Relationships bring to our lives some of our deepest joys and at other times our most challenging moments. While we consciously seek to find a partner who shares our values, interests and way of being in the world, we often unconsciously seek our opposite, providing a window into the part of ourselves that is incomplete, underdeveloped or out of our awareness. It is usually this discovery, that our partner has dimensions that we did not anticipate, or that our partner seems to trigger our own worst qualities into action, that bring a couple into the conversation about relationship itself.
Relationships are a creative process that shape and develop the individuals who have committed themselves to each other. Even when individuals have done considerable work toward self awareness, a relationship uncovers parts of self that have been left unattended. Although most couples begin with the joy and excitement of shared values and pleasures, the other side of relationship, that of negotiating opposites, soon shows itself.
Couples counseling involves both developing the practical skills of relationship, and exploring at a deeper level the troublesome parts of self that are going nose to nose with the underdeveloped, troublesome parts in our partner. When we recognize that the tension of attracting opposites is a central function of relationship, and that this dynamic exists to bring balance and resolution to the self, there is opportunity for growth not only in the relationship, but in each of the partners.
I like to refer to the practical skills a couple needs as the "craftsmanship of relationship". There are techniques of relating that are critical in engaging another, such as effective listening, assertiveness, affection bridging, understanding personality style and understanding conflict styles. In couples counseling, strengthening the skills of relational craftsmanship often goes hand in hand with the deeper work of developing the essence of the relationship. Committing ourselves unconditionally to the realization of our partner's potential, freeing ourselves from old patterns that limit our own potential, and cultivating an imaginative and passionate life to share together are the essence of loving attachment to another, and are central themes in my work with couples.