Caring for the Relationship – Scaffolding the Relationship
I have written about communication many times in these blogs. Communication is one of the keys to healthy relationship. It is in fact one common element to the relationship therapy work I do with couples; therapy is always tailored to individuals’/couple’s needs. When people communicate well we can avoid conflict in its many forms.
In this month’s blog I am focusing on one communication activity – Relationship Time. When we are in a relationship there are three entities: Partner A, Partner B and the Relationship A+B – the Relationship Trinity. We often care for ourselves and believe this in turn will care for the relationship. Think of the relationship as “another person” who also needs to be cared for too. Relationship Time is an activity which will help care for the relationship.
Caring for the Relationship – When Date Night Doesn’t Work
During the initial session with a couple, I often hear them tell me they have tried “date nights” and they just sit there and stare at each other and do not know what to say; sometimes even ending in fighting – because they know how to do that! Date nights work well when there is a connection between the partners. Date nights will not build connection if it is not already present. The issue here is not “date night”; it is the lack of scaffolding supporting the relationship – the caring for the relationship.
I use the analogy of a platform and scaffolding to support, or hold, the platform up. Without scaffolding the platform falls down. What is the platform? In the case above the platform is “date night”, yet it can be anything really – holiday, sex, any activity in the relationship. In order for the relationship to work you need to nurture it; connect it; be it – be IN a RELATIONSHIP. Not two individuals but a couple travelling hand-in-hand.
Relationship Time is a simple and effective technique which helps couples scaffold their relationship. It is about building connections between the partners. When we visit someone we haven’t seen for a while, we spend time re-kindling the connection. Think: children and the aunt/uncle who they only see at family gatherings once a year. The child is weary and connection needs to be (re)established. Remember adults were children first, so we need to do similar behaviours. We have to nurture our relationships to ensure we remain connected.
I always recommend couples do relationship time every day when they are separated for more than three hours. So at least five days a week if one or both partners are working fulltime. Also on weekends if they spend time apart during the day. Relationship time takes approximately 10 minutes.
Doing Relationship Time
Here is how it works.
I suggest within 15 minutes of coming home, both partners sit down together. Note the sit down together. It can be within less than 15 minutes, yet 15 minutes will give the arriving-home-partner, time to change and/or go to the toilet.
Sit down together means exactly that – not preparing dinner; on the iPad/phone/tablet/laptop; not in front of the tv; not with the children demanding attention. (Saying no to your child/ren and having them play will not harm them. In fact, if you have children, doing this activity will teach them the relationship between the parents is important and how to do relationships well.)
Partner A talks about their day – Partner B listens. Listening is a skill. See the boxed text. In talking about your day, it is not about discussing “big” topics. It is about talking about your day – the boring, mundane things. How to have “big” conversations is for another blog. The focus is about re-connecting and sharing; scaffolding the relationship. Relationship time is the building blocks of the relationship.
Listening is a skill. It takes energy and effort. It builds rapport and demonstrates we care enough to stop and listen.
To truly listen requires the listener not to be thinking about something else; not to be having “head” conversations. If we are thinking (e.g., “we need milk”; “what is she talking about?”; “here we go again”), we are not actually listening. This is why I do not allow other distractions like mobiles or tv, or kids, during this activity.
Listening requires us to be attentive, to not be distracted.
- Body language counts. We don’t just listen with our ears, we listen with our body. Be aware whether you are sitting openly or in a closed position.
- Ditch the distractions. Listening means we are not distracted.
- Listen to the entire conversation and not what we are talking about in our heads, or losing focus. Wait until the speaker has finished before reflecting and paraphrasing.
- Summarise what the speaker has said. It is important to summarise before anything else. It demonstrates you have heard what has been said.
Now it is Person B’s time. While Person A was talking Person B was busy listening. To demonstrate we have heard is not to repeat word-for-word what Person A said (we aren’t in primary school). It is about reflecting and paraphrasing.
Reflecting is when the listener (Partner B) uses the speaker’s (Partner A) words. Paraphrasing is when the listener uses their own words to feedback the speaker’s message. Reflecting and paraphrasing demonstrates we are listening. It shows empathy and understanding. It helps builds rapport. It helps to scaffold.
After Person B has responded it is time to reverse the roles. Person B talks about their day and Person A listens.
A Handy Tip
Avoid offering advice, suggestions or commentary until after you have confirmed you have heard and understood what your partner has said. We love our partners, and we also want to be supportive by “fixing” a problem for/with them. Before we can fix a problem we need to understand what is happening for our partner.
Relationship time is one way to help scaffold your relationship; to build a stronger, happier and healthier relationship. When our relationships are scaffolded we have strong relationship which can withstand the onslaught of life’s battles.
Remember a Healthy life includes a healthy relationship. And relationship time will help build a healthy relationship.
Dr Christopher Fox is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist at Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne. He has clinics in East Melbourne and Frankston.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document should be read as general in nature and is only to provide an overview of the subject matter covered. Please read product packaging carefully and follow all instructions.