The Art of Relating

By Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW 

Do Your Work Before Getting Married


Now Offering Video Sessions on Phone or Laptop

This Coronavirus affects people in all kinds of ways we often do not think about. I have several clients who have had to postpone their spring wedding plans. This has been understandably upsetting to them, with no idea of when to try again. Well, then use this time constructively to “do your work before you get married”. 

Thinking about getting married this year? Does the idea of a 50-plus percent divorce rate weigh on your mind at times? Do you want to greatly increase your odds of having it last? Then it is imperative that you “do your work” before you get married. I honestly believe that this is one of the main reasons that relationships do not last longer and are not always of the highest quality. The bridges to intimacy are not getting built because you have not properly mastered the Art of Relating. This is what we must be schooled in and become adept at if the relationship we all so badly desire is to become a reality, in terms of the closeness and connectedness we want to feel towards our romantic partner. It’s time to fix any broken or disrupted lines of communication, it is essential that you feel both emotionally comfortable and psychologically confident in the ability to bring up topics that may upset or make the other person mad and it’s time to work out those couple of seemingly benign differences that currently get pushed to the back rather than negotiated.

Broken and disrupted lines of communication occur because the bridges were not completed at the beginning of the relationship. When we first ran into any kind of confrontation with our partners, we got through it quickly and swept it under the rug, never really learning how to resolve the problem. Also, never really acknowledging which emotional hot button was getting triggered, perhaps causing our reaction to be out of proportion with the event that took place. The only way two people can properly validate each other’s feelings is to equally push themselves past their comfort zones and into that unfamiliar lake of vulnerability. Yes, we all overreact at times and at the core there is something unresolved in the past, so often for me struggling at the idea that life was not always fair. Well, we all have these “themes” and they contribute to how we see the world and interpret new experiences over time. Continued negative, argumentative patterns in relationships have everything to do with becoming trapped in a circular pattern of reacting to each other. The clear lines of communication have become hi-jacked, if you will, and you become stuck in an endless loop leading to nowhere. Over time, if not addressed properly, this can do serious damage to your relationship and the feelings of trust, acceptance and validation. It is at this point that people stop communicating and begin to feel like unhappy roommates.

In order to start getting people to communicate it boils down to helping them feel safe enough to state how they really feel. It is about letting them express how they have been hurt by something the other person has said or done, understanding that most of the time nobody intended to hurt anyone. As stated earlier, it is essential that you feel both emotionally comfortable and capable of bringing up topics that may upset or make the other person mad. This is the lake of vulnerability. Vulnerability equals risk. You need to go for a swim into the uncharted waters. How will he or she respond if I tell them how I really feel? This is hard for a lot of us, as we might not yet have quite the level of self-esteem we need to take care of ourselves emotionally. As a result, many of us then do not speak up because we are understandably afraid of rejection. But we need to fight that feeling. It is imperative that you get with someone who makes you feel safe and loved, the comforting cocoon that allows you the peace to finally drop your guard and begin to form true intimacy. Perhaps you don’t feel safe currently to talk because of how he or she acts when you try to state your feelings, or perhaps it has quite a bit to do with you and your aversion to confronting issues in general. Do not wait to get that worked out 5 years into the marriage. It really does not have to be such a big deal to negotiate the differences.

Differences have everything to do with the varied, often unequal, level of intensity we each feel regarding an aspect of life. Things such as how to raise kids, spend money, drink alcohol responsibly, show respect, etc. generates hordes of opportunity for differences to be magnified, with the accompanying strong emotions. Certain experiences in life have made us believe we are not only right about how we feel but entitled to see the world the way we do. Therefore, our feelings certainly must be “right” and yours must be “wrong”. This is a pretty normal way for people to feel and most of us do it to some degree. However, we need to learn to think differently about this right & wrong thing. We first need to acknowledge if this dynamic is going on in the relationship. Only then can we catch it when it is happening, mentally draw attention to it and begin to handle things differently the next time. Remember, exact definitions of right and wrong are hard to come by for something as subjective as emotions. We think we are right because this is what our experience has taught us. Therefore, we all need practice in listening, which is the only path to true understanding of another. This is what stops the right & wrong battle and opens the door for true intimacy. 

I may not feel as strongly as you do about something and vice versa. We really need to keep that in mind and make it our new mantra, “I’m not right, you’re not right, it is simply how we feel”.

That is the resistance that must be broken for each person, finally allowing the mantra to be absorbed… NOBODY IS RIGHT! Once that is broken down our ears magically unclog and we finally learn to really hear what our partner is trying to say when it comes to how they feel. Then, it is simply all about fair negotiating to settle disputes in most areas of disagreement.

Take a good look at your relationship. If you do not think you have the right mix yet in terms of feeling safe and confident to speak your feelings and negotiate the differences, then do something about it. Get this sorted out. Do your work now and the marriage will be much sweeter in the long run.

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Relationship Coach and Therapist offering video counseling sessions currently through your phone or laptop (Insurance will cover these types of sessions). 

For a free consultation call 314-374-8396.