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The Fish Bowl Relationship: Healthy Growth as a Couple

You are in a relationship and you are so happy, in love, and excited to share everything with your partner. This might include sharing food, gossip, and the occasional bath towel (don’t worry this is a judgment-free zone). As we naturally progress in a relationship we begin to let down the walls and allow ourselves to be transparent and honest with how we are feeling and what we struggle with. When we are single we learn how to cope on our own or we use a lifeline, i.e. phone a friend or therapist. But there is something about having a partnership that makes us forget about our individual coping mechanisms and if we are not careful we can find ourselves having a Jack and Rose situation. You know, Rose is safely on the door while Jack is slowly dying in the freezing water because she was his lifeline and apparently there wasn’t room for him on it.

This is also what it looks like when couples solely rely on one another to “fix” or solve each other’s problems. Well actually what happens is we pull our partner into the freezing water with us and then expect that they will save us from whatever feelings we are drowning in. That’s not healthy nor is it rational. My advice to you all when you are struggling with anticipation, worry, anger, sadness, etc. is jump in the fish bowl.

What I have seen with a lot of my clients is that sometimes they have one of two responses when they are overwhelmed with emotion; they either go into a deep, dark silo (isolated and not easily accessed from the outside) or they pull their partner into the ocean with them. Neither of these options is helpful and can be detrimental to you and your partnership. Recently I developed a third option: the fish bowl. What does this look like?

  1. The fish bowl is transparent and easy to look through. While you’re in this proverbial space your partner is able to sit on the outside and see that you’re dealing with something; maybe they are able to drop you in some food, make sure you are okay, and are available to respond to some needs.

  2. The pebbles in the fish bowl represent specific things you are struggling with, i.e. low self-esteem, anxiousness, work-related stress. Being in the fish bowl allows you to work through these things on your own by self-soothing and using coping skills.

  3. When you come out of the fish bowl you leave the pebbles where they belong. You don’t fill your pockets with pebbles and hand them over to your partner. Instead, your partner’s role is to hand you a dry towel, give you a big ole hug, and to encourage you for braving through that.

  4. Now that you’re out of the bowl, hopefully you have the words to tell your partner what you were going through and also what you did to come out of it. There is a certain feeling of empowerment that comes from figuring out our own problems.

Being in a relationship doesn’t mean that we have to be codependent on one another. Instead we have the opportunity to practice maturity, healthy love, and autonomy while also respecting our partner and receiving what they are able to give without the expectation of “fixing” us.

At Mind Works Counseling Services in Lubbock, TX we help couples navigate all sorts of issues in their relationship. We also help couples establish healthy habits so their partnerships can grow and thrive. You don't have to wait until the relationship is in trouble to benefit from couples counseling.

Learn more about the Relationship Therapy Services we offer.

Contact us to schedule an appointment or to let us answer any questions you may have.

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