Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
It can be a hard transition, moving from being single and independent, to being half of a couple. In my practice this week, I have seen 3 different couples who are struggling with just this issue.
For the couples this week, the major challenge has been to decide what happens with relationships with former lovers. Many people today form close connections with those that they date. They often have a history together which usually precedes the current relationship. Sexual interest may no longer be present; however, the emotional connection with the former lover can feel threatening to the new partner.
Making decisions as a couple about how to shift loyalties (or in some cases, whether or not to even make that change) is often grounds for conflict. Those who are in the ongoing friendship may believe that it is harmless and innocent and often a very significant friendship. The other half of the couple may be concerned that it will “blossom again” or he or she feels excluded and an outsider even if included in their activities.
It is a struggle for couples to determine how to build trust and reassure each other of commitment while, at the same time, not experiencing the losses of strong friendships.
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This issue does become clearer with the stages of the couple relationship. When couples deepen their commitment from “seriously dating” to engaged to married, this decision becomes easier to make. One of the keys to success with this issue is to keep it from turning into a power struggle but to rather let it be the start of ongoing conversation.
New couples also face a lot of other issues as they form a bond and a committed relationship. Here are two others.
Other friendships, even those that have not been romantic ones, can pose areas of conflict in dating relationships. Making time for the relationship while holding on to friendships and rituals with other singles, co-workers and old friends might get in the way of a developing intimacy and connection in the new relationship.
There can be many reasons why this can be an issue. It might have to do with information about the relationship that is shared with other friends. Sometimes friends are not supportive of the new partner and will overtly or covertly cause problems.
Other times, it is about how much time a partner devotes to the other relationships. Some people really like to spend a lot of time together while others value their independence. Meeting each other’s needs for connection as well as time alone and apart, especially when it includes other friendships and excludes a new significant other, may require a lot of conversation and negotiation.
Future plans for the relationship. Many often want to know where the relationship is headed. This may not be a priority for others who tend to make commitments more slowly.
Some want “clarity” or have a goal in mind for themselves and may feel an urge to move things along at a faster pace than others. Those who want to figure out where the relationship is headed also often want to talk about it a lot … and that is the last thing that their partner wants to do. The planning half of the couple may want deadlines or decisions before the other half of the couple really knows what he or she wants.
Whatever issues faced in a relationship, how each person handles the differences provides more information about the viability of the relationship than whatever their position may be. Each person should do their part in being half of a healthy dialogue and decision-making process as well as observing what happens with their partner.
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