10. When attempts to sort out an argument fail repeatedly it is very likely that the prime cause of the problem occurred well before the issue currently being argued about.
What happens is that the relationship is broken by something that neither person recognises as significant. Later the break is transferred to the next slight difficulty or disagreement. The later disagreement cannot be resolved because the real cause was the initial break. So to make headway it is essential that at least one person ceases to focus on the current (later) issue and starts to enquire about what could have created a problem earlier.
11. It is essential that each person in the relationship is able to own and express clearly their negative feelings and thoughts about each other.
People often fear that expressing strong negative feelings will cause hurt and therefore injure the relationship. However holding back on expressing negative feelings and thoughts actually breaks the relationship – the person withholding their feelings becomes closed to a degree. This causes far more injury than sharing the negative thoughts and feelings. We have come to the view that the core of our relationship is honest and full expression of our thoughts and feelings to each other, and that anything that inhibits or gets in the way of this is a real threat to the relationship. In the beginning we used structures and formal processes to provide a safe space to express our negativity to each other. Now we are able to do it as we go in pretty well any situation.
12. Never analyse each other; it is simply a sophisticated way of avoiding facing something in yourself.
We embarked on our relationship committed to a therapeutic model of improving ourselves. In essence this model presumes that when you become aware of an irrational behaviour or way of thinking about an issue then you need to (a) discover the origin of this in one’s personal history, (b) resolve the historical trauma, usually by releasing stored up feelings and (c) learning a new way to behave or think. Within this model it is very tempting to point out to one’s partner when they are behaving irrationally and what this is likely to be based upon (from one’s knowledge of their history). This temptation becomes irresistible in an argument where you are certain that it is the other person’s problem. However this never works – and it doesn’t matter whether the analysis presented is right or wrong. Indeed it is more pernicious when the analysis is right, because the person analysed will reject the analysis because it is being used in an argument, and thereby hold up their own realisation of what is happening to them. Focussing on what is wrong with the other person and how this might relate to their personal history is simply a sophisticated way of avoiding noticing your own 50% in the argument – and how that is related to your own personal history!
13. Close relationships can cause or exaggerate the polarisation of characteristics between the partners. These polarisations should not be confused with who each person actually is.
Most couples will polarise on issues such as generosity/meanness, tidiness/disorderliness, forcing/resisting and accepting/rejecting. What this means is that one person will carry or adopt one side of the polarisation (say being the generous one) thereby creating a space where the other person carries or adopts the other side (being the mean one). In fact each person in the relationship can be generous or mean, depending upon the context, but when they experience a context together they are very likely to fall into their established polarisation pattern. This is OK provided that both are aware that this is what is going on (as opposed to imagining that their partner is a tight-fisted bastard or a stupidly generous idiot).
14. The ability of a relationship to survive tough times depends upon the strength of the commitments made by both partners to each other.
There is a wide variation in both an individual’s ability and willingness to make a commitment and in the content of what it is that is committed. Our commitment, which has seen us through the most difficult times, was to each face whatever we had to face before considering whether to end the relationship. Basically we denied ourselves the possibility of avoiding facing something by leaving the relationship. Separately we also made commitments to monogamy and to sharing everything financially together. There is more on this in the Fundamentals section.
15. We have found it important to regularly review, and if necessary renegotiate, the balance between doing activities alone and together, and between spending time alone and together.
We have found that it is important for each of us to have time alone and our own particular activities and pursuits that we do without the other. This way we each develop as individuals and regularly have something new to bring to the relationship. This is not to deny the importance of doing things together, which generates shared experience and understanding. We have found that it is important to regularly review our arrangements about this – otherwise one of us starts to get cranky for no other reason than that they are missing time alone.
16. There can be no secrets between us.
This is implicit in a lot of the previous principles where we have stressed the importance of complete communication together. We have found that anything withheld from the relationship reduces the contact between us and impacts on our intimacy and hence on everything else. This is particularly important in the domain of finding other people sexually attractive. If one of us does not own finding another person attractive then to some degree our sexuality is closed down – and the relationship suffers. So now we tell each other whenever we are attracted to someone else, and being out in the open it is less threatening and easy to accommodate.
17. We insist on being able to share confidences from other people with each other
Quite often people we know well will ask one of us to accept something in complete confidence i.e. to not tell anyone else about whatever is disclosed. We have learned that it is imperative to tell the person seeking confidentiality that we will always tell each other about any confidence and that if they do not want this to occur then they should not disclose the confidence. This is a particular example of the ‘no secrets’ rule, one that can be extremely important (because the confidence may impact the relationship between us or between us and the person disclosing the confidence).
18. Find out how your partner wants to be treated. Do not assume that they want the same as you do.
This is a very common trap because most people treat others in the way that they themselves wish to be treated. But this assumption is often wrong. For example when Jake is unwell he wants someone to be close and caring for him; so this is his response to Eva when she is unwell. However Eva actually prefers to be ill alone and finds it an added burden to have someone close. We have learned to ask what the other wants in this type of circumstance, rather than assume that the other person wants the same as we want for ourselves.