A Relationship Out of Balance
In the ideal relationship both parties believe that the relationship is the best they could hope for according to expectations and in line with what they have to offer, a relationship where they will not experience rejection. The balance can be financial input, responsibility, set against caring, time and effort.
When a couple or an individual with relationship problems comes to counselling, its because they need help, they will have tried to resolve this themselves but somehow become stuck in the process.
There will be a sense of imbalance in what each partner gives to the relationship.
The contribution does not have to be equal but the benefit felt or perceived should be. If we imagine the traditional partnership of a heterosexual couple who have a family, the male parent is the main salary earner and the female occupied caring for the children and the home. In happy relationships each partner will feel that their contributions are equal with any fluctuating balances managed by special treats or extra care.
In the early days of a relationship the balance is less important but if a long-term relationship becomes unbalanced the viability of the relationship is in question. If we do not feel that we deserve a better relationship or, if we have decided to wait until something better comes along we may stay in the relationship.
Past relationships influence our expectations, if a person is used to putting a great deal of effort in to a relationship whilst getting little reward, this could be their expectation and if a new relationship does not fulfil their needs they could be unhappy. If someone has high expectations, relationships may never match up to their demands, they may always be looking for something better leading to unhappiness and promiscuity.
We expect a balance, when we perceive an imbalance the relationship is under threat.
Happiest relationships are where both parties feel they are both investing the same amount, imbalance causes one party to feel over-benefitted or under-benefitted with feelings of guilt or injustice. Relationships where one party feels greatly over or under benefitted will not be stable.
Even considering the increased equality between the sexes and the greater acceptance of same sex relationships, there remains the roles of protector and protected in most intimate relationships. The natural instincts of both sexes; the hunter and the nurturer are often mirrored in same sex relationships, is this just a sensible division of roles or do our personalities require a compensatory partner.
Sex is undoubtedly used as an emotional weapon in unhappy relationships, the withdrawal of intimacy is no longer assumed to be wholly the domain of women, and the assumption that women do not enjoy sex and can use it as a reward is out-dated.
In heterosexual relationships, women generally view their giving of sex as having higher value than a mans, if she gives sex too readily it reduces the value, generally women are more able to trade sex as a commodity for a higher status within society
The reality is that the balance between couples is not based on actual contribution but perceived value, a flexible give and take, accepting that individual roles within a relationship may alter over the pattern of time and that balance can be adjusted.
The investment in children, the shared memories, extended family and friends has a value, potential care needs and companionship a long-term contribution with its pay off in the future.
Infidelity can be a result of in-balance being felt, one party may feel that they are being short changed in their relationship, that they do not receive enough love, flattery or attention, enough entertainment, enough sex, that they deserve more and an affair may adjust the balance in their view. If the affair overcompensates the injustice and guilt arises, further reparation is necessary and the other party may find themselves the recipient of gifts and attention.
It may be that both parties perceive that their partner gives very little diminishing the value of their benefits leading to cyclical arguments where neither party can see the others point of view.
What can a counsellor do for individuals or couples?
Individuals: Sometimes logistics and attitudes make joint sessions seem impossible, there is great value to be had from individual relationship counselling, the opportunity to see your life through another’s eyes, to question priorities and values, to find how your past is still with you in your attitudes of today and how that affects the dynamic of your marriage. You may see pattern behaviour through several relationships without understanding their failure, continually choosing the wrong type of guy and wondering why.
Couples: By asking each party to listen the others point of view without interruption their perception of the balance may be altered, to ask each party to put themselves into the others shoes and consider how that person may feel this can help other partner to fully understand their partner’s perspective. This, in a safe confidential environment assists in re-addressing perceived contribution. In changing their perspective of each other’s contribution the perception of value may change and the imbalance rectified.
Working together with a couple may identify a problem which can then be recognised so that the problem becomes the problem not the other person, the couple can then find solutions with the help of the counsellor who may ask them to think back to a time when this problem was not apparent and consider the changes since.
The counsellor can ask the couple to reflect on the investment, the joint rewards from the relationship, this may be family life, social life, shared history and companionship.
A persons values and beliefs can change during the course of a relationship, the change could be as a result of trauma; infertility, the loss of a child, close family member or friend, the onset of a medical condition, mental illness, disablement, terminal illness, bankruptcy, addiction or the finding of religion.
The counsellor should make sure that they understand what the couple want from counselling, they may have differing agendas with insufficient common goals for the relationship to continue, one of them may be reluctant to attend may have a secret they do not wish to disclose to their partner but is affecting the relationship, one of them may believe that the relationship is over.