Article by Cat Williams
‘How to build a successful new relationship’. Cat Williams, relationship counsellor and author of ‘Stay Calm and Content’ explores.
As a relationship counsellor I have explored first-hand how relationships develop and mature, and why they sometimes run into problems. I am often asked if there is a ‘secret’ to building and maintaining a strong midlife relationship. Here is my answer…
The first thing we need to recognise is that when we first meet someone and see them as a potential ‘love interest’ we are immediately assessing how that person makes us feel about ourselves. We might like their appearance, or how interesting they are to talk to, but only if they appear to like us as well, or ‘make us feel good’ in some way, will we be interested in seeing more of them.
Finding out more about each other
As a new relationship develops we hope to find out more about each other, and to share more of ourselves in order to ‘test’ whether this person likes who we really are, values our opinions, or likes the things we like. Basically, do we feel we can be ourselves with them, and do they like us for it?
In a relationship our partner poses a uniquely powerful threat to our self-esteem, and we pose a uniquely powerful threat to his or hers. The more we care about someone, the more they can potentially affect how we feel about ourselves.
Self-esteem is a combination of self-worth and self-confidence and it is vital in all our relationships.
‘Tell me how a person judges his or her self-esteem and I will tell you how that person operates at work, in love, in sex, in parenting, in every important aspect of existence…the reputation you have with yourself – your self-esteem – is the single most important factor for a fulfilling life.’
We all want the same thing from relationships; to feel listened to, understood, respected and loved.
“fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.”
When we feel vulnerable or ‘emotionally threatened’ in our relationship our physiological ‘fight or flight’ reaction kicks in. Our heart rate increases, we feel twitchy, ‘on edge’ or nauseous, and we will describe these feelings as ‘negative emotions’ such as anger, anxiety, frustration or jealousy etc.
Only we are in control of how we feel about ourselves and how we react when we feel ‘threatened’. We each generate our own emotions depending on how we interpret situations and how we allow them to affect our self-esteem.
Top Tips for a happy relationship over 50:
First of all, take responsibility. You are just as responsible as your partner for your relationship; you need to show her or him unconditional acceptance, respect, and affection, before you can expect the same in return.
Accept that there are reasons why each of you think and behave as you do which make sense from you own point of view, at the time. Don’t criticise your partner, aim instead to understand him or her. Learning to understand another person takes constant effort and patience, as well as self-control over your own self-esteem and emotions.
“Each partner treats the other with kindness, tenderness, and love.
That is the secret. If this seems overly simple, it is the truth”
If your partner frequently argues with you, or is jealous, or critical, then they are showing signs of low self-esteem because they are trying to feel better about themselves by taking their feelings out on you. You are not responsible for how they feel about themselves, but you can help them with their self- esteem by listening and understanding, and by encouraging them to maintain interests, hobbies or relationships which help them to increase their self- worth and self-confidence.
Think back to the beginning of your relationship. You will hopefully have chosen your partner in the first place because you felt good self-esteem in his or her company. What did you like about your partner when you were first getting to know him or her? Why did this make you feel good about yourself? What did you do together which you both enjoyed and what could you do together now to maintain and improve your relationship?
“The grass is always greener where you water it” Anonymous
Focus on your own self-esteem, you are in control of how you feel about yourself, you are just as worthy as anybody else. Dress in a way which helps you to feel confident about yourself. Maintain interests, hobbies and relationships which help you to feel ‘at your best’. Compliment, encourage and praise other people, and be kind, not critical, it is the most likely way that you will receive the same in return.
Communicate: Listening is harder than talking. Ask open questions starting with “what, where, how, why, and when”, they cannot be answered yes or no. If you listen carefully to your partner’s answers and check that you understand correctly, you will be going a long way to improving your relationship.
Practice expressing your feelings clearly and without blame, say “I feel….” rather than “you make me feel….” because as soon as you blame someone else for your emotions they will feel defensive, and a potentially heartfelt and useful conversation can easily become an unhelpful argument.
Let your partner know you love them in as many ways as you can think of every day. For example, by saying “I love you”, or by your actions, thoughtful acts or gifts, and physical affection (see www.5lovelanguages.com). Making sure he or she feels loved by you is the most important thing because if the person we love doesn’t feel it, for whatever reason, then that love is almost pointless from their point of view. Think about how you feel most loved, and let your partner know what you appreciate the most.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel”
Please do let me know your comments on this. I am looking for relationship dilemmas for my blog www.staycalmandcontent.com/blog where I am posting about and answering your questions and dilemmas. With best wishes, Cat x