In this post, I’m going to show you 5 areas of your relationship that you most need to keep track of.
Then I’ll show you the 5 questions that will help you create the relationship you most want in each of those areas.
I call it the 5×5 approach to enriching your couples relationship.
It’s a collection of great ideas that were already out there and changing lives for the better. But I’ve figured out a way to meld them together to support what most of us long for – an enriching intimate relationship.
Relationships can be difficult. It’s a strange thing. We select someone, and then find we can’t get along with that specially selected person.
Things begin to break down. Why does this happen? How come it isn’t easier?
Multiple Relationships Within Every Couple
There’s a good reason. Whenever we are in a couple, we are managing five relationships – not just one.
If any of these five sub-relationships get out of kilter, things can get wobbly.
The psychotherapist Eric Berne suggested that humans can be split into three.
There is the Parent part of ourselves. This is partly a copy of the authority figures who raised us. It contains our values and how we look after others.
There is the Child part of ourselves that needs nurture, support but also play.
There is the Adult part of ourselves that solves problems in the here and now. For instance, when you’re mending something or doing a crossword puzzle.
When we perm those together, we get 5 key relationships for every couple. Let’s take them in turn.
The 5 Key Mini Relationships
1. Parent to Parent : Shared Values
When the Parent part of me disagrees with the Parent part of you, conflict can arise. Everyone has a set of values we find important.
If they are not shared, we will likely clash.
Sometimes it’s about politics. How many times do we see a committed progressive dating a committed racist for instance?
The Parent to Parent relationship is off.
It needn’t be such high stakes of course.
Let’s say the Parent part of me finds littering appalling. Yet imagine that you litter with abandon.
We might find that our lack of shared values creates a problem between us.
2. Child to Parent
Sometimes we feel sick and need to be cared for. At other times, we are sad and need soothing after a bad day.
In these moments, we seek some nurture from our partner.
It is as if, in that moment, we are in Child role. We seek out a hug and some understanding from the other’s Parent part.
If your partner is not there for you when you reach out, or dismisses your pain, it can feel hurtful and lonely.
3. Parent to Child
By the same token, we do this for our partner too.
These are the times we need to be there for them, give some empathy and show that we care.
Yet we can also start to feel put upon if we find ourselves in that role more than we would like. We can grow tired of always being the Parent if the ratio feels out for us.
4. Adult to Adult
When a problem occurs that needs solving in the here and now, we want to have a partner in that too.
We don’t want our partner to disappear into Child. Nor do we want them to supervise us from the standpoint of admonishing Parent.
We want them to roll up their sleeves and team up with us to fix things together.
5. Child to Child : Fun And Play
This is where playfulness lives. We want someone to act daft with. We want someone to laugh and joke with.
We want someone to enjoy fun times with. We want someone to be friends with, and for that friendship to be enjoyable.
As grown ups, one way that we play together in relationships is through sexuality. So sex falls into this category too.
If the part of us that wants fun and play has no playmate, we can feel alone and disappointed.
5 Questions To Keep Your Relationship On Track
It is useful to be aware of these 5 sub-relationships because then you can keep a check on them.
They can offer a framework for having helpful discussions about your own partnership.
Here’s a process for how to do this.
Go through each of the 5 areas in turn and answer these 5 questions (ideally together):
1. If this area of our relationship was going how I’d most want it to, what would I notice us doing?
2. How would I currently rate this area out of 10 – where 10 is as described, and 0 is the furthest possible away from that?
3. What puts us as high as that rather than something lower? What is already going well for us?
4. How did we make that good stuff happen already? How could we do more of it?
5. If things got a little better in this area, how would I know it had?
This process connects you both to what you most want. Yet it does so by celebrating those aspects of the relationship that are already doing well.
It helps the conversation steer away from blame and defensiveness. It instead allows something to be co-created together.
It allows you to see what you’re already doing that works well, discover how you are doing it, and create some more.Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice