Through its growing engagement with adults seeking accessible therapeutic support, Talkspace continues to help couples working through a host of relationship issues. From cohabitation to finances, relationships undergo constant stressors that can create significant duress for even the healthiest couples. For Talkspace therapists, conversation with clients provides a venue for sharing, problem solving, and personal growth. The hope is that couples enduring difficulties can hone the individual and relational skills they need to overcome hardship and build a stronger bond. Cohabitation, especially, raises the stakes in relationships. Certain tools can help sustain a cohabiting couple, and can help individuals move forward in a life-giving way should the relationship come to an end.
Talkspace’s Jor-El Caraballo says that cohabitation has become commonplace for couples in the United States. Citing 2012 statistics, Caraballo states that “as many as 7.8 million couples were living together, unmarried.” Noting that the popularity of cohabitation is deeply influenced by cultural and spiritual trends, Caraballo further asserts that “this number has dramatically increased in the past few decades as our culture has shifted from a more religious and conservative stance to a more progressive and practical (though anxious) one.” Indeed, taking what Caraballo calls a “test drive” can be a uniquely rewarding experience for couples who arrive at cohabitation with adequate practice and patience. So, what are the practices that nourish successful cohabitation?
Caraballo believes that collaboration is the lifeblood of healthy cohabitation. “If you’re moving in with your partner,” Caraballo says, success “is going to require the spirit of collaboration and compromise for both of you.” This makes sense. When you are selecting a home, delineating household responsibilities, managing time together, and a host of other relational essentials, compromise should be a high priority. When disagreements inevitably arise, a collaborative couple understands that the sun cannot set on anger. Members of collaborative couples understand that the person they are sharing a home and life with should be valued, nurtured, and respected, even when troubles arise.
Many cohabiting couples seek wisdom and support from family members and friends with ample life experience. Inevitably, some of these collateral contacts will either dissuade partners from cohabiting or offer lousy advice. Talkspace’s Caraballo advises couples to receive advice with a grain of salt. “No two relationships are the same, therefore no cohabitation is exactly the same. Stereotypes are lazy, and gross generalizations about your partner (or men and women in general) are unhelpful when considering this next big step in a relationship.”
This is, of course, great advice. Part of the maturation process for couples entails using practical relational skills as they work through transitions, new opportunities, and setbacks. In lieu of always seeking advice from parties outside of the intimate relationship, the couple must learn how to negotiate their shared path together. Whether partners are already cohabitating or pondering the possibility of cohabitation, Caraballo recommends that couples “do some research of [their] own, and identify the most important things to consider when moving in together.”
Managing the Meltdown
Talkspace’s Ashley Laderer knows that relationships can take sudden negative turns because she’s worked on “meltdowns” with her own therapist. “As humans, it’s only natural that we make mistakes, have freak-outs, and overreact sometimes,” Laderer laments. “Lots of things can cause us to have a meltdown, from fear of abandonment to jealousy issues,” she says. “We can’t control the past, and once we freak out, what’s done is done. Luckily, we can control how we act after we have a meltdown, and that’s what’s going to make all the difference.”
Ironically, many relationship meltdowns begin with relatively benign choices. A terse comment, jealous stare, or missed commitment can snowball into an unsavory mess if the partnered individuals don’t know how to manage the brewing conflict. Individuals must stay calm and identify the core issue(s), says Laderer, while also discerning what the issue may look like to the partner.
Talkspace therapists also contend that the healthy resolution of relationship issues often requires that individuals check their egos. “Many of us love to play the blame game,” notes Laderer, “but it’s crucial that you’re able to take the blame and hold yourself accountable when necessary.” The bottom line is that individuals must come to terms with the reflection in the mirror if they want to honestly deal with the issues and impasses that impact the relationship.
Whether successfully cohabiting or not, healthy couples have an action plan and stick to it. The Talkspace team believes that communication is at the core of taking positive action. Couples that can move beyond awkwardness and communicate joys and struggles in a clear and thoughtful way can work through challenges and avoid a secondary meltdown. No relationship is perfect, so “focus on yourself and your partner – and what you can do to further nurture your partnership.”