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DIFFERENT CHOICES AND OPTIONS CAN BUILD, GROW OR ENHANCE A DEEPER RELATIONSHIP
First let’s all get one thing clear.
A successful long term relationship requires a balanced combination of Love and Commitment. However, there is a critical difference between those two
Love must be unconditional
It's hard to define love which is an emotion not a thought, but it could be described as a deeply shared unconditional concern for the other person’s well-being held in a flexible balance with a deep concern for one’s own well-being. That means if you cannot love yourself and keep this in balance with loving and caring about others you will find it very hard to truly give, receive or maintain real long-term love. See more about this at the end of these notes.
However, for a loving relationship to work long term there must also be commitment.
Commitment must have conditions or it is not commitment
The list below is more about making commitment work than about love.
Key questions that confirm this relationship has a strong commitment element in addition to its unconditional love side.
* What can I bring to our relationship that could help make it work and last?
* What could she/he bring to our relationship that could help make it work and last?
* What else might I like him/her to bring to our relationship which I imagine might make it work better and last longer?
* What else do I imagine I might bring to our relationship which might make it work better and last longer?
The answer to each of those four questions will help define some of the most important items you are committing to in any relationship. They will in fact help define the relationship in ways that both partners can share and see together. They will help define which items on the list are the most important for each person and where differences exist. They will make it clear what items you are committing to in the relationship.
Until you can answer those questions you haven't gone very far along the road to balancing real commitment and real love.
Commitment involves hard work, over a long long time - More Big Questions:
Every friendship or relationship has a mixture of costs and benefits. For it to develop and grow the long term benefits need to outweigh the costs. This is the point at which the hard work really starts. You are each committing not only to what is on the list but also to working hard at maintaining commitment..
* What might I need to give up that I'm doing now that could help make our relationship work better and last longer?
* What might she/he need to give up that they are doing now which could help make our relationship work better and last longer?
* How prepared am I to make those changes? How prepared is he/she?
* How committed am I to sharing this hard work together with the other person, long-term? How committed is she/he to working equally hard with me on this, long-term?
A person who seeks to avoid discussing these critical issues at all, or seems unwilling to look at them, may be a person who either cannot handle balancing love and commitment or who needs to avoid closer commitment.
If you start sharing this list with someone but they soon dismiss it as "unnecessary" or "too analytical" this may be a warning sign. Perhaps they are not prepared to commit to the hard work needed to build the balanced foundations for a long term relationship. They enjoy being together with you but only if it is an easy trip for them. That means the relationship is out of balance.
Are they suggesting unconditional commitment? If so, they have it back to front. Unconditional commitment usually ends up being “balanced” with some kind of conditional love. That is the worst of all relationships or friendships!
Commitment helps us feel more loved and more connected
Each of us has some kind of unconscious list of what we think are the best ways to show someone else we "like" them, "appreciate" them, love them, or just enjoy their friendship and being with them. The trouble is that these ways are seldom identical for both people.
My list of the Friendship languages
Here’s what it seems to me are a few of the things we need to do to communicate positive feelings about how we hope to connect with the other person whether it’s just good friends or about a deeper relationship. To me, a good relationship is just a friendship that’s moved to a higher or deeper level. I like to think and talk about (and look at) these issues in terms of how they help enhance long term ‘friendships’ as well as ‘relationships.’ Obviously, a very special friendship is likely to include more of the different kinds of connections described below.
Each one of the connections or activities (listed below) helps develop a stronger and more lasting friendship or relationship. Each time another kind of connection is added it enriches the friendship, it grows and becomes deeper and more intimate
However each kind of connection is optional and is a matter of personal choice. Notice how each type of connection though different, seems to work in combination with other kinds. Each one helps enhance the others.
Step by Step
Focus first on identifying the connections that are the most important for both of you. Celebrate them, enjoy them. Feel the linkage. Do add your own examples to make each item clearer for both of you.
Then look at the ones that are important to one of you but not the other person. What are you going to do about those?
Don’t worry too much for a start about the ones where neither of you feel any need to connect on some channels but keep them in mind. You might like to look at them later on.
NOTE: I acknowledge that my list below started out looking at Gary Chapman's model of "Five Love Languages". But only five "love languages"? I see ten, fifteen or more!
As Chapman points out, things work better when both friends agree that they like using the same ways of connecting as their "love languages". If only one person likes or needs a particular connection and the other person recognises it even though they don’t really get as much out it, then that understanding can still help strengthen the love between them.
Most of the items on this list apply equally to friendships as well as closer relationships. If it ain’t a good friendship it cannot be a good relationship.
THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT FRIENDSHIP, LOVE and COMMITTMENT LANGUAGES or CHANNELS
A. AFFIRMATION, AFFECTION, SUPPORT, APPRECIATION;
Sharing words that signal affirmation, goodwill, appreciation, liking and of course romance
Positive and mutual respect, support, mutual caring, kindness and empathy.
Examples: Opening doors, SMS messages that say "I am thinking of you." “I care about you” “I miss you” and far more personal messages.
B. TRUST, TRUSTWORTHINESS, LOYALTY AND RESPECT
Expressing and demonstrating mutual trust and trust-worthiness
Communicating and acting in ways that allow both to feel safe, respected and comfortable about being in this friendship.
Mutual loyalty, but not necessarily exclusive. Each friend or partner may also have strong loyalty bonds with family or other close friends. These links need to be known and trusted by both of you.
C. PROTECTING AND RESPECTING THE OTHER PERSON’S FREEDOM AND INDIVIDUALITY
Supporting the other person’s rights and freedoms as an individual.
Mutual respect for each person’s own individuality,
Each person allows the other the freedom and space, to continue living as an individual as well as within the partnership or friendship.
Both have flexible boundary systems and those systems work well for them when communicating whether they are apart or together in the same place at the same time.
Each person accepts and respects the other’s differences and does not press too hard for changes that weaken the other person's individuality. See points J, K and L below about negotiating and tolerating change. Your examples:
Communicating, sharing or being together is enjoyable
Sharing laughter and playing together feels like "having fun” not "have to"
E. PERSONAL EMOTIONAL AND ENERGETIC CONNECTIONS
Both feel free to be the "real me" or "true me" within the relationship
Both able to be vulnerable together and honest and open with each other in many different areas.
Intimate sharing includes information about each other's vulnerability (fears, failings, faults, foolishness)
Power and control are not significant issues in the relationship. Neither person feels controlled nor the need to control. Excessive "pleasing" is avoided at all costs.
If intuitive connections exist honour them as a special gift. Your examples:
F. DOING THINGS TOGETHER
Shared activities (the active, “doing things together” connections)
Physical connecting, touching, hugs (Non-sexual only See "Q" below regarding sexual connections)
There may be many special interests, activities that one person loves which the other one finds of little interest. Both partners need to accept this as part of their tolerance and flexibility. However there needs to be some important lifestyle activities that they share in common and comfortably. Your examples:
G. SHARED LIFESTYLE
Sharing and experiencing one’s own sense of femininity/masculinity
Shared activities with family and friends Your examples:
H. THE MIND CONNECTION.
Shared interests (the “interested together” connections)
Both enjoy sharing ideas, thoughts, information and opinions
Both are committed to maintaining the friendship (there may be some hard work involved)
Supporting each other’s personal growth. Your examples:
I. COMMITMENT TO MAINTAINING THE FRIENDSHIP/ RELATIONSHIP
Continuing to agree that loving is unconditional but commitment needs to be based on clearly stated and agreed on conditions. (Re-read the introduction above about conditional commitment).
This kind of maintenance can be quite hard work but rewarding. It relies on a mutual commitment to keep working no matter how tough or painful in the short-term in order to maintain the relationship long-term
Commitment to work on strengthening the friendship/relationship
Commitment by both never to “pull the pin” suddenly on the friendship/relationship, taking time and talking about the problem.Your examples:
J. FLEXIBILITY, TOLERANCE AND WILLINGNESS TO CHANGE MYSELF
It's likely as we grow older that we will find it a little harder to change, a little more uncomfortable trying new experiences or seeing if we can do things differently. Unless we're prepared to make at least some changes as part of a balanced arrangement with our friend or partner we can't really claim to be very committed to making the relationship work. It's okay to say a firm "No. I won't change that!" in regard to some important issues such as who were are being.
However this does not apply to how we do things, for example when discussing any one of these "love languages" what if one person responds on that particular issue with a blunt statement like "No I don't do that." or "Don't expect me to change." ? In failing to acknowledge and discuss the reality that the other person does "do that" or likes doing it, they are expressing a lack of tolerance and flexibility, a refusal to negotiate about "doing: issues. It may even be their way of signalling their intention that it is the other person who has to get used to them continuing to do what they like doing, staying the way they are now, while they avoid changing or trying new experiences, staying alone in their own comfort zone. Your examples:
K. PROBLEM SOLVING AND CONFLICT DISCISSION COMPROMISE RESOLUTION
Ability by both partners to resolve conflict especially about commitment issues is an essential factor in long term relationships.
When a problem surfaces, the friends find ways to resolve the problem that are comfortable for both, work for both, are fair and balanced, and moderate
There is little or no conflict over power and control issues
Shared problem solving and decision making with open and honest discussion
Both are able to negotiate and compromise around difficult issues.
Commitment needs to be clearly stated as a negotiated contract and for it to be real it must include some form of penalty such as withdrawing from the relationship if after a while there is repeated failure to maintain the commitment contracts.
L. DEALING WITH CONFLICT AND DISAGREEMENT
A good friendship or relationship is not one that is free of conflict or disagreement. It’s a friendship where, when a problem surfaces, the friends find ways to resolve the problem, ways that are:
comfortable for both
work for both
balanced and flexible
fair and cooperative
M. RULES, VALUES, BELIFS, MORAL ISSUES THAT NEED NEGOTIATION or COMPROMISE
This is understandably one of the most difficult areas in any relationship but these issues can be resolved if both are willing to negotiate and compromise. If either partner cannot or will not negotiate, will not change or compromise this will appear as a major crisis point. (It is really only a symptom that confirms that individual partner's lack of long-term commitment to their half of making the relationship work and inability to move into grown-up problem solving mode and to share making changes.)
Mediation by an uninvolved professional can be a help here. Attempts in mediation by emotionally involved friends or family will prove a disaster!
Typical problem areas include rules about power and control, family and relatives; finance; property, tidiness / untidiness; hygiene; sex (where it is agreed that sex is part of the relationship) and of course addictions and boundaries.
Exchanging gifts. Both the inanimate kind and personal gifts - things we do for each other things we give up for each other. (as in J and k above and O and N below).
Just as important is a negotiated commitment about ways of managing finances and sharing expenses as part of maintaining the friendship or relationship. Talking about this is never comfortable, however unless new friends or partners discuss this in a sensible grown-up way very early at the start it will lead to major problems later on. Your examples:
Caring, supporting and nurturing each other (but not caretaking)
Compromising when resolving problems.
If you have got this far you will probably realise that discussing and acting on the items in this list and finding out you which ones you both agree and disagree about is a sign that intimacy is already growing.
At this point things get a lot deeper!
Making it absolutely safe for both people to share these 'softer' sides of themselves
Sharing freely about parts of me including my vulnerabilities, (less personal and not-sexual including my fears, faults, failings, foolishness, frustrations etc).
Sharing freely about deeper more personal parts of me (including discussing sexual intimacy where appropriate)
Feeling an increased sense of closeness as an outcome of this kind of sharing.
Q. BOTH SHARE A SIMILAR LEVEL OF SELF AWARENESS
The more both partners can talk openly with each other about their ever-changing emotional age levels and levels of self awareness the closer the connection
Intellectual sexual linkage (if part of deeper relationship) the “erotic mind” level.
WARNING Special issues need to be discussed if the relationship conditions include any level of “open” sharing or swapping with other partners.
S. SPIRITUAL CONNECTION
Shared spiritual beliefs
Shared spiritual experiences
Shared spiritual activities
LIKING YOURSELF COMES FIRST
It's difficult for some people to talk freely about friendship. That is often because that person does not truly and deeply like themselves. That makes it doubly hard for them to express their liking for other people and that makes it harder for other people to express liking and friendship for them. Until you really love yourself you cannot really love anyone else
If you cannot love yourself very much you can neither truly give, share nor receive love with others. If you just do not like yourself very much you may like other people but you notice it takes a lot of conscious effort on your part to keep doing this.
If you cannot trust yourself you cannot share, give or receive real trust with anyone else.
If you feel fear inside you will find fear outside you
Only after you can rely on yourself can you start to rely on others
Unless you feel safe alone with yourself you will not feel safe with other people
If you care too much for other people you will not care enough for yourself
If you trust your own judgement (reality) you will be comfortable with others even those who hold a different reality of their own
The more you can be who you really are the more others can be themselves with you
If you find it hard to accept compliments you’ll find it hard to give them
To the degree that you can enjoy your own company alone you will attract people as friends who are equally comfortable with themselves. If you are uncomfortable with yourself, that’s the kind of people you will attract to you.
The better your own boundaries the less trouble you will have with other people whose boundaries are not working.
The more you understand your own vulnerability or pain, the more you can understand and guide others facing the same issues
Until we are comfortable liking ourselves when we are alone, it is going to be very difficult for us to feel comfortable receiving real friendship from anyone else or sharing a deeper connection.
We may sincerely believe that if another person expresses lots of liking, loving friendship towards us, then we surely have to feel more liked or loved inside. So when they do this in exactly the way we expect or desire we then expect that we ought to feel even more liked or loved inside. Unfortunately, it is impossible for another human being to "make us" feel loved if we don't already feel liked and lovable within ourselves (even if it does seem to be happening for a short time at the beginning of a new friendship.)
A SUCCESSFUL FRIENDSHIP IS ENHANCED BY SPECIAL GIFTS WE BRING
There are some special gifts that, if we are able to bring them to the friendship will enhance it and give it an opportunity to grow:
1. The gift of being aware of who we really are (and liking ourselves as we are)
2. The gift of having a good friendship with ourself and our inner sub-personalities (inner selves or inner protector characters).
3. The gift of flexibility, of being able to ‘stand between opposites’
4. The gift of being aware of our ever changing emotional ages and our ability to change these as we go.
5. The gift of having regular contact and two-way communication with our own inner child.
6. The gift of experiencing our own personal growth of whatever kind, within the friendship and knowing that we are growing, as a direct result of that friendship.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO BLOCK OUT LIKING, LOVING, CONNECTING AND FRIENDSHIP
Too often, when we are unhappy or worried about things going wrong in a friendship or relationship we start making lists of things we dislike about the other person. Usually the next step is to tell the other person what we have on our list. .
Unfortunately this is almost the opposite of the "languages of friendship" described above, so it can have a seriously negative effect on the future of the relationship. For example:
1. Increasing judgment, criticism and withdrawal of appreciation
2. Growing distrust and/ or untrustworthiness.
3. Limiting or loss of respect for the other person,
4. No longer supporting their need to maintain their individuality and sense of freedom
6. Loss of personal connections
7. Less and less communicating
8. Serious problems resolving conflict or trying to solve problems; increased conflict over power and control issues.
9 Less compromise. Less flexibility. Less willingness to make small changes. Less tolerance. Less commitment to keeping going and working on and or repairing the damaged relationship
10. Limited shared problem solving, difficulty negotiating or compromising.
11. Less sharing ideas, thoughts, information and opinions,
12. Less sharing of gifts, reduced shared acts of service
13. Loss of shared lifestyle
14. Fewer shared activities with family and friends
15. Less and less physical intimacy where this used to be part of the relationship.
16. Less sharing of self-awareness
The more these events are happening the greater the chances that unless both partners are willing to work hard and actually get on with working hard on the commitment, the relationship will not survive.
also see The Magic Restuarant on my EA website
John Bligh Nutting
BA (Psych) University of Queensland; MQCA (Clinical);
Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists - ARCAP;
National Australian Register - Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation Australia (PACFA) 20969;
State Register - Clinical Counsellor - Queensland Counsellors Association (QCA) 230-80156;
Professional Member, International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD)
Please do not use this page to criticise or blame your partner because you are not scoring high enough. The questions are designed to measure the quality of the “relationship” not about what either person should or should not do.
But do use it as a way to help you both talk about what is not working and what you can do to make your relationship even better.
Whatever is working or not working is as much your responsibility as it is your partner’s
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