+852 2575 7707 drmelanie@mindmatters.hk

No one doubts that setting up and living in Hong Kong puts unrelenting strain on relationships, the kind of strain that brings conflicts to a head after years of simmering.

All of us see the world through the filters of our own wants and values.

It is an over-zealous attachment to our own viewpoints that creates the most difficult power-struggles in any relationship.In either joint and/or individual sessions, my work with couples targets their unmet needs and unfilled expectations, their divided loyalties, fears and modes of miss-communication. Individual expectations for the therapy are also addressed, as well as each person’s experiences in Hong Kong and hopes for their relationship during their time here, and well beyond.

Improving a conflict-ridden or stress-ridden relationship requires flexibility, open-mindedness, shared goals and an appreciation of a partner’s needs and views. Mutual commitment to shared goals over the long-term can lead to settling short-term disputes more effectively with a co-operative, rather than controlling mindset. At a time when personality differences can become gaping, it is crucial to maintain genuine respect and tolerance for your partner’s needs and quirks, and to make allowances for the fact that heavy emotional baggage can spill over under excessive strain.

Even well-matched couples experience conflict, hurt, disappointment and anger. Talking it through and articulating emotions is never more important than during times of strain. Allowing pride and stubbornness to get in your way only creates more difficulties.

Learning to accept each others shortcomings is vital, although not easy. Partners may recognize weak links in their relationship in the areas of showing consideration for each other, willingness to converse about uncomfortable topics and expressing feelings and desires clearly. But in spite of such frustrations, studies show that happier couples never give up on their efforts to co-operate and compromise their way through disagreements.

Shying away from conflict is not the answer. Complaining about your partner’s shortcomings does not indicate an unhappy relationship. It is when complaints create distance, distrust, negativity and a lack of support that the relationship hits trouble.

Voicing discontent freely and openly and dealing with it straight away, rather than allowing it to build up into thunderclouds, can lead to strength in a relationship, noto distance. Open discussion is a sign of ongoing problem-solving.

When caught in a cycle of blame and counter-blame, attack and counter-attack, it is time for partners to acknowledge their more vulnerable feelings beneath the surface anger. (This is often more easily done within the safe context of a therapy session initially.) Many of us do a great job of burying our most tender feelings – those feelings that quietly cry out for intimacy and reassurance and shrink away from being hurt or rejected. But only when these feelings are recognized and expressed can a power struggle be resolved and the road to potential solutions be paved.

So even if you harbor a strong dislike for overt disagreement, you should make every effort to express troubles, concerns and needs clearly and without blame. Then either strive to arriva at a compromise or agree to accept the differences.

It also helps to express feelings in a more positive manner, replacing accusations like “you never listen to me” with milder, easier to swallow requests like “I need you to listen to me”. In other words, say what you support, not what you oppose, say what you want, not what you don’t.

Everyone should take responsibility for communicating their desires and making sure they are understood. Concerns, problems, unfulfilled expectations not dealt with do not go away. They simply go underground until they erupt.

No one ever said establishing and maintaining a healthy, mutually supportive relationship was easy. It takes work, especially in over-driven, over-indulgent, frenzied Hong Kong, where career and social pressures can easily overshadow personal priorities. A fulfilling relationship requires a commitment of time, attention, energy and emotional honesty. Not easy.

But it could be worse. You could be setting up in Syria.