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It's the fights, not the warm and fuzzies that mark the quality of a relationship.

Updated: May 1, 2023

yes we fought, but we very much respect our relationship. Here the loser raises the hand of the winner.

We mental health clinicians know that we should be cautious in giving advice, we respect our patients for their differences as well as their autonomy. Nevertheless, there's plenty of room for advice when it is offered in a thoughtful way.

I suggest that the best advice we give patients are concepts, not decisions. Conceptual advice serves as a container within which a person can sort out the particulars of a life circumstance he or she is contemplating. Let me give an example.

Recently I was talking to a patient who is considering stepping back into a formerly controlling and abusive relationship. Here's the concepts I invited her to govern her decisions by:

Anticipating a bit of surprise effect I first told her to judge how things are going not by the warm and fuzzies but rather by the quality of the quarrels and disagreements that inevitably occur occur in all relationships. I reminded her that the warm and fuzzies of a budding relationship always feel good regardless of the future fate of things. On the other hand, if a couple can have a disagreement, and still feel a sense of respect and patience with one another, that is a very reassuring thing.

I then reminded her of the old adage, that change is hard, words are easy. Abusive men often view their partners as trophies and will show no end in showering them with praise and affection in order to land them on their metaphorical trophy shelf. Thereafter, they can be controlled. Given the difficulty of change, it's therefore a good idea to see some significant steps reflecting change before promises are taken too seriously.

Finally, I brought up the concept of a 'parachute.' The idea is that the very best of relationships tend to occur between people who at the outset are independent souls and wish to share their independence with one another. In contrast, fragile relationships occur when partners sense something incomplete in themselves, and hope the relationship will fill some kind of void. The latter is a set up for dependency. Perhaps it is a truism, that the chances of a relationship staying together are highest between people who are freest to be apart.

I'm comfortable giving such advice as above because the advice involves something very fundamental in being human, something that transcends ones individuality. The advice is a conceptual container within which individuals have plenty of room to make choices that suit their style and wishes.

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