Couples: What initially attracted you to your partner?

And were these reasons the right ones (for the long-term)?

In my couple counselling and mediation practice I invariably ask couples what initially attracted them to each other.

I am often struck by their responses when I consider these against the backdrop of their current relationship and the problems that they are currently experiencing.

Why is this?

I note often that the aspects of the partner that initially attracted their mate becomes a major bone of contention in their ongoing relationship and that in many cases individuals get married for the same reason as they get divorced! For example, an easy-going, devil-may-care lover may turn into a spouse who is criticized for being irresponsible and “flighty”, a generous and fun-loving individual may later be seen by their spouse as lacking financial self-discipline and someone who fails to consider the long-term security of the family.

It has been said that we are often attracted to personal characteristics in our partner that we, ourselves, lack. So a tidy, conscientious individual may be attracted to someone who is untidy and unreliable – the attraction of opposites. This may work fine in the early stages of a relationship when sexual attraction is strong, but I have found, when listening to my couples’ narratives about the development of their relationship, that when they settle down into domestic life and children enter the picture, these initial differences can become hugely divisive. These types of differences often become major issues and the cause of repetitive, ongoing arguments that rarely get adequately resolved. Relationships become seriously strained in many cases and couples find that their communication becomes strained and intimacy invariably suffers as a result.

Are you aware of couples that you know who are experiencing this type of dynamic or perhaps it is alive and well in your own relationship? If so, what can be done?

Well, if you are still in the dating stage, or are looking for a prospective long-term partner, perhaps it may be a good idea to widen your criteria to include characteristics in a would-be partner that would serve you, and your family, well in the long-term such kindness, generosity of spirit and a good sense of humour. Also I suggest you look out for other aspects such as how the person deals with anger and conflict, their interpersonal skills, level of empathy for others (and animals). 

Also, if you have opposing views on crucial aspects, such as money and tidiness, for example, work out how you will confront these issues in a constructive way, going forward.

If you are in a well-established relationship, it may be a good idea to commit to respectful communication as away of resolving conflict. However, if you are caught in a negative, destructive communication dynamic, couple counselling could be considered in order to rehabilitate the relationship.


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Couples and Relationships: In Break-ups and Divorces…

If there are children involved – don’t forget to think about, and consider, their feelings!

Relationship breakdown is one of most emotionally challenging processes anyone can go through, as most people know only too well as most of us have experienced this first hand, often on a number of occasions in our lives!

The emotional pain can be so overwhelming that is difficult to focus on anything, or anyone, else. However, if children are involved their needs at this stage must be given top priority.

Parents are often very aware, and cognizant of this when they divorce. The Children’s Act of 2005 highlights the importance of prioritising, and considering the needs and views of the children when establishing a parenting plan for the care and contact of the children post-divorce.

However, in my experience in with couples in my pychology practice, in relationships where only one of the couple is the biological parent of the child(ren), the children’s feelings about losing an important attachment figure is often not recognised or acknowledged, especially if the couple have not been together for an extended period of time. Perhaps a couple are still in a process of dating and do not as yet feel a strong sense of commitment to one another. It may be assumed that the child(ren) have similarly also not bonded closely with their parent’s partner.

This may be a big mistake with possible dire emotional consequences for the children!

A child’s sense of trust is developed at a very young age and can be undermined significantly if they perceive that a carer in their lives has in explicably abandoned them. In addition they are likely to blame themselves for the break-up in the relationship if they aren’t provided with an honest (age appropriate) explanation for the planned departure of their parent’s partner from their lives.

I believe it is essential that they are infomed about what is happening (of course in a manner that is child-centred and developmentally appropriate). Even young children (from the ages of three or four) can be engaged in a conversation on the issue. Both adults should be present for the discussion (if possible). The departing partner should not leave the “duty” to the parent – they have a relationship with the child(ren) and therefore have a (moral) responsibility to break the news personally, as hard and painful as this may be!

For partners who are unsure as to how to go about this, especially when young children are involved, I recommend that you consult a professional who specialises in therapy with children.

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