July 31, 2017
By: Alexa Gelles
A few years back when I was still an undergrad, a colleague said that the first year had been the hardest for her and her partner. Years later, I still remember her comment, as I used to wonder why that was until I had the same experience.
This year, my partner and I celebrated our first year together.
Our Hollywood start only lasted a couple months before we moved from the honeymoon stage into the dreaded power struggle stage.
The power struggle is what most couples endure once the honeymoon stage subsides. It’s what happens when you go from seeing your partner through rose-coloured lenses to seeing them exactly as they are – warts and all.
During this stage, past wounds, deep-seated fears, and earth-shattering conflict tend to surface. That was my experience anyways. My insecurities came to light; I engaged in destructive relationship patterns and experienced what felt like never-ending conflict with my partner.
Being a relationship counsellor I’ll admit to having felt like a phony on more than one occasion. Here I was teaching couples how to fight fairly when I’d have similar, if not worse, fights at home. There were definitely times when I thought about how much easier it would be to be single than to work through the years of baggage that were spilling into and spoiling my relationship.
While being a relationship counsellor made me feel like an imposter at times, it also pushed me to work through my issues. Seeing how hard my clients worked and being witness to the results of their effort, motivated me to do the same.
I knew I couldn’t give up without a fight. So we did just that. We fought for our relationship. We took time to identify our issues and worked on improving our communication and how we managed conflict. I’d often bring home tools I taught my couples to use and would get my very willing partner to do them with me.
But, at a certain point, I realized that the exercises, while helpful, weren’t enough. I was too involved in the problem to see things clearly and objectively. So, similar to my clients, I too sought professional help in order to begin to unpack and unload the baggage that was weighing heavily on my relationship.
Through counselling, I was able to better separate my past from my present. I became aware that I had been projecting my past fears onto him, and grew to appreciate our differences. Likewise, my partner learnt not to take my fears personally and to be patient with me as I work through my insecurities. In this way, we were able to overcome our struggle in a way that brought us closer together.
A few weeks ago, my partner joined me in session to get support around the issues we were experiencing. My counsellor supported us by listening and offering solutions and tools. The real take-away, however, was hearing how much love and strength she saw between us. I had been so focused on fixing our problems that I lost sight of the things that were working.
Something shifted after that session. It became evident that we were a team, and a pretty good one at that. We stopped fighting the way we so often did. We got to appreciate our sometimes-conflicting needs, and even found ways to support these without feeling threatened. And while that’s not to say that we don’t still get on each other’s nerves or fight, we no longer feel the need to worry. We know now that we have each other’s backs and that we’re able to face challenges as a team.
Knowing that we’re able to face challenges together has given us confidence going forward in our relationship. Having experienced and addressed conflict early on has shown us that we can handle challenges and support each other through these because of the strong foundation we’ve built to support us.