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Couple Counselling – and just what is a successful relationship?

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Let’s move in together!    Four words which can have a great impact on the future direction of our lives. When that decision is taken most couples intend to both have fun and also a successful relationship. The fun part can come easily enough but over time the successful relationship may prove a little more elusive.

Talk of success and failure in relationships can be puzzling. It is not always clear just how a successful relationship should be defined. Failure can also be a misleading word. Some may  want to challenge the idea that a relationship has failed just because it has ended.

Perhaps there is something around expectations. If we do enter into a relationship intending it to last forever there is alas a reality check waiting somewhere ahead. The unfortunate truth is that if the elixir of eternal life continues to elude us and we remain mortal, then all our relationships will eventually have to end.

That can bring great sadness and distress although some may argue it can also bring relief and escape!  Whichever way we decide to regard this, an ending of some sort is inevitable. Of course the nature and causation of that ending be it death, divorce or boredom will have an impact on how we feel about that conclusion.

An acknowledgement of that inevitable ending can create emotional space for alternative thoughts to emerge. Perhaps it becomes more important to consider the ongoing nature of the relationship. Rather than fixating on how to keep the relationship alive, a more intriguing question can surface around the nature of that relationship. 

It may be for some that intensity matters more than duration and that quality is more important than quantity. But if that is so, where is the quality standard. What are the accepted benchmarks?  Just what differentiates a successful relationship from a failed relationship, or even a mediocre one.

Individuals whether separate or as part of a couple, will have personal needs.  Perhaps that benchmark of relationship success can be as straightforward as just acknowledging our personal preferences and the extent to which these needs and desires are met by the other party.

Let us return to the issue of quality.  What really matters?  Do we want a relationship that lasts two tumultuous years full of love, life and passion, with moments of great extremes of joy and anguish; or alternatively do we seek a relationship that persists for forty two years but which is well just solid, stable and ‘okay’, whatever that means.

We will all have our own answer and that will be dependent upon our own personal values, expectations and wants. For some, issues around safety and security might be uppermost particularly if the individual comes from a childhood of family uncertainty and fear.  For others from a chaotic background, there could be an easy familiarity with great drama. For those individuals, alternating periods within the relationship of much tragedy and elation could be essential to keep boredom at bay.

Others may feel a weight of expectation from a family circle which demands that the partnership should endure come what may. Perhaps this is a social environment where ideas around duty and responsibility are particularly strong. Others may emerge from a more fragmented background where nothing is permanent and joy is inevitably experienced as fleeting and temporary. 

Tranquillity or tempest: passion or pottering. We pay our respective dues and gradually make our choice as the years unfold.

Or do we?  Is it possible that at the very outset we are sufficiently intuitive to have a realistic sense of our partner and of what is to come?  Is the subsequent development of the relationship really a surprise or more an expectation? Is the conclusion a confirmation of hope or just an endorsement of disappointment?

The extras and outputs surrounding the relationship can also be critical in terms of deciding on that quality index.  For some individuals, status is more critical than laughter, children  more important than sex, and the size of the house a more crucial factor than the number of friends. The comparators can go on.  Agreement is sought rather than argument; and company rather than copulation. We each chose the qualities that matter for us. 

The challenge comes of course if there are marked differences in either the choices made or in the relative ratings given for each requirement.  The same shared interests may be present but with very different weightings. A sporting analogy is the drawn game which at first glance appears to be the same result for both sides. If however one side is desperate for that win which means promotion, the consequences of the draw will be very different for each party.

Our relationships can also be complicated by the assessment made by others outside of the couple, especially those whose views matter to us. Cinderella may have been pleased with her final choice of partner but my recollection is that her sisters were rather irritated. Cinderella’s fairy tale ‘happy ever after’ relationship with the prince probably did not do that much for her relationships with her siblings and her wider family.

But I digress.  Let’s go back to your situation.  I suggest that what will make your relationship successful is really known only to you. The rest of us can ask, guess and hypothesise. But you are the only one who really knows. 

Or do you?   Life can become a little more complicated when you are not sure yourself about those key factors. That complexity deepens if you spend the first years of the relationship acting out the role which you think the other person in your life expects you to perform.

So perhaps an outwardly successful relationship could be a fragile fabrication. It is the one in which the individual stays silent, marks the scorecard his or herself and never lets anyone know what that personal quality index is really saying.  Successful or not?  There may be different views. The partner is satisfied. There is calmness. The potential waves are disguised as gentle ripples and the convulsions are hidden deep below the surface. Life is regarded as fulfilled or again perhaps not, dependent on who one is within the relationship.

And your situation? Those interactions that you have with others will reflect your emotional being.  Personal relationships, professional relationships, family relationships, business relationships and intimate relationships.  All those relationships have one thing in common and that is you. 

These are your relationships. How to assess them is your choice.  Not your partner’s, not your family, not your friends but your choice alone.  If the relationship is successful or not, is for you to decide and no one else. Personal success in a relationship is about what really matters for you. The factors that you choose to guide you in making that call are of your choice.

And if at the end of the day, this relationship which everyone else regards as a great success still leaves you cold and unsatisfied then perhaps you may want to look again at the choices you have made.

And if the memories of those months of passionate mayhem back there with that enigmatic character who everyone else insisted ‘ was not right for you’  and ‘ we knew it wouldn’t last’, can still bring a mischievous smile to your face, then perhaps you did have it right all along!  

You will know that there has been a successful relationship in your life. It may just not be the one which everyone else thinks it was!

Happy coupling!

Geoff Boutle





Geoff Boutle

added on 1st October 2013

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