Every relationship is a function of how the partners see it. In my experience working with couples, it is always interesting to see that one of the most common presenting issues in couples counselling is either communication or conflict management. Equally interesting is the fact that, when asked what the couples want to talk about or what brought them to counseling, it is usually one party who is doing the talking. They vocal party most often than not is setting his/her own counselling agenda while the other party demonstrates something of a superficial compliance.
I endeavour to share with my couple clients that the legal maxim “he/she who comes into equity must come with clean hands”. The courts have a better understanding of the maxim, however, it behoves us here to understand that the law of natural justice does not require either of the couple in therapy to have a flawless stance in the presenting circumstances.
A crucial advantage of marriage and family therapy (MFT)
The benefit of MFT is that therapists are trained to be both proactive and responsive in our orientation. Also, MFTs have a great understanding of the rule of circular causality hence they are, in most cases, able to deal with couples in ways and manners that make the connections practical and constructive in every way possible. They empower the parties and encourage them to gain valuable insights that are necessary to move their relationship forward.
Most relationships will be better managed if couples spend time together at some point either before making the commitment or thereafter to discuss a goal or come up with a mutually agreed purpose. Let us be clear about one thing at this point “relationships are purpose constructs”. You build relationships and good relationships are the product of conscious and deliberate efforts.
Four pillars of a good relationship?
Just like every home builder lay a solid foundation for their building project, so also couples need to lay a solid foundation for being together. It is of utmost importance that each party be clear what they expect from the relationship both in the short and in the long run. I am constantly baffled by people whose only criterion for entering into the relationship is “I love him/her”. News flash “love is not enough for a great marital union”. I want to define marriage for the purpose of this article as the “union of two independent individuals coming together to build an interdependent alliance”. For the union to stand the test of time, four pillars should be clearly established and agreed to. May I suggest the four pillars be:
If you both mutually respect each other, lying to each other will be difficult, if you care about each other, cheating will be anathema. If you are both committed to each other, you learn to be considerate and put each other ahead of you. You manage your conflicts better because you have something to live for that is bigger than the two of you. When you are generous with each other, you don’t hide or keep secrets, nor do you hold yourselves back.
Once the foundations are laid and they are firm, every other aspect of the relationship are subject to mutual negotiations. However, your foundations are non-negotiables.