The clients and retreat participants I see tend to be pretty together type of people with a mature attitude to life and relating. So I don’t get too many couples who want to stay flat-lining or locked in conflict. They want to grow and develop as individuals and as a couple and have the best life they can.
There are three ways of having a long-term relationship, or four, as the second type manifests in two ways which might appear to be diametrically opposed but are actually versions of the same dynamic:
This is when a couple play it safe. Too afraid to upset the other or too needy of validation from their partner, neither of them is game to be truly honest. Over time these relationships tend to become more and more limited and the couple grow ‘old’. Sometimes there is a power dynamic here, such as in the traditional patriarchal structure where the man had the power and the woman had to acquiesce. The key indicator here is that they want it to be ‘easy’ and ‘not rock the boat’.
These couples know they’re not happy and blame the other for it. This manifests in two ways: one is where they are in constant conflict, always bickering, with lots of nastiness; the other is where they stonewall and don’t relate at all or only superficially. The latter version can look like flat-lining, but the difference is the hostility and blame behind the behaviour. In both cases, the relationship at best stagnates and at worse degenerates into either ongoing misery if they stay together, or on-going blame and hatred if they separate. The key indicator here is the unhappiness and blame.
3) High-maintenance - the 'Couple Bubble'
These couples know that ‘happy ever after’ is not inevitable but takes work; and they see their relationship as a vehicle for growth and development. They work together as a team through the ups and downs of life, embracing their differences, challenging each other, supporting each other, and always being absolutely honest - radically honest.
This third type of relationship is a high quality relationship, and it’s also a high-maintenance relationship. Not in the sense of the ‘precious princess’ type of relationship where one is selfishly demanding with a high level of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies, but one where each person expects the best of themselves and their partner and is committed to enabling that best to evolve.
The key to a high-quality relationship is honesty and openness.
Yet to be able to have this level of honesty, you both need to be able to deal with the inevitable emotions that come with honesty - guilt, vulnerability, fear, jealousy...
You have to own these feelings, acknowledge them. It’s essential that you don’t avoid or suppress the feelings. It’s equally as important that you don't blame the other for these feelings (or you’re in deadlock) and definitely do not pull back from your partner for fear of these emotions (or you’re flat-lining).
To be this aware and this open requires each of you to have a high level of self-awareness, and high level communication skills. This isn't easy, these are skills and qualities that have to be developed, they don't come 'naturally'. Having a high level relationship takes dedication and focus.
That might sound daunting, but it's actually wonderfully empowering to be able to relate with compassion and empathy, assuming the best of your partner and always seeking to understand and grow.
This way you co-create a 'Couple Bubble' where your relationship supports and nurtures you, so that the challenges of life become more bearable because you share them together, and the joys of life become more joyful because you share them together.