Elizabeth Ryan CoPotential - Counselling Relationships








Elizabeth Ryan Living in Harmony 

Marrying a man is like buying something you’ve been admiring for a long time in a shop window.

You may love it when you get it home, but it doesn’t always go with everything else in the house.

Jean Kerr

Few phenomena impact on our life more than the quality of our intimate relationship.  Yet, when we fall in love we're often so swept away with emotion that we place more emphasis on romance than on forming a quality relationship.  We soon start fantasising about the future and, as Billy Crystal said in "When Harry met Sally," "you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  So, before we have adequate information about each other, we create a romantic vision that includes living together, happily ever after, in a pretty house, preferably in an affluent suburb. 

Many of us give little deliberate thought to our relational compatibility, that is, our ability to live together in harmony, which is obviously unrelated to architecture and the ‘right' address. In essence, opposites do attract but they usually find it hard to live together.  Being conflict and frustration averse, we're naturally motivated to escape a relationship where our partner's perspective is very disparate from our own.  To sustain our attraction (which isn't limited to the formation stage of a relationship) we prefer the company of people who share our fundamental attitudes to life.  Clearly, it's improbable that partners agree on everything and even in matters of concurrence, we're unlikely to share the same intensity for our partner's convictions.  When the gap between our respective values, attitudes and priorities is only slight, however, we're more likely to feel comfortable with our partner.  Although some divergence is healthy and desirable, most of us seek a peaceful living environment.  

Being compatible on all levels – emotional, mental, physical and spiritual – obviously renders the most rewarding union.  When both partners no longer yearn for their fantasy image of the ideal partner and are dedicated to honouring their own needs, they'll be ready to connect with each other's essence.  Thus, we're available to a powerful intimate connection when we accept partners for who they are rather than what we wish, or worse, insist(!), they be.  Self-reliance and self-responsibility impel us to fulfill our own basic needs and know our self well enough to articulate our preferences.  Many of us have some sense, rather than full conscious awareness, of our needs.  Clarity may take some of the romance out of our initial involvement but it may also navigate us away from potential pain.  

Our emotional needs include, but are not confined to, a desire for love, intimacy, affection, kindness, acceptance, respect, dependability, autonomy, emotional support and empathy.  We're likely to feel out of kilter with a partner whose temperament is very different from our own.  Thus, if we're cheerful and positive we're unlikely to embrace a pessimistic partner.  Ingredients of mental compatibility include sharing our partner's level of intelligence, wisdom and education, and ability to both concentrate and think logically.  A meeting of the minds requires some consistency in terms of aspirations and attitudes, regarding issues such as, political and social affairs, level of involvement with in-laws, same-sex friends, opposite-sex friends, views on etiquette, procreation, parenting and/or step-parenting roles.  We also need some agreement on financial goals, work ethic, division of household chores, power of decision, etc.

On a physical level, our lives are more harmonious when our approaches to lifestyle (health, fitness, nutrition, smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, presentation of our home, etc.) correspond to those of our partner, and we share some common interests.  To deeply connect physically, our libidos need to be somewhat aligned.  Libido includes our desire for sexual intimacy, frequency of sexual intercourse, sexual adventurousness, energy, vitality and motivation.  When our spiritual principles are concordant we generally share the same assumptions and values about God, humanity, the universe, and the hereafter…and how they're interrelated.  We're also likely to have comparable ideals about self-responsibility, integrity, living consciously, our source of meaning and purpose, and the degree to which we emphasise spirit over physical matter.

If you lament the absence of compatibility in your current relationship, try to turn what appears to be adversity into personal growth by learning more about yourself and your preferences.  We can't lose when we're dedicated to learning from every powerful experience.  I encourage you to lovingly engage your partner in a dialogue where you jointly examine your core values and renegotiate your relationship.  Many of your important principles, attitudes and/or priorities may be diametrically opposed to those of your partner.  Such extremes don't indicate that one partner's perspective is abhorrent.  We increase the probability of enjoying a more rewarding relationship when we both move our ideals a little closer toward each other's.  Some relationship theorists caution that most long-term couples experience around ten areas of incompatibility.  Thus, if we can't find some middle ground, it behoves us to honour both ourself and our partner by agreeing to disagree on these unresolvable issues. 

Our relationship with our parents is the precursor for the attributes we like and dislike in our partner.  When we're looking for love we may aim to be vigilant about rejecting potential partners whose behaviours remind us of what we find arduous in our parents, but history shows that we generally choose mates who encompass both the positive and negative traits of our parents.  Although gender differences may account for some of the shortfall we experience in compatibility, our family of origin is the main stone from which our expectations, attitudes and values are carved.  Despite our parents having done their best for us, the nature of childhood is such that we leave it with some disappointment about how we were nurtured…conscious or otherwise! 

When we develop an intimate alliance with conscious awareness of our needs, values and attitudes, we're honouring ourself and our desire for harmony.  If our respective goals and expectations are also at least loosely similar to those of our partner, we're likely to reduce some of the probability of conflict and take some of the gamble out of the likely success of our involvement.  Of course, conflict is inevitable in all relationships but minimising its potential gives us more time for mutually fulfilling pursuits

Copyright – Elizabeth Ryan, April, 2004 – All rights reserved
Published in Free Spirited Magazine – April/May, 2005
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