This is an important stepping stone to laying the foundation of a strong relationship.
Don’t hold onto resentments
It’s easy to hold onto the things that make us mad, or to keep an internal score card filled with all the little ways our partner disappointed us. This, Heidi says, is the last thing we should be doing.
“Masters are great at keeping a positive perspective in a relationship.” That means choosing to see the good in their partner and choosing not to build on contempt or resentments. “What we focus on, we will ultimately see.” In other words, choose to have your partner’s well-being in mind and avoid unnecessary negative comparisons. By keeping your focus on the positives in your relationship, the negatives become less important and start to decrease the role they play between you and your partner.
Just go with it
Relationships inevitably change, as the two people in it will slowly be changed as they go through life. That’s all normal. The trick is to accept change as it comes, and to acknowledge that a relationship may change, but that it can also be changed consciously.
“People in balanced relationships can reinvent the relationship as needed and if needed. Through the different phases of life, we as humans will inevitable be changed, and the relationship follows.”
Don’t let expectation rule you
The greatest mistake that romantic partners can make is to go into a relationship with unrealistic expectations. In any relationship it’s a good idea to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
“Masters have realised the destructiveness of their own (very often unrealistic) expectations.” This means that instead of expecting your partner to fill you perfectly, to be your begin all and end all, you acknowledge that people are multi-faceted and full of flaws and imperfections.
“Love should not be taken for granted and that it should be protected and respected.”The reality is that there will never be a person that will be completely perfect. Instead of trying to find this ever elusive relationship, make the one you’re in perfect through love, a focus on the positive, self-discovery, and appreciation.
For more information, or to contact Heidi, please phone 061 300 252