In the foreword to your book, you write that couples are facing major challenges, especially these days. Which are they?
Helmut Flecks: We keep finding that far too many couples simply don't talk to each other. Far too often they fail to talk about essential topics like children, finances and future plans in the early days of their relationship. And then at some point they bump into each other.
Ludwig Spätling: The lived individuality and the gender debates, which we are increasingly leading in our society, also ensure a certain uncertainty about the distribution of roles in relationships. Many couples wonder how to line up and what justice can mean for them. There is definitely a lack of role models for a healthy relationship. Our generation of parents lived much more clearly defined role models.
However, the softening of the conservative role models of man and woman is already a big step forward...
Spätling: Of course. But couples have a much bigger communication task ahead of them if they want to have a good partnership. It's about knowing your own values and communicating them openly – on both sides.
And how exactly does that work?
Flecks: I believe that a committed partnership is always a challenge for personal development. So if we make our values and needs clear and communicate them to our partner in an open discussion, then we are already laying a good foundation. Apart from that, of course, you also need closeness – both emotionally and physically – and the willingness to face your own fears and make compromises.
To be honest, that sounds quite sober. Where's the romance in that?
Flecks: Without romance, none of us would get involved with another person as intensively as is necessary for a partnership. So you can say: without romance there is no love. Ultimately, we need those rose-colored glasses of romantic infatuation to take the risk of connecting so deeply with another human being.
Spätling: Romance gives the impetus for the neurobiological reaction chain, which then leads to being in love and finally to love.
Despite romance, as you write in your book, couples should also talk about serious issues as early as possible. When is the best time to do this?
Spätling: That is of course highly individual. It is best if you have the feeling that you want to spend the next time together. You don't have to draw up a ten-year plan, but it helps to talk about future plans and dreams. If they fit together, then that connects - and if not, you can discuss it.
Flecks: From a psychological point of view: as early as possible. Because as soon as I hold something back in a relationship or deliberately don't address things, it becomes increasingly difficult to bring these topics up on the table. In the long run, I also exclude entire topics from my relationship, which in turn can lead to emotional distancing. The "not telling" subconsciously creates the impression that the other person is not worth talking to about it. It's often more about fear or insecurity. In the long run, this is also very bad for the relationship dynamics.
Speaking of relationship dynamics. How do I actually recognize a healthy partnership – apart from said open communication?
Spätling: Respect, appreciation and avoiding insults are also important. If these components are fulfilled, then not much can happen to you with open communication and the decision for each other.
Flecks: Trust is also a very important point. and development. When couples stop growing and developing in and with each other, it's always a bad sign. You should inspire each other and influence each other positively.
Keyword proximity: what is too much, what is not enough?
Flecks: You can't say that across the board. The question comes very often from my clients. I believe the middle ground between individuality and community is best in the end. Too much closeness can cause partners to crush each other. But if I use the individuality to get out of the partnership, that's also unhealthy. So it's about staying yourself in the relationship construct.
Spätling: Freedom is very important. This begins with leisure activities and ends with financial planning. No one should be held accountable to the other. It is important to define a common intersection. Apart from that, a partnership should still be about two individuals. This also includes clarifying how much closeness is desired in the partnership.
A child can throw even the best-coordinated couples off balance. How can partners prepare for this?
Flecks: Many fathers initially feel alienated after the birth of their child. Until then, you were the most important person to your partner - and now there is a little person who gets all the attention. It is important that both partners speak openly about their feelings and needs - and do not forget the togetherness with all the family joy.
Spätling: The child is usually an expression of the deep love between two people. So the partnership should not be lost sight of because of the child – parenting is also about teamwork.
What decides in the end whether couples stay together?
Spätling: A sure sign of an approaching separation is when the insults within the partnership get the upper hand. When respect for one another dwindles and you mainly see the negative sides of each other, then it becomes difficult.
Flecks: The fact that separations have become much easier also plays a major role these days. Due to the many alternatives, an active decision is necessary in order to remain in the partnership, which is usually also associated with work. It's part of going through difficult times together and finding the strength to distance yourself from all the other opportunities out there - for that one person. That is, if you will, the greatest compliment you can give your partner.