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Relationship Advice: What I Learned From My Clients This Week

Aug 17, 2007
Some of the best lessons come directly from the counseling office. Here's some of the wisdom my clients are sending you this week: 5 things to avoid, and 5 things to do in relationships.

Don't Do These Things:

1. Don't confuse withholding important feelings or thoughts with being supportive of your partner.

Yes, our partners need our support when they are starting new jobs or businesses, going through illness, or making decisions about how to relate to extended family members. And yes, we need to learn not to be overly critical or judgemental at such times.

However, being "supportive" of something we fundamentally disagree with, for months at a time, is a sure way to disrupt the emotional intimacy in the relationship.

Learn to know the difference between critical comments that need not be voiced and fundamental disagreements that a couple must work out.

2. Don't go outside the relationship to a person of opposite gender for emotional support. I have seen SO MANY people slide into affairs that began as just supportive friendships.

At the worst, a physical or emotional affair can occur, creating wounds that can last for years. At the least, you are taking the emotional energy needed inside the relationship to an outside relationship.

3. Don't assume that step-parents can be "real" parents. Occasionally, this can work, but there are far more failures than successes. The kids know who is the real parent, and your ideas of creating the ideal family may not work very well.

A much better metaphor for the step-parent is that of living as "respectful room mates." The step-parent is still an adult who can be given parenting responsibilities by the biological parent, but doesn't try to initiate policy with the kids.

Once a couple gets such an understanding rolling it seems to cut down on arguments about how to raise the kids. One less thing to disagree about!

4. Don't take your spouse for granted during mid-life.

Here's a typical scenerio. A couple has been together for years. One partner is settling in, thinking that everything is normalized and decided, and is expecting many more years of the same thing.

At the same time, the other partner is approaching the whole mid-life crisis thing, feeling more uncomfortable as time goes on. A crisis of some kind brings the couple to my office and we have a lot of work to do!

5. Don't marry a person with serious personality problems and expect them to change later on.

What you see is what you get. The more entrenched the personality quirks are, the less they will change.

Don't set yourself up for failure and disappointment. Love the person as they are, or don't marry!

Here's What To DO:

1. Do consider yourselves a TEAM. The team considers the needs of the two individuals, as well as, the needs of the couple as a whole.

It is not a competition, but a well-working team that can function as a unit for the good of both persons.

2. Do hang in there when your relationship gets in trouble. Get a counselor. Talk about it. Negotiate. Learn how to handle troubles in this relationship now. Hopefully, it will save this relationship, but if it doesn't, you will know what to do in the next one.

3. Do take responsibility for being the biological parent when in a step-family. It will be easier on you and your relationship if you are clearly the parental authority and the step-parent acts only from the authority you clearly assign to him or her.

4. Do learn to set yourself and your feelings aside when you've really made mistakes in the relationship. You need to be able to comfort and listen to your partner with all of your emotional resources present.

When you've made a big mistake it is normal to feel guilt, shame, remorse, and self-pity. You need to learn to not wallow in these feelings when your partner is feeling the effects of your mistake. Otherwise, the mistake will be creating even worse damage.

5. Do decide to make your relationship WORK no matter what. Have no reservations, no "outs," and no exceptions. Decide now.

This won't guarantee that your relationship will make it, but at least you will know that you gave it every chance to work.

These are the lessons I received from my clients this week. They are hard won truths that they have been forced to learn with some degree of struggle. My desire is that their difficulties will allow you to learn them a bit easier.
About the Author
Steve Roberts is an experienced Marriage and Family Therapist who shares tips and real life relationship secrets from over 20 years of practice. Get Insight and Wisdom for your Relationships at: www.WhatWorksForCouples.com
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