Couples who have been together for a long time eventually develop entrenched behaviour patterns that can make their relationship boring and stale but very safe. Each partner takes up a position within the relationship to give them emotional and physical safety. One partner might be very controlling wanting everything to be done a certain way and the other, although agreeing to do it their way, privately sets out to sabotage.

This becomes the couples dynamic and it is acted out with every little decision. For instance one partner might insist on not tipping in restaurants and not paying bills until the second notice, to save every cent. The other partner agrees but buys expensive lunches and clothes. Or one partner agrees to go to the other’s parents place for Sunday lunch but at the last minute develops a stomach upset.

Both have had difficult childhoods and are now playing out the same behaviours developed in childhood for emotional and physical safety. One is super controlling and the other passively aggressive. Knowing this is happening is a huge break through as this awareness makes it possible to see reasons for change.

When couples come to me we see the dynamic that has developed over time and what caused it. When we know the reason for the unhelpful dynamic we then move onto some really simple skills for each partner to develop. This can also be great fun.

First, in week one write down what you would really like your partner to do for you. Be very specific like: take out the garbage, give you a neck massage, cook a vegetarian meal once a week, etc. Next write a list of also what you think they would like you to do for them. Keep a diary and in the second week do one thing a day what you think they would like happen. Do not show each other the list until the end of the second week.

At the end of the second week sit down and each partner tells the other what they liked that happened to them. Then swap notes and every day the third week take one thing from their list and do it for them. At the end of week three tell each other how it felt and have an honest feedback session.

If you don’t want to take three weeks to change things, write down a list of what you want the other to do for you; initiate sex, buy the fruit and vegetables, buy a sex toy, visit your sister for lunch, etc. Place your paper slips in a jar, swap jars and agree to do one thing a day for your partner. After a week provide feedback to your partner on the treats.

Relationships all get in ruts of established behaviour patterns. Assumptions are easily made on what the other partner wants and expects. So reflect on what you think is the current dynamic in your relationship is and how it became established and then play this ‘pleasing the other game’.

You will be really surprised how this simple fun activity can change the whole way your relationship functions. You will find it very interesting to discover what they secretly would like you to do for them. And wouldn’t you really want to know?

Gerry North is a gay couples counsellor. Contact Gerry via or email him at [email protected]

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