Relationship Counselling: Choosing Love, above all else

Relationship Goals are more critical than Relationship Boundaries.

Relationship counselling can help couples focus on their relationship goals. Relationship goals is about focusing on what you want and not what you don’t want.

The relationship goal for most people in our society is to find a partner; this is a positive goal about getting what we want. Once we take an interest in someone (or they take an interest in us). The plan often moves towards commitment, but what that commitment looks like is usually less straightforward.

There is a difference between committing and controlling a relationship. Committing is something you give to the relationship, and controlling is something you take from the relationship. But what happens when it feels like you are offering more commitment to the relationship than your partner? Here is where things might start to get complicated. Before going there, let us take things back to the start and understand love.

Relationship Counselling
Relationship goal setting

What is love?

Love is a set of emotions and behaviours driven by our desire to be with someone. Love can flow intensely or mildly or change altogether, depending on your circumstances.

Literature and social media tell us that falling in love is lovely and exciting. It sells the idea of how love, at first sight, can change your world into a positive one with instant fulfilment.

Why are we crazy about love?

There is a scientific explanation as to why we fall in love. According to neuropsychiatrist Dr Trisha Stratford, when you see someone you like, your optics signal your brain. Your brain then starts to create dopamine and serotonin. Combining these two hormones creates a warm and fuzzy feeling, giving you a natural high. Dr Stratford also pointed out that the brainwave, if scanned, looks similar to someone high on heroin. Your brain creates this natural high state through activities such as cuddling and orgasm.

Why is it difficult to stay in love?

Staying in love for an extended period is one of the relationship goals all lovers hope to achieve, and this is why most people seek out relationship counselling. Love and desire are interconnected. If you have regular conflicts, your passion for each other can diminish. Life challenges create significant stress in your relationship. When stressed, your brain starts to create cortisol instead of the love chemicals. A high cortisol level limits your ability to feel intimate with your loved one.

How can you and your partner reduce your stress levels?

Why do I resent my partner?

According to relationship psychotherapist Esther Perel, a positive illusion is about you forming a sentimental bias towards your partner. You see that your relationship adds value to yourself socially or professionally.

Positive illusion can be a motivator, but it can also be a deterrent. Having a positive frame about your partner is great, but it is not fair for your partner to be responsible for your self-worth. Positive illusion is better when it is mutually shared to help each other grow.

When you commit to the relationship, you tell yourself that you have made the right decision, despite the flaws you see (or choose not to see). You may have thought your partner would change for you with enough time. When things do not change, it is often time to discuss boundaries.

How do I set up good boundaries in my relationship?

Relationship boundaries are how we tell others what our limitations are. Some factors influence how your values and beliefs shape your relationship boundaries.

  • Culture, race and ethics- What is your origin, and where do you belong?
  • Physical self- What constitutes your personal space? How comfortable are you with physical contact with others or showing affection in public places?
  • Intellectual and mental- Sharing ideas and beliefs can boost your self-esteem. How do you want to share it with others?
  • Emotions and thoughts- This is part of your inner circle. Your feelings and thoughts make you human. Consider how you want to regulate yourself when interacting with others.
  • Money and materials- What is your attitude towards money?
  • Time and energy- What do you want to do with your time? What fulfilment are you after?

Setting rules and boundaries within your relationship can take time. If one of you has too much say in the boundary-setting agreement, it can disempower the other party. Negotiating and discussing boundaries in couples counselling can be a fairer and more rewarding process as both parties are guided by a counsellor who works on the side of the relationship to bring about a fair outcome.

Relationship boundaries come in 3 forms – Rigid or non-negotiable, open or loose boundary, clearly stated.

Rigid or non-negotiable boundariesOpen or loose boundariesClearly stated boundaries
I finish work at 5 pm. I do not want to talk about work after 5 pm.When I finish work at 5 pm, I might just check my emails periodically, in case there is anything urgent.I can work till 5 pm. After that is my time.
I will not talk to strangers. Because they might think the way I talk is weird.I can talk to strangers. I do not mind them hearing my voice.I am okay with having a few people to talk to all the time.
I hate spending money. I do not want to spend money on travel and dining out. I get stressed if I don’t set aside savings each week.I can save money when I want to. I don’t mind if I don’t have any money saved, week to week.I set aside $50 of my pay each week, so I could buy myself a car.
I do not like working with people.I do not mind working with people. I can work alone too if need be.I can work with people as long as they are not disruptive.
My kids must have a tertiary education. Without a degree, they will be a nobody.My kids do not have to attend university if they do not want to. I will be here for them.I will help you finance your tertiary studies. You will need to make sure you complete the studies with a qualification at the end of it.

It is essential to determine what boundaries are good and what ones will hurt the relationship. We tend to have a combination of rigid, open and clearly stated boundaries to help us navigate our interaction with others. Understanding our physical and emotional limitations can help us build better autonomy and self-confidence.

How do I apply boundaries and rules?

Your relationship does not stay the same all the time. Your emotional need connects to physical and financial or material needs. These needs will change or grow when you get a promotion or new job, get older or have kids. When setting relationship boundaries, you must consider the suitability of those boundaries to your relationship goals. Again, you need to communicate to each other about the limit and rules you want to have instead of assuming or keeping things in your head.

Consider these questions the next time the two of you engage in an intimate conversation together:

  1. What do I like the most about being together?
  2. What can we do better as a couple?
  3. What dreams do they have that I can help fulfil?
  4. How can I change to be the better version of myself for myself and my partner?
  5. What goals can we work on together?

As we ask ourselves these questions, we can start to see what we can do for the relationship and understand better how we can live together. We see how relationship boundaries and relationship goals are intertwined. If, as a couple, we have decided to stop doing something because it makes one or both of us uncomfortable, then look at what we can do instead. The relationship goal naturally takes us away from the relationship boundary.

What does it take to stay in love?

The reality of your differences allows you and your partner to get to know each other better. Staying in love requires communication, compromise and commitment to each other. Communication is about more than just hearing the words. It is about acknowledging their values and beliefs as they have with yours. Emotions can sometimes get in the way of good communication, and couples counselling can help work through some of the surface emotions.

Moving forward

Acceptance of each other’s differences is high at the start of the relationship due to the common attraction and desire to be together. Some couples live together happily for years living with their differences, and others do not. It is important to remember to be honest with yourself about what you can or cannot do.  Couples that communicate effectively do not have to live with resentment and can resolve their issues. Being in a relationship is about building a lifetime alliance for love and companionship.