Sunday, 4 September 2011

Relationship Choices

As a relationship counsellor people often expect me to advise them on what to do. They want to know whether their relationship is doomed or whether they can make a success of it. I always respond in the same way i.e. we can explore their options together.

Much is made of choice and it's often suggested, that these days, we have too much choice. I feel this is erroneous. In my opinion there are only three choices when reviewing your relationship -  lump it, leave it or change it.

Currently you may find youself lumping it. Perhaps you've not been happy for a long time but feel unable to to do anything to improve it. You may feel the relationship is over but lack the wherewithal to leave or to end it. Perhaps the children are young & you feel it's better for them if you stay in the relationship. Perhaps you fear being on your own. After all our society is based on couples & though theoretically  it's ok to be single often it seems a lonely option. The reasons are as varied as the descriptions of a good relationship. Often one of you will feel victimised or martyred sacrificed on the altar of the ungrateful partner.

Leaving is also a choice which can made out of helplessness. You may feel you have done everything you can to make it a good relationship but to no avail and you've decided enough is enough. This could  indicate that you feel you have the responsibility for the relationship and/or you are sticking to your view of a good relationship & see compromise/collaboration as a non option? Of course after mutual consideration you may have come to the conclusion that you want different things & it's ok to call it a day.

Change isn't an easy option. It means two people really communicating how they feel & why they feel something. Inspite of the popular opinion that couples don't put enough effort  into making relationships work nobody (to my knowledge) has separated on the basis of a raised loo seat or the top being left off the toothpaste - it's what these actions represent. When we negotiate we look at the bottom line & then choose to modify or not. In my opinion it's ok to ask someone to change behaviour on the basis of give & take. It is not ok if you're asking them to be someone else entirely.

These are my personal opinions based on the work I do & do not represent any organisation I have connections with - neither am I reflecting on abusive relationships which is something else entire.


  1. It never occurred to me that to leave was taking responsibility for a relationship.
    Choice is a good thing, there's lots of it, but we all have criteria to fit, some choices are just plain silly and we dont have to pick them. It's like choosing a sports car when you have 6 kids.
    Some people are strong in a relationship, and the other weak, the strong one may fear leaving because of what it would do to the other regardless of how destructive the relationship is. One of the choices we all have, is to listen. If only one half of a couple is hearing, the other is either selfish or blissfully unaware, either way they need to be informed of the situation.
    I was recently talking to a man of the cloth, we were discussing the traditional wedding vows. I said I didnt say 'obey' because I felt it was irrelevant to today's world and couldnt see myself adhereing to it. He laughed and told me that if we were to translate it's true meaning we would see that it meant 'to listen'.
    If one person is doing all the talking, they wont be doing much listening so the relationship is disfunctional and will lead to a breakdown in communication.
    Communication is a relationship's lifeline!

  2. Hi Anonymous - thank you for your comments they are much appreciated. I think leaving can be taking responsibility for yourself? I think often people feel they alone hold the responsibility when clearly it's down to the couple. If one partner is 'weak' & one is 'strong' then the relationship isn't balanced? Both need the opportunity to be vulnerable & strong. I agree communication is the primary requirement but that means listening & speaking. As my Mum used to say - you have two ears & one mouth use them in proportion.

  3. Many relationships have one ear and one mouth not usually belonging to one person.
    It's true that both need to opportunity to be vulnerable and strong, sometimes though the strong one becomes so use to not buckling that they become more of a counsellor than a partner. The weak one has two personas, one for the outside world and it comes across as 'in control' and one for the relationship which can be 'controlling'.
    I usually find controlling people to be intrinsically weak and feel they need to be listened to more than others. If someone has been in this situation for a long time, they take on the responsibility for the other's mental well being and probably feel it would be like leaving a child if they walked away.

  4. Hi Anonymous I agree that the situation you describe can occur. My blog was to look at the options available & I think you are describing feeling stuck between a rock & a hard place - if that is it's your relationship we're talking about? I would say that's an example of lumping it & it is a choice. If it's been thought about & the decision is that it's the best thing to do then ok. I don't feel it's my role in life to judge. My post was general in nature speaking from a counselling perspective. It was not my intention to say any of the choices are simple or easy. Thanks for contributing.

  5. Hurrah! You did it - congratulations on a brilliant first post.

    I spent years 'lumping it' trying to be SuperMum, working in a high powered job, raising two children only 14 months apart, doing all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and feeling thoroughly taken forgranted and worn out.

    Change was the answer (after a huge number of rows where we both became embittered and entrenched in our views)

    Having filed for divorce my OH decided he would rather change than lose me, we still loved each other, I just couldn't live the life that was expected of me. I felt like I had 3 children, 2 I had given birth to, and one I had married.

    This week we celebrated 25 years - and hope that we get to have another 25.

    A little bit of give and not so much take really works.

  6. Hi Zoe what a brilliant contribution. I am so pleased you were both able to negotiate & compromise your way to a happy relationship. By the way congratulations on the 25 year anniversary - well done!

  7. Great post B!

    Beautifully written and informative - sometimes common sense is right in front of us and yet invisible.

    Change in this context is really worth exploring - thanks!


  8. thanks Bob I am heartened & encouraged by your comments.

  9. Firstly - sorry to be anonymous. I just am trying not to put my grievances out there, where they might be read by our child.

    I am not so sure if I fully agree. My OH suddenly left - he has (apparently although he has never given any indication) been unable to deal with my cancer, or the responsibility of a child and his home. This was outwardly a loving and strong man, with a huge heart. A shock, a real blow for my belief in humanity.

    He has not taken responsbility for the relationship. He has indeed taken flight so that he can be 'free' and not feel 'trapped' - leaving two decades of love as if they never existed. I am barely coping, both physically and emotionally. I have to force myself to live every day.

    So my perspective may be coloured at the moment. However we are in counselling and I would like to say that the counsellor is wonderful. I praise anyone who can do a tough job like counselling.

    I am actually taking responsibility for everything and crumbling more and more each day.

    Lovely blog. Look forward to reading more.

  10. thank you for your comments & I understand fully your desire to remain anonymous. I am so sorry you are experiencing problems but pleased you are accessing the help you need. It is never easy when one partner wants in & the other out. I guess the best outcome is that you will eventually understand & accept what's happened without feeling blamed or punished. It sounds as if you are very courageous. I wish you well