We all want to make the most of our relationship. We hope it will be the centre of joy and satisfaction in our life. Yet so often we end up hurt, frustrated or resentful.
If you’ve wondered why your relationship has stalled or why you find intimate partnerships so hard, why you behave the way you do or why you can’t make sense of what your partner does, Make Love Work explains it all.
It gives you the tools you need to be successful in love — from preventing your insecurities and neurobiology from wrecking your relationship to being a team player and handling conflict well.
We ask author, clinical psychologist and family therapist Nic Beets some questions.
Tell us about your background as a clinical psychologist and family therapist . . .
I always had an interest in helping people. At high school, I used to skip classes to do informal peer counselling. However, I had to get professional theatre out of my system before I could see therapy as a career option. I started my therapy training in my late 20s after spending a couple of years in Europe. I could see from what was happening there that I would need to get the highest academic qualification I could to have the freedom to practise as I wanted.
Two things pushed me to focus on couples. One was that I had been with the same partner since I was 17 and we had to put a lot of effort into keeping our relationship alive. Secondly, the more I worked with families, the more I felt that the parents’ relationship was the key to what was going on with the children.
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What inspired you to write Make Love Work?
Most of us are going to need to work at it if we want our relationships to last. However, our society gives a lot of contradictory and unhelpful messages about how to direct our efforts. I’ve written dozens of handouts and blogs, to try to make things that are quite complex as straightforward as possible. This book is me taking that impulse to its logical conclusion.
How will Make Love Work help people in their relationships?
First and foremost it will encourage them to accept that growth and change are a necessary and inevitable part of making love work in the long run. It will empower people by helping them realise that, if they focus on themselves and their contribution to the relationship dynamic, change is always possible, no matter how stuck they feel. It gives them a deep but clear understanding of the forces that operate in a relationship.
What is the most common relationship problem you come across in your work?
Blaming the other person while minimising or being oblivious to your own contribution to the dynamics of the relationship. Most of us justify our unhelpful behaviour and feel aggrieved by our partners — which leaves us in a passive, disempowered position. For example, if I am pleasing and appeasing you all the time, I will tell myself that “I’m nice and you’re selfish” and be confused as to why you aren’t happy when, from my point of view, you are “getting it all your way”. Typically, what’s happening is that my lack of self-worth means I don’t challenge you, and your lack of self-worth means you are defensive if I try to. Until I’m willing to make “good trouble” and stand up for myself, your insecurities are going to run unchecked, dominating the relationship and leaving both of us unhappy.
What is the top tip you would give someone who is suffering with relationship problems?
Stop blaming your partner. Much of the distress we feel is caused by the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves about what our partner’s behaviour means. Yes, they are responsible for half of the dynamic but it’s only your half that’s under your control. Unless you are in an exploitative or abusive relationship, you have more influence than it feels like you do. Using that power wisely and carefully is is something you can learn how to do.
Take the time to go slow and explore what you each intend and want. Learn to understand why you tend to interpret your partner’s choices the way you do and address that in yourself, rather than trying to get your partner to change. Don’t be put off by your partner’s defences. Be patient with them and try to see if you can reassure them that you have their best interests at heart, without abandoning what you want.