Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
How do you evaluate your life? Is your job right for you? Is your relationship a healthy one? Is your social life invigorating and interesting?
We evaluate our lives in different ways, I think, and to different degrees. Some people, it seems, don’t really think much about these questions – they will be generally content with life and will adjust things to keep themselves happy enough. For other people, the question “is this OK?” is much more a live one, something they will ask themselves on a daily basis. Neither of these attitudes is better than the other, and I think that most of have a “happiness threshold” – when we’re above the threshold we are calm and contented – and don’t question things much – when we’re below it, we find ourselves becoming sad, or perhaps angry – and we question things much more often.
When we do ask ourselves the questions in the first paragraph, how do we answer them? For some people, I think this very much a question of emotions – of gut feel – but I was talking to a client recently about his relationship and we realised that he had a sort of mental checklist – a list of criteria they used to assess the health of the relationship, a picture of how a relationship was “supposed to be”.
I suppose that most of us do something similar – perhaps without realising it. For my client, his checklist included questions like: “Do we eat together?”; “Do we have sex at least once a week?”; “Do we enjoy the same TV programs?” but of course everybody’s checklist will be different – and yours may be different, perhaps very different, from your partner’s.
So these checklists are all different, they are personal, but where do they come from? Few of us, I think, would sit down and actually write down our checklists, few of us, I think, even give them any conscious thought. So there is a possibility that we end up holding a mental checklist that, when we look at it properly, doesn’t have the right things on it.
What I am saying is that the items on our checklist may have come not from ourselves, but from others. Maybe your parents had a rule about eating together – a motto that said “A happy family eats together” – and so as a kid we unconsciously put that on our checklist. Maybe other items came from fairy stories: “The prince and princess lived happily ever after” so that’s what a relationship is “supposed to be like”, or from TV, or playground conversations with friends at school.
When we started to talk about this, my client started to realise that some of the items on his checklist were not appropriate to his circumstances. Shift patterns meant that he and his wife rarely ate together for instance – and the shift patterns, combined with family circumstances, meant that sex was not as frequent as it was “supposed to be” according to his checklist.
So, for my client, a shift came not with a change in his life, (or in his wife), but a change in his expectations. Because not enough boxes on his checklist were being ticked, he had concluded that he was in a “bad” relationship. But does not eating at the same time as your partner really mean that you are in a bad relationship? If you don’t laugh at the same things on TV, does that mean that you are not in love?
So what’s on your checklist? Have you written it, or have other people? Who decides what your relationship is “supposed to be”?