Sunday 21 September 2014

The Love NCT: Top questions you must ask for a happy marriage

Norwegians have been told to go on date nights to stay together. Take this DIY check-up instead, says therapist Anjula Mutanda

Happy together: How much time do you and your partner spend sharing how you feel, hugging and kissing?

Couples with children have been urged to go on regular "date nights" by a Norwegian government minister in an attempt to reduce the divorce rate in a country where 40pc of marriages end in failure.

Therapist Anjula Mutanda and UK counselling group Relate have teamed up to create a no­ nonsense guide, How to do Relationships, to help you to recognise how you behave in a couple and ditch any emotional baggage.

Mutanda, who has spent 18 years counselling couples, has devised a series of quizzes to provoke a full relationship NCT.

Traversing every stage, they enable you to identify weak spots that may need attention. What they don't do is provide neat answers, and for a particular reason.

"Love is a unique and individual experience, there is no point in a one­size­fits­ all approach," Mutanda says. "This is about you, so the questions will prompt your answers about your life. They will nudge you in the right direction and help you to make the best decisions based on your life."

This first exercise will help you and your partner to explore your attitudes about becoming parents. Answer the questions separately and then share your responses.

Maybe baby

Mutanda, who has spent 18 years counselling couples, has devised a series of quizzes to provoke a full relationship NCT.

* On a scale of 1­-10, how positive do you feel about becoming a parent. (1 = not positive at all; 10 = very positive.) A rating of 5 and under needs to be discussed.

* On a scale of 1­-10, how negative do you feel about becoming a parent. A rating of 5 and over has to be explored.

* What three positive words come to mind when you think about parenthood?

* What three negative words come to mind when you think about parenthood?

* What do you hope to gain by having a baby?

How to do Relationships by Anjula Mutanda, published by Vermilion, €14.50

* What do you fear losing by having a baby?

* How do you think you will change as a person by having a baby?

* How do you think your partner will change?

* If you found out you were pregnant today, how would you react and how would your partner react?

* How many children do you imagine you will have 10 years from now?

About your past

* How would you describe your parents' relationship?

* How would you describe the atmosphere you grew up in.

For example: warm, secure, distant, strict, lots of hugs, few boundaries, lots of rules, cold.

* How do you think this atmosphere may have influenced you?

* What three things did your parents teach you about parenthood that you would like to emulate?

* What three things did you experience from them about parenting that you never want to repeat as a parent yourself?

About you and your partner

* Looking at your relationship right now, how happy do you feel with your partner?

* Are there any doubts you have about your partner's ability to become a parent that concern you, and have you voiced these concerns?

* Do you have any concerns about your own ability to become a parent?

Reality check

* What are your motivations for parenthood?

* Am I starting a family in order to feel secure?

* Am I following my friends' decision to have a family now?

* Is starting a family a priority for both of us?

* Are we both willing to give up our freedom/lifestyle or are we not prepared to?

And if you are to be the one who stays at home:

* How will I feel if I have to give up work?

* Will I feel helpless and lonely and vulnerable at home alone with a baby?

* Have I got other support, such as friends or family, other than my partner?

* Will you still love me at 64?

Before you can plan for the future you need to have a clear picture of who you are now, your relationship and how you feel about getting older. First, take stock of how you feel:

About you

* How often do you think about getting older?

All the time, some of the time, seldom, never.

* When you do think about getting older, what words come to mind?

Doddery, wise, exciting, tired, experienced, grumpy, happy, free, relief, sick, fed­up, restricted. Any other words?

Your life now

* How satisfied do you feel with your life so far?

Very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied.

* How often do you think about the past and what could have been?

All the time, sometimes, seldom, never.

Your relationship now

* On a scale of 1­-10 (1= unhappy, 10= very happy), how happy or unhappy are you in your relationship now?

* Describe three things you value about your partner.

* Describe what aspects of your relationship you have grown to accept over time.

* How much closer do you feel to your partner now?

* When you and your partner look at old photos together, what feelings come up?

For example: Happy memories, longing for the past, regret.

Your future self

* How do you imagine your life will be in five and 10 years from now?

* How do you imagine your relationship with yourself will be?

* How would you like your relationship with your partner to be in five or 10 years?

For example: Sharing adventures, moving to a smaller house, spending more time together, becoming more like friends, having a healthy, intimate relationship, can't imagine growing old together, resigned to staying together, having separate lives but living under the same roof.

Your financial picture

* How do you feel about retiring from work?

* How do you feel about your partner retiring from work?

* How do you feel about the possibility of having to change your life as you get older. For instance: Downsizing, having less income, relocating.

It is normal to have some concerns about growing older but if more than half of your responses are flagging up worries, it is important to take a step back now. Sit down with your partner and share your thoughts so you can tackle some concerns together.

Surviving a crisis

This quick quiz will help you to examine what role you play in your relationship when faced with adversity and identify the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship when things go wrong. Consider these statements and answer on a scale of 1-5 (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree).

About me

* When things go wrong, I tend to:

– Feel helpless

– Take control

– Look for someone to blame

– Roll up my sleeves

– Enjoy the challenge

– Look to my partner to take over.

About us

* How supportive you are of each other during the good and the tough times is important to assess.

– We don't always agree but we say sorry to each other if we see that we are hurting each other's feelings

– I know deep down that if I were struggling with something, my partner would do all they could to support me

– My partner and I are able to tell each other what we need/want from one another

– My partner tends to blame me when things do go wrong

– When my partner makes a mistake, I spend weeks bringing it up and blaming them

– I feel helpless when things go wrong and turn to my partner to sort everything out

– My partner always leaves me to sort out our problems

– My partner hardly ever sticks up for me

– I hardly ever stick up for my partner

– As a couple, we have a tendency to act as individuals

– As a couple, we have a tendency to let small problems grow into bigger crises

– As a couple, we tend to work together as a team

– Past problems have weakened our relationship

– Past problems have made us stronger than ever.

Having shared your responses, you may find you already have an effective way of handling problems. If, on the whole, you and your partner are supportive of one another, then you have a healthy attitude to adversity. If, however, you find you tend to pull in different directions, the good news is that this is the first step to changing it.

Do you know how to talk to each other?

Effective communication is the bedrock of any long­ term relationship.

* How much time do you spend talking to each other in an average week?

* How much of the conversation is practical (children, bills and such like) and how much is nurturing – (sharing how you both feel, hugging and kissing)?

* How many times have you mind­ read your partner's needs this week?

* How many times have you rowed this week?

* When there's a row, do you always have to win or are you able to concede sometimes?

An edited extract from How to do Relationships by Anjula Mutanda, published by Vermilion, €14.50

Irish Independent

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