Valentine’s Day is here once more, and the shops are filled with red roses, bottles of fine wine, and cards galore to help us say ‘I love you’ to that special someone. For some, restaurant tables will have been booked, babysitters confirmed, and best outfits prepared. For those already in a relationship, it is an opportunity to reaffirm feelings for a partner, while others may end their Valentine’s card with a cryptic ‘Love, ??? xxx’, possibly hoping that their affections will be discovered by the recipient.
Whatever your relationship status, whether you are happily paired, taking a break from being with another, or getting over a painful breakup, the subject of love may well stir up powerful emotions from either the past or present. In the counselling room, sometimes clients speak about their relationships with significant others, and most often what stands out to me is not the physical attraction of one person to another but the quality of the connection between the two halves of the partnership. There is certainly no shortage of apps for our smartphones that promise to pair us up with that ‘ideal someone’.
In my experience as a therapist, often clients come with complaints about their partner’s behaviour or attitude, wanting to change them so that they are not like ‘this’ or ‘that’. Clients sometimes feel that they are not being treated very well or being given the affection they deserve. In relationships where domestic abuse is a feature, this can very much be the case, but it is not these types of abusive relationships I wish to make a comment on here.
When we examine what the client has influence over in the relationship – what they have the power to change – we find that they cannot one iota change their partner’s behaviour or way of doing things. The client only has influence over their own behaviour and attitude. Once this is agreed upon and accepted, work can begin on examining the client’s response to their partner’s way of being. Several times I have worked with clients who have decided to redouble their efforts at loving their other half (in a practical, everyday kind of way), while maintaining firm boundaries to do with what they find acceptable in the relationship and what they do not. This ‘carrot rather than stick’ approach often yields better results in terms of improving the quality of the connection between two people than a list of demands presented to the offending partner.
The more I work with those struggling with relationship issues, the more I feel that the key to a successful long-term alliance has more to do with giving than getting. Sometimes showing someone how to love, and so how you would like them to love you in return, can pay dividends. I guess that leading by example is what I am saying here. So, as the 14th of February arrives once more, what is it that you could do this Valentine’s Day to show that someone special how you feel?
Rob Oglesby is a fully qualified and an insured therapeutic counsellor who is a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).