Why the hell would you say that to me?” Person A asks emphatically.
“You are so pathetic, you know that? I shouldn’t have to tell you where I am or what I am doing. I am a grown up,” Person B states with confidence.
Persons A and B have been together for 10 years and have been doing this lovely little dance during almost every conflict they encounter.
“If you don’t want to be with me, then leave. It is really that simple: just get out,” says Person A in an attempt to defend her pride.
“Okay, if that’s what you want I will leave,” says B.
Then they both turn and stare at me.
Just another Monday evening in my therapy room.
This conversation, while not real, is representative of a pattern I have witnessed far too many times to count.
The words (referred to in the therapy world as content) change, but the back and forth dialogue (referred to as the process) is the same. This process is toxic because it will never result in compromise or resolution. It will leave both partners feelings hurt, unloved, and wanting to turn away from their partner. This process is a very immature way of managing feelings, expectations, needs, and wants in the relationship.
With this process showing up so frequently in my office, I want to address some of the basics of relationships…“Relationships 101” if you will.
People enter relationships in order to fill needs they have. Where relationships tend to become toxic is when those needs are not being met. Things like communication, emotional dysregulation, and so many other factors sour relationships when needs are not met. These factors can make you question the maturity of your relationship. So you may be wondering, how do we have mature relationships? How can we overcome this toxic pattern and have a healthy, happy, mature relationship?
These are my thoughts on how to be an adult in your relationships.
In my experience doing couples counseling and relationship therapy in Philly as well as in my research, I’ve found that couples that have a solid foundation are the ones who are able to have more mature relationships and thus have the ability to have happier and more successful long-term relationships.
Think of the foundation of a house. It has to be solid in every way in order to support the entire structure. The work done in my therapy room is often identifying cracks in the foundation. Infidelities, harmful actions or words, and poor communication can all create cracks.
What poses an issue is when we are not sure if the foundation is there at all.
What makes the foundation of a relationship?
This is up for debate, but in my experience the foundation is compromised by a few things. The first is a basic understanding how each other operates independently. Does your partner spend his/her money freely? Does your partner avoid conflict? Does your partner like to get up early or are they a night owl?
Surprisingly, this lack of a basic understanding is a very common crack in the foundation of relationships. Our culture supports hooking up and then moving in together which in theory saves money and time, but we are doing our relationships a disservice. Well, really we are doing ourselves a disservice.
Dating should be a time of figuring out these very basic things about our partner. When we understand our partners and how they operate independently, we can be better prepared for what it would be like to have a long term relationship with them. Even when people do take time before moving in together, there will be things that arise that you never knew about your partner.
The second ingredient to a solid foundation is a basic understanding of what you want your future to look like.
Do you want to have children? Do you find it important that both you and your partner contribute financially to your lifestyle? Do you have career goals? What do you want your life to look like in two years, in five years, and in 10?
Creating space for conversations like these is crucial to building a life with someone long term. Infatuation blurs this forward thinking with ideas of “I want to marry this person” or “I can see us having the perfect family together.” Many couples I see have never had these conversations which you can imagine creates many issues.
You simply cannot know what you want until you take the time to figure it out. You can never know all of the pieces, but true success in anything in life comes only when goals are set and you are working toward those goals. Therapy can help you and your partner recreate some goals that were altered (i.e. fertility issues when you wanted children).
When I think of the words “mature” or “adult” as they relate to relationships, only one word comes to my mind: respect.
Most people think of respect in terms of treating your partner with respect, which is definitely an essential part of a mature relationship. Things similar to my post about Gottman’s four horsemen can help you create respect in your relationship.
What I think is even more important in an adult relationship is respect for yourself, which comes from the foundations I referenced in this article. Respect yourself first. Learn what you want and what you don’t want. Create a list of deal breakers and stick to them or else you risk putting yourself: your needs, your wants, your dreams, your hopes on the back burner.
It is when the importance of respect diminishes that communication becomes toxic and you end up in a childish relationship. Strengthen communication, strengthen respect, and learn how to be an adult in a mature relationship.
Want more Relationship Views? Read Kelley’s posts on trust issues, Snapchat cheaters, and what questions partners should be asking each other.