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Be a partner, not an opponent

Working together towards shared happiness is key

In last week's column, I wrote of the expectations and core beliefs about relationships that we each bring to our relationships. Influenced by the examples of our parents and the experience of previous relationships, this preprogramming can affect how you relate as a couple from the start.

This is the backstory that each person brings to the relationship. One's individual psychological and relationship history influences the telling of the couple's story.

Every couple has a story of their relationship. In long married couples, the story is often consensual; they agree on the main points; where they differ in the details is often a source of good-natured humour.

When couples separate and divorce, their stories are often quite different. Each of course is a simplification of a complex history. For better or worse, these stories help us make sense of our lives.

In cognitive therapy as it applies to marital counselling, we frequently recognize a turning point when one partner's opinion of the other changes dramatically for the worst. The turning point could be perceived betrayal-through an affair, a forgotten anniversary or birthday, or a demonstration of bad behaviour.

The lens with which the offending partner is viewed changes to the negative, and all that is said and done is interpreted in that negative light. The positives once seen in the other are filtered out.

We can also lose sight of what we love in one another by allowing the busyness of the rest of our lives to take over. When we stop focusing on our primary voluntary relationship and allow the stresses of childrearing, finances, work and other relationships to intrude, we may experience fewer warm and positive moments together and appreciate one another less.

Sit down together and tell the story of your relationship. No doubt you will differ in the details; every couple does. What qualities do you admire most in one another? This question reminds us of how you felt when you first fell in love.

How do you express love, affection, caring and friendship? This question allows each to express the love behind their actions and reminds the other that they are loved. It also allows each to express what they need to feel loved.

Some of us need hugs, kisses and clear expressions of love on a daily basis; some show their love in more subtle and quiet ways. Often we don't know how much we are really loved and appreciated. We leave much of the positive left unsaid.

What can you do together to sustain and nurture your relationship? This question reminds us that we write our stories together. Success in a relationship requires a consensual desire to change and work together for shared happiness.

When one or both of you is unhappy, personal unhappiness becomes the focus of your attention, and it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing the other as the cause of your unhappiness-your opponent rather than your partner.

When we see one another as key to our greater happiness in the co-creation of a loving and harmonious home, we recognize our shared responsibility and consensual devotion to our relationship.

In upcoming columns and in my blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com: more on improving how we relate and communicate in marriage and other significant relationships.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper, and his blog can be found at davidicuswong.wordpress.com, twitter.com/drdavidicuswong and facebook. com/davidicus.wong. His Positive Potential Medicine radio show is at pwrnradio.com.