Staying Connected In Your Relationships

One of the main reasons we have relationships is to feel connected to other people. When we feel connected there is an ongoing bond that provides safety, trust, mutual satisfaction and harmony. This is true of all connected relationships whether they are between people, businesses or nations. If people in a good relationship have a disagreement, their connectedness enables them to remain respectful of each other and to find solutions, to agree on a compromise or to accept their differences.

  Most couples or individuals seeking marriage counselling or relationship counselling do so because they have become disconnected from each other and do not know how to get connected again. These skills are not taught in school and few of us were shown good models of healthy adult relationships in our family of origin.

  When a couple fall in love and decide to live together they intend to stay connected. However, many find that as soon as a conflict arises between them, the negative patterns of relating they saw their parents or other adults using may emerge between them too. We all unconsciously absorb the models of relating that these significant adults demonstrated to us when we were very young. So we cannot be expected to know how to relate any better than they did. This means that when it is difficult for a couple to find peaceful solutions to their disagreements no one should be held to blame. Each of us can only do as well as we were shown.

  What is not generally recognised is the fact that the most important requirement for a good relationship is to make staying connected the first priority. Once the feeling of connectness is broken, both parties to the relationship become deprived and it is because of this deprivation that they then find it difficult to reconcile any differences. The feeling of deprivation can create a rigidity between them so that each wants to be right, to be heard, to be understood, while at the same time believing the other to be wrong or bad. This reactive process can only deepen their sense of alientation from each other.

  Most couples in counselling will tell stories of events and experiences that hurt one or both of them deeply; for example, when one of the couple has had an affair. Such behaviour always reflects the fact that either they were never properly connected to their partner in the first place, or they have become disconnected and unhappy with the relationship. An affair is often an unconscious attempt to establish the feeling of connectedness with someone.

  In The Circle of Relating, a schematic representation of what makes a relationship thrive and what damages it, Bob and Rita Resnick, both renowned Gestalt psychotherapists, focus on two processes that will undermine a relationship and reflect disconnectedness. The first is called the position of 'Isolation' and the second is referred to as 'Confluence'. Both of these positions occur because the couple have become disconnected from each other.

  When one person in a relationship goes into isolation the other person may respond by nagging or become demanding. This is an attempt to reconnect but it usually backfires because the person who has isolated retreats even more or becomes angry and then retaliates. In counselling it can be useful to point out that nagging or demanding behaviour is a sure sign that the couple have already become disconnected.

  When someone goes into the confluent position they behave in ways that are designed to keep the peace or appease the other person. The person who is being confluent is compromising themselves in order to reconnect and/or prevent the other person from rejecting them. The underlying drive is the fear of losing the relationship and being abandoned. Confluent behaviour results in a loss of identity and this then causes resentment to arise in the person who is being confluent. Eventually this person may feel so lost in the relationship that they can switch and go into isolation in order to reclaim their identity.

  The other three positions on the the Resnick Circle of Relating are positive and foster connectedness. In particular the position they call 'Contact' is crucial to the healthy maintenance of connectedness. When a couple are holding this position with each other they are aware of, and accept their differences, and they spend lots of time honestly sharing how they are thinking and feeling about themselves and with each other. This last aspect of relating is perhaps one of the most important commitments in a healthy relationship.

  One of the main ways a damaged relationship can be restored is by being honest and emotionally real together for at least some time every day . For some couples who come to counselling, there may have been very little sharing in this way with each other since they met. Or this level of honesty and commitment to being open with each other has not been experienced for a long time. It often disappears when children come along and the demands and pressures of child rearing and keeping the family financially afloat take precedent over the couple's relationship.

  There is something very special when two people meet and give each other their undivided atttention. Taking it in turns to listen to each other and to accept what the other says as their truth without any judgement or criticism is very affirming. This is good communication and is crucial to creating and maintaining a bond of connectedness between them. In counselling it is often the counsellor's role to assist a couple to learn or re-learn how to listen to each other unconditionally. Active listening techniques can be taught so that the couple can both listen to and really hear each other properly. This encourages real dialogue between them, fosters mutual respect and the vital capacity to accept their differences.

© Jonathan Kester 2016

Jonathan lives in Perth Western Australia. He works in Fremantle as well as from his home office in Mahogany Creek. He also uses Skype and phone links for country and overseas clients. He is married and has one adult son and three adult stepchildren.

Professional Memberships

Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia
PACFA Clinical Reg. 21147
Licentiate of the College of Speech Therapists (London)

Jonathan has written articles on the following topics:

Staying Connected In Your Relationships
Fighting Fair
Men's Issues
Ageing and Retirement

To contact Jonathan:

Phone: 08 9298 9915
Mobile: 0438 929 899

Fremantle Psychology, Health and Wellbeing
17 South Street
Fremantle WA 6160


145 Brooking Road
Mahogany Creek WA 6072

Receipts are made out to Communication Skills Consultation and may be claimable as a tax deduction.


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