Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey is certainly a hot topic at the moment. A story of two people many would say are mismatched—brought together by lust and sexual attraction. One unworldly and innocent, the other carrying hurts from the past, motivating a need to feel powerful and in control. Do we always fall in love with the right person or make wise logical choices when we are infatuated or attracted to someone? Love can sometimes take us by surprise and we can desire someone for many different reasons. The drive we feel to connect with another person is essentially ‘something’ inside us being attracted to something in the other person, and this may not always be a healthy relationship decision for us.
When asked what we would want our relationship to look like—we would all answer happy, respectful, loving—but the relationships we end up with don’t always represent what we were looking or hoping for.
To help us make the right choices for our future relationships we need to ask ourselves—what does a healthy relationship look like? It can be described as an equal partnership between two people. Understanding, respect, trust, love and commitment to each other form the foundations for healthy relationships. John Gottman's research shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other’s hopes for the future.
To achieve a healthy relationship we must also reflect on our own input into our relationship. Are we committed to the other person? Are we prepared to own our faults and forgive our partner theirs? Do we know how to ‘repair’ after arguments? In a healthy relationship we can learn from conflicts, and by resolving these conflicts we learn ways which work for each partner. Partners need to be able to listen attentively to each other's points of view and not get stuck in defensive behaviour or the need to be right and having to ‘win’.
A healthy relationship evolves as relationships go through transitions and changes. Examples of these situations may be a new baby, a financial change, moving home, death of a parent, child leaving home, retirement etc. Through all these transition periods each partner is learning and growing through the relationship. Perhaps surprisingly, this growth is often achieved through the conflicts that are so often part of the challenges being faced. Changes and conflict can provide fertile ground for learning when each partner's intent is to learn, rather than to control or avoid being controlled. Partners need to learn how to navigate these changes in healthy and respectful ways.
Relationships often start with sexual attraction and desire, and this can be exciting and enjoyable—but for a relationship to continue to grow a develop healthily it takes two people to be committed to adapting, changing and developing as a person and a partner. Counselling can help with this and is available as a couple or as an individual. Whether seeing a counsellor together or alone, if you are willing to be self-reflective and grow, you can only enhance your relationship.
Val Holden is a Family and Relationship Counsellor with Relationships Australia Queensland