Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

“I want to feel like we are together!” is the most frequent goal I hear from partners when they come for couples therapy.  But invariably each person has a totally different view and expectation of what it means to be ‘together.’ By the time they get into my office they are both exhausted, having tried and failed to convince each other that their version of togetherness is the one to aim for. They hoped that relationship counseling would prove one or other of them right and the other wrong- and that’s the core of the relationship problem that needs attention.

Once I start exploring what togetherness means to each of them it became obvious that one person’s togetherness is the other person’s subjugation, and vice versa as I discovered with Frances, a 31-year-old art curator, and Roger, a 33-year-old radiologist who were approaching their third anniversary as a couple, having put off marriage twice due to their difficulty agreeing on what it meant to be together as a pair.

So I did a little investigating and asked them how they envisioned togetherness when they went out on date nights, stayed home evenings or were out at family gatherings.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Date nights

Togetherness for Francis meant Roger choosing the same restaurant as her when they went out on their weekly date nights.

For Roger, it was talking about their daily experiences at work and comforting one another on their one evening away from all the routines and chores.

Roger’s lack of interest in the restaurant or his preference for one that didn’t match the one Francis picked made her feel that he didn’t care about her wishes. Then when Francis talked only about the clothes that the restaurant patrons were wearing, or how bad the service was, Roger felt that she didn’t want to be close with him. He felt as if he were just a manikin seated at the table so Francis didn’t have to feel awkward, dining alone.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Family gatherings

When Francis had a fight with her mother, she wanted Roger to view her mother as bad and as insufferable a person as she did. That’s what togetherness was for her.

When Roger wanted to include his cousins in a dinner party at his house, his idea of togetherness involved Francis being as enthusiastic as he was, and enjoy helping him choose the menu and drinks.

But when Roger stayed neutral in the argument between Francis and her mother, she felt let down and not his number one priority. Roger was equally disappointed when Francis complained about his eagerness to impress his cousins, when he didn’t seem to care for her in that way. She changed the subject, leaving Roger feeling alone and insignificant.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

 

Evenings at home

Getting the kitchen clean after dinner while Roger organized appointments and chores for the next day was Francis’s version of togetherness.

Sitting on the sofa, watching TV and exchanging feelings of humor, sadness or excitement was Roger’s view of togetherness.

Roger’s failure to make the calls and complete the list for the next day by the time Francis finished cleaning the kitchen made her feel like a slave, while he got away with not doing his share. She was resentful and didn’t want to sit and watch TV with him or share any feelings other than her anger at him for not doing his part.

The fact that Francis rarely wanted to sit and enjoy a program while sharing feelings and memories made him feel that he was just a machine, and not valued for himself. He felt devalued, unappreciated and undesirable.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Is there a right way and wrong way to be together?

As you may have guessed, there is no right or wrong way to aim for that feeling of ‘togetherness.’ But there is a crucial space in between the two visions that Francis and Roger have in their ideals of being together. It’s how they bridge that gap that will spell success or failure in their relationship.

The gap between Francis’s view of togetherness and Roger’s view of being together

Now that I had discovered how far apart Roger and Francis were in their visions of togetherness, I proceeded to the next step – I talked to each one about their backgrounds and childhood experiences of feeling close, together and having a sense of belonging within their families. As Francis heard about Roger’s experience of having a mother who was constantly busy and anxious about getting through her chores, she was able to understand a little better why he wanted to just sit with her and talk. When Roger heard about the way Francis got attention from her mother by doing chores, and activities, he began to understand why she wanted him to mold himself into her thoughts in order to feel together.

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photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Building the bridge towards a common view of togetherness

Roger and Francis both want their emotional lives and inner worlds to be acknowledged and attended to. The way they are going about it gives them the opposite result because it creates feelings of rejection and disappointment.

The best way for them to begin to build a sense of togetherness is to think about the words ‘we’ and ‘us.’ But differently to the way they did when they came in for couples counseling. The ‘we’ and the ‘us’ have to come from blending their needs and expectations, rather than surrendering one person’s view for the other.

Those two little words assume a togetherness that is a vital foundation for them to build on. They change their lens from what one wants from the other, to what they both want from their experience together.

So if Francis wants to feel that Roger cares about her hurt when she argues with her mother, then talking about family experiences and sharing them allows them to bond over feeling each others pain, and being together that way. Then it becomes a ‘we’ thing, and an ‘us’ thing’ that cements the feelings of togetherness.

If Roger wants Francis to watch TV with him and laugh, hug and share that experience, then he needs to invite her to ‘play’ with him. She can take off her ‘job’ list costume and join him. When they make it a situation where ‘we’ are playing, or it’s play time for ‘us,’ togetherness is inbuilt.

I shared this relationship advice with Roger and Francis in couples therapy and gave them the scaffolding they needed to reconfigure their joint view of ‘togetherness.’

Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

You might also like:

What is the right combination of commitment for harmonious relationships?


Four ways to share feelings and be empathic

How to turn your imagined relationship into a reality


Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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