One of our primary needs in a relationship is to feel safe with our partner. A relationship where we cannot relax our guard and be ourselves is a relationship that will be desperately unhappy and will probably not survive. Stan Tatkin, who developed PACT (the psycho-biological approach to couples therapy talks about a secure functioning relationship as in which we have a relationship that is fair, sensitive where we look out for each other as number 1. Fundamental to the secure functioning relationship is the idea that I let you know that you never need to fear me or fear being abandoned by me. Researcher John Gottman’s key finding after 35 years of marriage research was that the biggest predictor of happiness in a heterosexual relationship was the woman’s trust of her man.
There are 2 important requirements to maintain this kind of relationships. Dealing with ‘third’s’ i.e. everyone other than us. This includes, children, parent’s bosses, telemarketers, alcohol etc. We need to deal with third’s in ways that do not threaten the relationship. If we like a drink together after work and it connects us – Fantastic. If it leads to financial stress, fights or violence it needs to be dealt with differently. If the kids ballet, art extension and private school mean we have financial stress and no time for sex – then our task is to change the programme. If we fight after ever Sunday dinner with Mum then we need to make a new plan.
Exercise – take a moment to list any third’s that might be impact your relationship.
The second requirement is reinforcing commitment to be there. This may involve some explicit declarations. No matter what – I will always be there. I’m so glad you are my partner – i look forward to being old and wrinkly with you. It will also involve some specific actions or behaviours that may be specific to your relationship. I always save my last dance for you. When i come back from trips I bring you flowers. I always get you 5 daffodils on your birthday to remember our first date. These behaviours underscore the preciousness and uniqueness of the bond between us.