How to tell if you're in a normal relationship

By: Shannon Christie

Author: Canadian Living


How to tell if you're in a normal relationship

By: Shannon Christie
No matter how long you and your partner have been together, everyone wonders from time to time whether the little quirks and quarks that make up their relationship are actually "normal." For instance, you might be hesitant to reveal how often you have sex, or reluctant to confess rituals and routines with other seemingly happier, more balanced couple friends. Whatever the scenario, it's OK to be curious about whether your relationship is normal. But as couples counsellor and psychotherapist Suzanne Kerr explains: "Each relationship is unique. Normal is a setting on a clothes dryer and not much more."

We asked several women about their own long term relationships to demonstrate the unique yet familiar day-to-day habits of regular couples, then we asked Kerr to share relationship advice on whether or not their habits are normal.

1. "We never fight. Is this normal?"
Nothing sets off anxiety levels like hearing someone say that they never fight with their spouse, especially when it feels like you and your partner go 10 rounds before your first cup of coffee every morning. "For me as a therapist, it's a red flag if a couple tells me that they never fight. I would need to understand what "fighting" means to them -- and if they mean that they never have disagreements then I would want to investigate further as I would wonder if one or both were choosing not to voice their opinions, wants and needs," says Kerr.

So perhaps it is not that the committed couple never fights, it's that they have a different way of describing their disagreements. Or, worse, resentments are building up to the point where the reason they do not fight is because they actually do not speak. "Disagreements are important and good for relationships," Kerr says.

"They teach couples to accept and celebrate their differences, and to find solutions based on respect for each other. When couples are able to have discussions about their differences on a regular basis, they will have a better idea of how to cope and, when possible, to find resolution if they find themselves in particularly stressful relationship situations."

Page 1 of 2 -- Are you and your partner having enough sex? Our expert weighs in on the answer on page 2
2."We have ‘X' amount of sex. Is this normal?"
People often wonder if there is such a thing as too much or too little sex in a long term relationship. Is there a magic quantity of lovemaking that will make you happier, healthier or more likely to stay together? Unfortunately not, says Kerr.

Her relationship advice? "The right amount of sex has mostly to do with what works for the specific couple. Partners need to help each other work toward an arrangement that has respect for the other's needs and involves compromise." The good news is, with a little communication and understanding of each other's needs, you can find that magic equation together.

3."We have separate friends/social nights out. Is this normal?"

Branching out and finding your own interests apart from the relationship can have many positive rewards for you and your partner. "Many individuals feel the need to nourish their own individual identity apart from their partner through friendships and activities. What is important, along with the enjoyment of these individual interests, is that the committed couple has friendships and interests that they share together. It is important that the nourishment of their relationship is not relegated to just what happens at home involving the everyday tasks of day-to-day living," says Kerr.

So make time for socializing and entertainment with your spouse. If your partner struggles with a lack of trust when you want to spend time with your own friends, take Kerr's relationship advice and acknowledge their insecurities. Reassure them that you need to find more of a balance. Confirms Kerr: "Ultimately your relationship with your significant other needs to be given highest priority, but this does not mean sacrificing one's individuality."

Page 2 of 3 -- Is your financial strategy as a couple considered 'normal'? Find out our expert's opinion on page 3
4."We have different saving/spending habits, so we keep our money separate. Is this normal?"
The commonly held belief is that couples in a long term relationship should have some form of shared financial resources. But what if you acknowledge a contrasting attitude about this well-known touchy subject? "The research in this area suggests that couples who pool their financial resources enjoy a longer and more satisfying relationship," says Kerr.

However, as with everything, there are always exceptions to the rule. "Money is an area that is very often problematic for couples and, as in all other important areas, it involves really listening to the other and finding a compromise and revisiting the subject from time to time as needs change." If a joint account is not something you would like to pursue, try a creative solution that acknowledges your individual financial needs but that also reflects plans for a future together. One compromise would be to put aside an agreed-upon amount of money each month for a shared goal such as a down payment on a house, a trip, or starting a business or a family together.

And finally, Kerr advises couples to be creative and never forget that you are "the architects of your own solutions in all relationship challenges." Remember that, ultimately, it's not about how normal your relationship is, but how happy you are in it.

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How to tell if you're in a normal relationship