12 Fundamentals of Relationships

It’s so often that I see couples wanting to know if there is a shortcut and overall description of how it is to have a happy relationship with one another. While there’s no cheatsheet, there are certainly commanlities that all healthy relationships can function off of, and apply principles to the fabric of what makes individual relationship work. A sort of fundamentals list, mirroring the fundamentals of athletics. So, I thought I’d borrow some of the ideas that structure athletic training, and see how it can be applied to our relationships.

1.) Fill up the Boxscore
While in athletics, some people pay close attention to flashy stats: points, home runs, touchdowns, etc. What they miss are what makes those things possible: assists, bunts, and blocking. These may be seem flashy, but they’re integral for success. Similarly, in relationships, people pay close attention to the aspects of relationships that appear appealing to others, such as events like Weddings and Anniversaries, Birthdays and other celebrations. Happy couples are able to not only celebrate the big days, but make sure the days in between feel valid, important, and filled with connection too.

2.) Play Big
This has to do with physical size on the court or field, namely which is an intimidation technique. However, I think moreso it can be used to feel comfortable occupying your stance and role within the relationship. Often, as much as we may like it in theory, we do not want someone to caputilate to our every demand. We want someone who has an opinion and will listen to ours and find ways to work with us, and not give in. Have a backbone.

3.) Communicate
Whether it’s with teammates, coaches, refs, or the opposition, talking is a needed tool in all athletics. It’s pretty apparent that it’s even more important in romantic relationships. Learning how to talk in ways that get your point across but don’t leave the other person feeling attacked or degraded may be the single biggest factor of happy relationships.

4.) No wait… actually communicate
Yup… it’s important enough to have two. Finding ways to effectively discuss your own needs, and notify your partner of what these things are. No one is a mind reader, and being able to identify your own needs and wants is critical for the other person to be able to fulfill those aspects of the relationship.

5.) No Flopping
Every sport has an element of a “flop”, or faking an injury of some kind to garner a penelty, pity, or merely a manipulation tactic for later. In relationships, this can happen during arguments where a person uses the dynamic of an argument to position themselves for later in the argument or to otherwise manipulate for later arguments. Stick to the point, and try to work within the dynamic as a teammate rather than seeking to best the other adversarilly.

6.) Be flexible and varied
In modern relationships, the roles we must all fill are more varied than many traditional orientations of relationships. The demands of working, raising children, staying connected with families of origin and maintaining friendships all pull us in different directions. Focusing on only one of these areas may leave the others negligent and ignored.

7.) Use your teammates
In somewhat direct opposition the previous number, that’s a lot to handle! Instead of wearing ourselves so thin when we don’t have the resources available, it may be worth investing in your partner to help you through these difficulties rather than seeing them as the enemy. Nothing bonds people together like relying on them to help us in times of need, and to feel confident we can help them when they call on us for support.

8.) Respect the hot hand.
All of us get into “the zone” sometimes. Some of us can feel insecure if we don’t feel in the spotlight, and someone else is stepping into a dominant position. This has to do with viewing relationships within a teammwork framework, and seeing your partners successes as part of your own.

9.) Know the role of sarcasm
Trash talking is lots of fun on the field, and for some couples, playful banter and sarcasm can be a healthy part of what maintains the friendship in a relationship rather than the romanticism. However, when sarcasm enters into arguments, unsure intent and feelings of vulnerability can derail any couple, and build resentments for the future.

10.) Situational Awareness
Ever score a goal on your own team or run the opposite way of where you ought to be going? Perhaps not, but cracking a joke when the other person is near tears or using apathy as a way to deflect a meaningful moment can leave couples feeling disconnected from one another. Keep your head on a relational swivel.

11.) Watch others to pick up tricks
Nothing can help a team prepare like scouting themselves and opponents. Utilizing self reflection and paying attention to others you feel have quality relationships can spawn quality discussions and corrections. Even learning what not to do and what your partner doesn’t want you to do can be helpful when an issue arrises.

12.) Have FUN!
Both in sports and relationships, it’s important to remember: this is voluntary. You both entered into this because you wanted to. Because it was enjoyable, and enriching to both of your lives. Life is exceedingly short… laugh, play, be silly, be sexy, be spontaneous. Enjoying life with another person can be the greatest part of existence, and it’s important to celebrate and infuse your life with happiness whenever possible.

Competitive vs. Combative Relationships: How Abuse Threatens Healthy Competitive Dynamics

“How can I love you when you treat me this way?!” a female client screamed at her husband during a session we had last week. “You curse at me in front of our children, call me every dirty name under the book, and hit me when I don’t do everything perfectly. I F*ING HATE YOU!” Unfortunately, these interactions can become all too common in relationships, as patterns of neglect, frustration, pain, and combativeness can infect how married couples function on a daily basis. It also portrays a serious issue in the context of competitive therapy; when does a competition over winning arguments turn into abuse? Unfortunately it is the case with a great many competitive relationships that power dynamics are the focus of the relationship, and it is worthwhile to address how power and control can become abusive as couples form their relationships. Especially with those who have abusive histories, many individuals learn to “fight dirty” in their competitions, and do more than try to win at arguments: they try to wear their competitors down and gain control over their decisions and behaviors. Those victimized by these abuses may begin the relationship by competing, but often find that they “learn helplessness”, and begin to accept the abuse and internalize the destructive messages.

What is Abuse?
Abuse characteristics can form often in competitive relationships due to an unhealthy development of competitive characteristics. I stress the unhealthy aspect, as having competitive instincts do not necessitate unhealthy interactions, but rather focus on how competition may allow for abuse to fester. “Relationship abuse is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation.” (http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/what-is-relationship-abuse/) Ultimately, abuse is about more than competition, it is about control. Frequently, the pervasive nature which makes abusive relationships maintain their destructiveness is this aspect of control and a fear of losing control. This is not the same motivation which triggers competitive instincts, that being a desire to win and a fear of failing or losing. They may appear similar, but it an integral aspect of noting what relationships may be competitive and which relationships may be abusive, or combative.

How do we competitively overcome combativeness?
A major aspect of controlling relationships is the lack of acceptance of give and take, of honoring your partner’s contributions and roles with regard to a competition. Sportsmanship addresses this issue in the venue of physical competitions, and the concepts behind sportsmanship may also address control within relationships. Highly competitive individuals frequently say in interviews that while they may want to crush their opposition, they prefer their opposition to be the very best and to try with all of their might to crush them in return. Defeating a helpless opponent is not gratifying, but rather it is abusive. In these ways, competitive relationships may actually work to ensure that all participants are at that sharpest, best versions of themselves to compete. Ways to encourage, empower, and enhance those around you include positive motivational remarks, statements highlighting their internal characteristics, and treating others in respectful ways within the relationship allow for a healthy competitive environment to flourish.

Addressing the concept of combativeness in competitive relationships also cements the idea that those involved in a relationship are antagonistic and at odds with one another. Abusive dynamics are impossible to incorporate into a partnership where those individuals involved are working as a unit to promote their mutual interests and benefits. It is important to recognize abusive elements of relationships as unacceptable and potentially dangerous not only to the continuation of the relationship, but also the safety of everyone involved. There are a tons of great resources available to ensure safety in couples with combative dynamics, including a national hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233). You all are able to live happy, confident, competitive relationships which honor yourselves and the characteristics you bring into a partnership. Abuse doesn’t have to be a part of it.