Life would be too simple if every part of who we are and what we do were separated and wrapped all nicely with a little bow on it. If everything were easier and less complicated life might be a lot easier to manage and go through. But that isn’t life, is it? Various parts of who we are and what we do are continuously influenced by another. For example, it is a constant struggle for some to fully separate their personal from their professional lives. When my boyfriend and I have an argument I will still show up to work with my ‘A game’ but I would be lying if I were to say that my mind wasn’t still trying to process the disagreement. Just like individuals, relationships are influenced by outside pressures.
Dr. Suzanne Fremont (Building a Healthy Relationship from the Start, The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center) discusses 4 common outside pressures which tend to influence a relationship on a more regular basis than other stressors.
- Friends. Dr. Fremont states that sometimes there are certain individuals who seem to believe that "I have to give up all my friends unless my partner likes them as much as I do." However, it is the exact opposite that is true; in fact, giving up friends is actually harmful for both the individual and the relationship. However, I must note that there are some circumstances in which ending a friendship for yourself (or your partner for that matter) is actually encouraged and OK. If your ‘friends’ continuously encourage you to do certain things that are harmful to yourself or the relationship then I would professionally recommend to drop the ‘friend’ like a hot sack of potatoes. Of course, some things are easier said than done; it would be more difficult to end a friendship that has been around for some time or one that used to be healthy and happy. In the same breath, it is important to keep in mind that your significant other may not enjoy your friends as much as you do; once again this is completely OK in a relationship. If that is the case then it is best to discuss which friends you and your partner spend time with together and which friends that you see solo. Personally speaking, some of my best nights are spent with just my girlfriends where I am free to let my hair down and do girly things with the added bonus of not worrying if my boyfriend is enjoying himself.
- Differences in Background. I personally believe that this has never been a more relevant stressor for relationships, especially in today’s day and age. Thanks to the ability to travel, it is becoming more common for young adults to move away from their families of origin and start fresh somewhere else. In fact, I have several friends who have packed up and left the state, and even the country, to start their lives and find a new place to call home. With the world becoming more connected than ever before, it is safe to state that we are continuously meeting new people who have different experiences and upbringings than what one might be accustomed to. Furthermore, we may find that our partners have different backgrounds than we personally do, especially if there are cultural or religious differences. For example, what seems normal and expected for one partner may leave the other person surprised or vice versa. Despite coming from same or dissimilar backgrounds, it is important for every couple to take the necessary time and energy to learn about the other and see what makes them who they are as a person. Communication is key in this aspect, as your partner may have certain expectations of what a good partner, working professional, parent or even friend looks like. Coming from a curious and non-judgmental place is good way to start these types of conversations.
- Your Partner's Family. For many of us, our families remain a significant source of emotional support as we grow through life. Our family members might assist use financially, emotionally and even physically in some cases. Relationships wax and wane over time just as we each do as an individual. During some portion of our lives our relationships with our families might be peaceful and nurturing; other times that may not be the case. For example, there may be times when ‘your family knows best’ and offers you unsolicited advice on how you should handle your personal affairs with your partner. Although this ‘advice’ might be coming from a place of well-meaning and good intentions, it may not be offered in such a friendly manner or you as a couple may not want to take heed to the advice. In such cases, Dr. Fremont states that ‘it's important that the two of you discuss and agree on how you want to respond to differing family values and support one another in the face of what can be very intense "suggestions" from family.’
- Time Together and Apart. I personally, as well as professionally, believe that every couple should have time together and time apart from one another. However, couples who enter my office sometimes fret of the notion ‘how much time should we spend together/apart?’ I sometimes find that one person in the relationship really takes it to heart when the other wants to have some alone time. For certain individuals, they honestly believe that their partner must not care for them as much as they used to and that is the reason why they must want time alone. From my professional experience, those set of beliefs do nothing but harm the relationship as a whole and ultimately push the other person away (especially when they come from a demanding or needy place). Instead, it is important for the couple to ask themselves ‘how much time do we spend together and apart?’ In other words, what is it that works best for us as a couple and is it something that we can compromise and agree on? This conversation should include topics such as what alone time means for each of you, what you each need and want from the relationship with regards to spent time together, as well as areas in which you believe there is room for compromise.
Until next time--take care of yourself, take care of your mind.
Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-A
Supervised By: Tammy Fischer, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha