An important part of being a couple is sharing one's feelings. It is, however, an activity fraught with danger. The problem essentially lies in the fact that many of the feelings that a partner wants to express are feelings about the other partner and they almost always at least imply a judgement and, often enough, a judgement that the other partner does not like or does not agree with. This makes the listener into an antagonist rather than a facilitator and what started off as ventilation can easily become conflict and conflict can then escalate into recrimination.

On the other hand, expression of feelings that one party has been harbouring can also be releasing. A sad or heavy mood may seem to miraculously lift. Even though nothing concrete seems to have been achieved, the simple act of sharing may itself have taken the heat out of what had seemed an unbearably oppressive circumstance. Lightness returns.

All this shows that patience has great value. When we are in the middle of a heart-to-heart discussion we do not know how it will turn out. A certain amount of 'wait and see' is wise. On the other hand, there does need to be contribution from both parties. Sometimes conversation calls for contributions that do not actually say much more than merely indicating that one is still present and available.

A related problem is the fact that many of the feelings that we have are related to the perceived gap between our fantasy of how the relationship should be and how it actually is. Strictly speaking a relationship is nothing more nor less than what does actually happen between the two people, but we tend to build fantasies. In the past, there were much stronger social norms that dictated how partners should behave toward one another. Nowadays it is more a matter of 'make it up as you go along'. The modern approach allows more freedom, but it also leaves uncertainty and plenty of scope for partners to have totally different visions of what is or should be happening.

To manage a modern relationship requires a lot of tolerance and flexibility. Often difficult feelings are passed backwards and forwards between the partners and it may take some time for things to jostle down to a mutually acceptable accommodation. This means, firstly, that there is an ever present possibility that it might never do so which, in turn, means that each partner has to cope with the anxiety of knowing that the relationship could fail, and, secondly, that in reality, ideals will rarely if ever be fully realised so the value of the relationship will reside not in the fulfilment of an ideal but in the satisfactions that it does yield that would not be available in a single life.

Modern relationships are thus much more challenging than old fashioned ones were. The latter could be miserable, but they were predictable. Nowadays we have to be more flexible and sophisticated, which is much easier to write than to practise.

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