“What’s the key to a good relationship?” is one the of questions we are often asked at LoveRelations. “Finding your partner attractive? No money worries? Shared interests?” While these are all important, there are seven issues or Relationship Flash Points which trip up even the most harmonious of couples.
“It’s not having to agree on these points, which is the key”, says Dr David Perl of LoveRelations. “The key is discussing them with your partner. Only in discussion and honest communication can we work out where compromise can be made, or acceptance needs to happen.”
At LoveRelations, we encourage every couple, whether getting married, moving in together, or wanting to take their relationship to a deeper level, to spend some time thinking about the areas which cause disagreement or conflict with almost every couple. We call them Relationship Flash Points and to ignore is to store up trouble and resentment for the future.
Flash Point 1 – SEX
It can be difficult to talk frankly about sex – that’s why we at LoveRelations encourage all couples to talk about what’s “enough” sex for each partner? What about mis-matched libidos? What if one partner wants to be more experimental? Loss of desire – how will this be handled? “
“It’s very common for one partner to want more sex than the other,” says David. “But if this is never talked about, and a way of accommodating this worked out, then enormous resentments grow.”
What does monogamy or fidelity mean to you and your partner? What are the boundaries? What’s OK and what’s not?
“The more honest couples can be – whether it’s something they find unacceptable or something to try – the better, deeper and more trusting the sexual connection between two people becomes.”
Flash Point 2 – MONEY
Do you spend or save? Does your partner have the same attitude? Who is the higher earner? Do they pay the lion’s share? Would you support your partner if he or she wasn’t working?
“Many relationships evolve with no frank discussion about money,” says David. “The day to day things – household bills, groceries, tend to fall on the shoulders of one partner, with no real discussion.”
It is also attitudes towards money which a couple may wrongly assume their partner shares. “If one partner believes in saving a chunk of income, while the other enjoys spending what there is, huge difficulties can begin.
“Many couples can begin the discussions themselves,” says David, “but LoveRelations is a safe space where partners can speak honestly about their beliefs and wants.
Flash Point 3 – CHILDREN
Are you secretly hoping he or she will “come round to the idea”? How many children do you want? Who will be the main carer and how do you view each other’s career development? What does being a “good parent” mean?
“Hundreds of questions arise when a couple begins to talk about children,” says David. “Even if you both want a child, don’t assume that parenting means the same to both parties.”
The fuller the conversation the better, it seems. Couples should be really frank, try and acknowledge to their partner what sort of parent they want to be, what they want to do differently from their own parents. What support will the main caregiver expect from their partner in the early months of parenthood? What about the bread-winner?
“I urge all couples who come to LoveRelations, talking about parenthood, to think about the enormous changes their relationship will undergo. How will each of your make time for your partner and the relationship?”
Flash Point 4 – FAMILY
It’s not just the family we create, but the family we inherit, when we get into relationship. Often, one party has a very different way of managing relationships with their own family, to their partner.
“I urge every couple to look at their family’s style of relating, and that of their partner,” says David. “If one party has a ‘everyone round all the time or on the phone’ way of being with their family, there might be a clash if the other party has a more distant family relationship.”
Communication and compromise are the key. Work out how much contact and how much distance is right for you and your family. Is your partner happy with this? Does his or her family expect the same level of contact?
“Couples really benefit from really talking this one through,” says David. “A relationship thrives when a healthy and boundaried relationship is fostered with the extended family. But don’t assume that this means the same for you as your partner!”.
Flash Point 5 – FRIENDS AND SOCIALISING
This is an extension of the “family” conversation. Just as one party may have more contact and more expectation of contact with their family, so they might want greater contact with friends, more nights out. Some partners are inclusive with their social arrangements – “the more the merrier” type. Another party might want time with his or her friends alone, every so often.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking this will all work out by itself,” says David. “Many couples comes to LoveRealations and the first resentment they share is : “she’s always out with her friends,” or “he spends every weekend in the pub, but we never go out as a couple.”
Communication and compromise are vital, once again. Couples can really benefit if they take some time to talk about what they need. “Talking about how you socialise together and apart is really important,” says David. “A healthy couple does both, but there needs to be a mutual agreement, so that these times can be fun and can also benefit the relationship.”
Then there’s the “old friend from hell” – most of us have one! Maybe let your partner see his or hers, on their own. Sometimes, socialising apart really is a good thing!
Flash Point 6 – RELIGION AND CULTURE
Whilst most of us there days would say “I’m not particularly religious”, many of us have expectations around Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, or Fasting. Do we expect our partner to accompany us to church or temple? Do we expect them to mark feast days or national days in the same way that we do.
“Even a secular family will have traditions around things like Christmas,” says David. “Part of becoming a couple is to nurture and enjoy your own rituals around important dates in the calendar. But for some people, these dates are unimportant. They see no need to buy presents, decorate the house, cook a special meal.”
Christmas, Yom Kippur, Diwali and Eid are the obvious times when celebrations and rituals occur. Are you happy incorporating your partner’s way of doing things? Would you rather your family’s routine was replicated? It’s important to discuss this, as your own relationship becomes deeper. How you and your partner mark (or don’t mark) these dates can become an important foundation for your relationship.
“And have the “gift” discussion”, says David. “If you like to choose and buy a lavish present, it might be difficult to understand that your partner sets no store by birthday or Christmas gifts”. Huge amount of resentment and disappointment can be avoided by having the discussion…..
Flash Point 7 – STYLES OF COMMUNICATION: THE FIXER & THE LISTENER
If everything we are LoveRelations recommend is predicated upon communication, then what if our fundamental styles of communication differ? What if one partner likes to talk and be listened to, and the other finds it hard to talk or likes to “fix” or come up with solutions? Each party can feel misunderstood at best, and at worst, as though their partner doesn’t care, or is “making a fuss”.
“It’s a huge generalisation to say women want to talk and to receive understanding, whereas men want to go in and fix,” says David. “However, there are some fundamental truths in this and to ignore it, puts relationships in jeopardy.”
“If we put the ‘women want X and men want Y idea’ aside, and just acknowledge different styles of communication, then real change can happen,” says David. “We need to communicate about how we communicate.”
First of all acknowledge your style of communication. Do you like to talk things through, and be listened to? Do you notice you don’t talk about what’s bothering you? Do you avoid conflict or let things build up and then explode? Do you need a lot of closeness, when things feel tough, or do you prefer space?
“Here are two opposing styles I would encourage each partner to think about,” says David. “Listening versus fixing” and “Closeness versus space”. If we can identify our preferred way of relating, and then understand which is our partner’s, then effective communication can be much easier.
Sometimes we need to ask a “fixer” to listen. Sometimes a “closer” person needs to give his or her partner space. But if we know ourselves and know our partners, then communication can begin to take a much deeper level.
At LoveRelations, we sometimes talk about this as Flash Point one-through-to-seven. If couples can develop an understanding around their different communication styles, then they can start to look at the other Flash Points, and be prepared to listen and to talk. And that, according to David Perl, is one of the keys to a good relationship.