How relationships go wrong

I have mentioned before that my late wife and I spent a number of years in the past as marriage counsellors. Today I want to look at whether my experiences taught me about the important factors in any long term relationships. So, I would have in mind children, parents, long term friends, work colleagues etc. etc.

We had started by working with engaged couples. Many of these had been sent by parish priests – often because the prospective marriage would be one of different religious beliefs. The meetings were a combination of information and group discussion. But there was one couple whose problems required a personal discussion with us.

It really didn’t work. That was because my wife and I approached the issues differently. We were somewhat distressed about this but it led to us getting professional training in direct counselling from the, then, Catholic Marriage Advisory Council.

Where would the clients come from? My wife came up with the idea of offering our assistance to the local parish priests. It worked extremely well. Perhaps too well because the PPs tended to send anyone with any psychological problem. That often led us to be hand in hand with the experts at the local mental hospital. And we were learning a great deal.

One PP told me that I had to keep my guidance to that of the current Pope. I was unable to promise this — he sent me no parishioners.

Where marriages were involved, we discovered that one factor was very common: the ability to listen to one another. There is a fundamental difference between hearing one another and listening to one another. Listening requires taking in the feelings as well as the facts – demonstrating our understanding and feeding it back to the speaker.

So much of our counselling time was spent teaching the clients how to listen. Then, many problems solve themselves. But this is by no means an assistance only to married people. Our relationships involve our friends, our parents, our children, our work colleagues, our bosses and so on. We have become listeners and so, indirectly, of service to all our “neighbours”. And, as I remember, God is rather keen that we should love our neighbours. And that includes us. How do we really feel? The deep understanding of our own feelings is the first movement towards understanding our own decisions and our own temperaments.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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5 Responses to How relationships go wrong

  1. pnyikos says:

    Lately, various members of my family (wife, one or more daughters) have been taking refuge in arguments over essentially factual matters by saying things like “That’s your opinion. Mine is different,” or “We can agree to disagree about it.” or simply, “You are confusing me. Stop.” These seem to be more about reassuring oneself and striving for inner harmony than about trying to understand what we are arguing about.

    I wonder whether our enforced isolation from others in this long-running pandemic crisis has led to these developments, which are new in my experience.

    • milliganp says:

      Although I agree that being ‘locked in’ with our nearest and dearest does add stress to our relationships, I suspect the wider problem might be our ‘post truth’ culture.

  2. David Smith says:

    “Hear, hear” to both pnyikos and milliganp.

    The modern, sophisticated, intelligent, enlightened solution to disagreement is to isolate it, then smile it away. “My opinion is simply the truth, but I love you, anyway.”


  3. ignatius says:

    Poor chaps… I find headbutting the wall and/ or drunkeness both to be of help.. 🙂

  4. galerimo says:

    All keen observations (spell check wants to say “aberrations”!!) here, on life as lived and experienced. Thank you.

    Good work, Quentin. It is always a great service to our fellow humans when we say no to parish priests and a great service too, to continue to support those willing to work with you before getting married.

    What I really like is the mistake you own. Even the remedy you sought in getting further training for the both of you fades in the strong spot light of that fault admitted, for me.

    Nothing opens my ears up, or my heart, than someone telling how they got it wrong and sometimes how they sought to do better. Pivotal for listening. For attending to the other.

    You say you got it wrong. Reminds me when I got it wrong.

    Offering your experience before any interpretation, lets me hear – “yes I can “#!^!” it up too – sometimes badly – sometimes not proud of, even, disappointed with myself”

    So, my trust unfolds and the willingness to listen – indeed the need to listen, surges within me.

    And if this turns out not to be self-flagellation or a wallowing in victimhood then I am more likely to engage, attentively.

    A good tip that I try to remember is the use of “I” statements. Avoiding too much of the passive voice in my speech and minimising the use of “generalisation” definitely connects me more with the listening part of the company I keep.

    All too often – people tend to forget that!!!!!

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