The Importance of Being Understood – Part One Blended Families

In the first of this two-part series we will be discussing the importance of being understood in both a general context and in specific relation to blended families and dating those with children. Being understood is an important part of our mental wellbeing and is consequently a principal factor in a healthy, loving relationship. This is because if we feel as though we are being misunderstood it can lead to resentment and bitterness, which over time, will have a long-lasting negative impact on the relationship. It can also decrease the value we put on our partnership, as well as ourselves.

It is imperative to remember that we can never really know what is going on in someone else's mind. Therefore, how are we to expect others to know our thoughts and feelings if we do not express them or communicate them verbally. Of course, there are non-verbal cues that signal how we may be feeling but this form of communication does little to reveal the cause of our feelings and emotions. Non-verbal communication leaves room for error and this can even be the case when we communicate verbally, due to pragmatics. Pragmatics refers to the communication of meaning through the analysis of not only structural and linguistic knowledge, but also the context of the expression, pre-existing knowledge about those involved and the inferred intent of the speaker.  This highlights the importance of clear and concise communication, particularly regarding such an imperative topic.  

Family is extremely important and as a subject can become a bone of contention if each partner does not feel as if they are being heard or understood. This is particularly the case with blended families as they are structurally complex and present a multitude of characteristics from previous households (Ganong & Coleman, 2017).  As a result, there may be disputes when it comes to the directive role of parenting. Braithwaite, Baxter and Harper (1998) found that it was important for family members to embrace their new family whilst still valuing what was important in the old family environment. It is key to remember that when entering a new relationship, where you are bringing two families together, that it is best to have an adaptive nature and have the ability to pay homage to both old and new family dynamics.

Despite some differentiation, combining parenting techniques and fully communicating what you expect and what you are willing to accept in terms of your partner’s involvement in your children's lives, will allow for an open and honest relationship. We may at times jump to conclusions but by calmly expressing your thoughts you allow a dialogue to open up between yourself and your partner. You may not always agree but communicating demonstrates a willingness to understand and empathise with your significant other. It is also noteworthy to remember that the focus of being understood in this context is to create a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship with your partner which runs in parallel to the relationship you have with your children or your partner's children. Children look to their parents for guidance and it is important to understand that seeing your relationship with your partner as a separate entity will allow a stronger and healthier relationship and a better example for your children.

We will never be in someone else's mind nor will they be in ours and perception is key. In perception, we find compassion and understanding. With a multitude of memories and cognitions determining people’s feelings and thoughts, it is fundamental that both partners do not assume they have experienced life the same way. Families come in all shapes and sizes and what can help with the transition for blended families is communication. This will bring you a wonderful relationship with your partner and the added bonus of being part of a family.

 

References

Braithwaite, D. O., Baxter, L. A., & Harper, A. M. (1998). The role of rituals in the management of the dialectical tension of “old” and “new” in blended families. Communication Studies49(2), 101-120.

Ganong, Lawrence, and Marilyn Coleman. "The Dynamics of Step parenting." Stepfamily Relationships. Springer US, 2017. 143-173.

Men and Mates

We have always had mates, though the context in which we have referred to them has necessarily changed with the times. The word’s origins go back to ‘messmate’ and the act of eating together, and its various meanings have traversed broad swathes of life since then. These range from animals finding a mate or being found one for breeding, to someone’s partner in marriage. From our peers and fellows in different locales, our roommates and classmates to the subordinate or assistant as in first mate on a ship or a plumber’s mate, right through to its ubiquitous and informal sense today as a form of address or reference to a friend. It can also simply be one of a pair of any thing of any kind, and so carries connotations of connection and company, marrying and matching, of links, joins, fits hence its pervasive association with relationships.

But what of mates and men? Our best buddies can sometimes garner bad press and an even worse reputation in the eyes of our other halves. Typically speaking, at best they might spend countless hours confabulating with us on topics of immense vacuity like cars and football while at worst they would exert a terrible influence on us, keeping us out drinking, wilfully disgracing ourselves until the wee hours. Good mates though, are evidently more than just drinking pals or fair-weather friends but those who care about us, support and encourage us and have our best interests at heart. They stand as bastions of strength and reinforce our best inclinations, keeping us on course for the achievement of our goals and the betterment of ourselves. This is a responsibility which is best shared and only with those in whom we have faith and trust implicitly as the ripple effect extends to all areas of our lives.

From a partner’s point of view, our pals offer an intriguing perspective on the character of the one they love. How mates relate to and with each other and their shared experiences can be highly illustrative and informative as to what makes them the person they are and how their personality has been shaped. It puts our partner in a new light, revealing and affirming those qualities for which they are loved and appreciated. It is also our friends’ unique ability to bring out the best in us, uncover our hidden talents and give full space for our best attributes to emerge, as well as inspire new insights and clarify purpose where it might otherwise have not had the chance to develop. The company of friends affords the opportunity to engage interests and pursuits outside of the relationship providing an essential counterpoint and facilitating independence and balance within it.

Men’s mates allow them to add value to others’ lives and provide an ongoing basis for growth and development and though this is no less true for women and their mates; the stage, settings and scenery can vary greatly so as to obscure the essential truth behind it. It is crucial for our relationships to acknowledge and embrace these differences as they provide a platform to develop skills and qualities that benefit that relationship and contribute to its lasting prosperity. It is in our interests to be the best mate possible in all our relationships so that we can give the utmost to our partner. After all, a mate is simply one of a pair, two peas in a pod, a counterpart and contemporary, a first mate on our life’s voyage, our perfect match and best buddy and the one to whom we owe the best we can be.

What do you count as infidelity?

 

In a world where physical intimacy and companionship is a mere click or swipe away and accessible in the confinements of your own home, the lines of infidelity can become blurred. Cheating is difficult to define as relationships are based more on emotion and less on logic. However, a conventional idea of infidelity is held by most. The range of behaviours most associated with infidelity can vary from hidden friendships with a person of the gender you find sexually attractive, to physical intimacy. It is essentially a violation of the expected behaviour of your significant other, meaning it is often based on a subjective viewpoint.

There are numerous affiliations of cheating, such as emotional infidelity, which is fundamentally your partner being in love and demonstrating this to someone who is not you. This is also where secret friendships can come into play, as often they are the slippery slope to emotional infidelity. That is not to say friendships with specific people or specific genders/sexual orientation are not allowed, it is about ensuring that the emotional aspect of your romantic relationship is not being met by someone who is not your exclusive partner and vice versa. It is often suggested that emotional infidelity brings more pain to an individual than physical infidelity as it signifies a fault in the relationship on several levels, as opposed to physical intimacy, where an individual’s primitive desires are not being met.  It is also harder for marriages to recover as healing needs to take place on multiple divisions, not to say that this cannot be done but may take more time.

In your own relationship, you need to set your specific boundaries. Communication is key to understanding what infidelity means to both you and your partner. There is no use having cheating defined in your mind and not discuss this with your significant other as they may very well have a different set of boundaries formed. You need to establish what behaviours you deem acceptable, both in your own actions and your partners and you must both be on the same page about fidelity and exclusivity. For some, a flirtatious display of affection would not be deemed as cheating, for others it would be. The same can be said for a drunken kiss, a ‘hall pass’ and so on. Hence the importance of establishing the parameters of acceptable behaviour with your partner.

It is also important to ensure you do not slip into a harmful mindset. Jealousy can jeopardise a perfectly happy and successful relationship unnecessarily, leading to a breakdown in trust and communication which once existed. It is important to trust in your partner and to only act on certainties when it comes to a belief that they are being unfaithful. Jealousy and a certainty that your partner has been unfaithful when they have not been, can be just as damaging as your partner cheating. Clarification on what you as a couple consider cheating, should limit any unnecessary jealousy you feel in a relationship. A fine line exists between being passionate about your relationship and becoming possessive and jealous.

Overall, infidelity can be seen as a breach in trust, your partner or yourself behaved in a way that you both consider disrespectful and unacceptable to the relationship and it is up to you to determine how you want to proceed in your union. Open, honest communication about how you feel about the situation and what went awry can strengthen a relationship or simply reveal a new path in life, whichever you choose ensure you carry a truthful mind and a trusting heart. 

Men & sport!

For something that has always been an integral part of cultures around the world and throughout history, sport has more recently garnered a somewhat negative reputation. Whether this is due to the exorbitant amounts of money that today’s sports stars earn, the merging of enterprising and sporting interests, the increasing emphasis on image or more generally the over-subscribing of importance to what many see as something fairly trivial; there is no doubt sport has the capacity to be inclusive and divisive in equal measure. This is no less true in our personal relationships, as the stereotypical image of the husband spending hours whacking balls around a golf course or watching two dozen men chase one round a football pitch will testify.

Does sport really deserve to be perceived so unfavourably? As a fundamental aspect of culture, it has always reflected the outlook of the society it embodies, defining roles and establishing status. Furthermore, the origins of the word ‘sport’ go back to Old French ‘disport’ with the sense ‘to carry away’. Sport then, has always been a necessary counterpoint from the world of work and something in which people have immersed themselves, also allowing a sense of identity and social interaction. Those who practise sport are also, to a large extent fit and healthy, take care of themselves and pride themselves on their appearance and performance, all attributes which bode well in the field of life, love and relationships.

Peoples’ approach to recreation and physical activity can be highly indicative of their underlying attitudes and values. Those who play team sports may well foster close working relationships and offer support and encouragement. Those who enjoy head-to-head endeavours like martial arts, tennis or golf are likely to have a competitive edge and a high sense of respect for the other person. Many almost undoubtedly place a great deal of emphasis on developing, growing and striving to be the best they possibly can. Participation in a sport also requires dedication and commitment and the persistence to accomplish goals, reach milestones and achieve. These attributes inevitably extend into our personal relationships and are essential in making them successful and long-lasting.

Men and women’s choice of, and attitude to sport needn’t be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they can reflect points of interest in common and lead to shared experiences. Where two people have a love of the sea, while one may be an accomplished sailor the other might love to dive yet they are united nonetheless and could visit the same locations and each allow the other to discover something new from their common passion. A taste for adventure might find two people at home in the mountains respectively sharing their love of skiing and paragliding. Our choice of sport is an extension of who we are and as a result, reflects essential elements of our character which provide the basis of our potential compatibility with others in a variety of other respects,

A lot can be ascertained about someone’s attitude and approach to life by their relationship with sport. It is important then to look beyond the surface and appreciate peoples’ motives for participating in their chosen practice. Sport defies broad stereotypes of gender and status - women are now well established in various fields of competitive sport and long-held perceptions of who should play what sport or which ones are socially respectable have withered in recent decades. So far from restrictive and exclusive opinions there is now an open playing field, a ticket for you to participate in the most exciting game on earth. What you play and with whom and to what rules is down to you. All you need is an open mind and the willingness to participate and give your all. 

Trust

Trust is a concept we put hand in hand with love. To be loved is to be trusted, it is an implicit faith that your partner will love and care for you no matter what. It is an expectation of behaviour, the ebb to your flow in the tides of love. Trust is indispensable and contributes to our social success, along with an array of factors. The link between love and trust is even demonstrated at a hormonal level, whereby an increase in oxytocin, the hormone associated with social attachment, increases the probability of trust within a relationship.

Within a romantic relationship, as well in other types of relationships, trust grows gradually. Its formation is based on the consistency of expected behaviours associated with trust, such as the verbal actions of your partner matching their physical actions. Do they demonstrate the ability to be there for you in a multitude of ways; emotionally, physically, mentally?  By being there for someone you create the ability for your partner to rely on you and an anticipation that you will show up at any point in the future when they most need you. Only when there is a demonstration of steadiness in these behaviours and feelings do you feel a sense of trust building within the relationship.

 Not only is trust formed with a demonstration of certain behaviours but it is also highly dependent on how we feel.  You may very well have a partner who exhibits consistent actions and words but if you do not attribute this to trust then it limits its ability to cultivate. Trust is a combination of seeking and portraying these behaviours whilst choosing to associate them with trust. There can be a plethora of reasons why we choose not to trust our partner and sometimes the choice stems from a subconscious source.

In some way, shape or form there will be a point where you feel as though your partner has broken your trust. We are all human and make mistakes, in the context of romantic relationships, if trust is broken on a minute scale then it is more important to focus on the response of your partner. Do you both negotiate and repair the breach of trust or does your partner respond defensively when you tell that person about how you felt betrayed?  By observing their response, you exercise the ability to see what having your trust means to your partner and in turn what your relationship means to them. However, if trust is broken on a larger scale, such as infidelity, it can never be fully restored, only somewhat repaired and again it is down to what you expect from your partner and their response to the betrayal. 

In some cases, we carry the psychological harm that an intense breakdown in trust can cause from a past relationship forward. It is imperative for healthy a relationship that these negative associations are left in the past and with your ex-partner and are not brought into a new relationship. New associations need to be made in relation to your current partner, as opposed to subjecting them to the same low standard of trust from a previous relationship. It is unfair to hold a person accountable for another person’s actions. You need to wipe the slate clean and look at your new love with a new sense of trust. For, as previously said, to be loved is to be trusted.

 

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody, is to trust them” Ernest Hemingway