Open mind: Turn toward your partner

The month of February makes many people think of love and romantic relationships.  

I reached out to Heidi Czulinski, registered psychotherapist at Compass Community Services, to gain her insights into what makes strong partnerships. Heidi’s work is about supporting people as they navigate life’s challenges, and she was happy to share important concepts.

In her view, the significance of a healthy supportive partnership in our lives is important because it can be a source of strength and encouragement as we head out into the world. A strong, safe, stable partnership can be one factor that helps us achieve purpose and meaning in our lives.

As couples “turn toward one another”, in good times and in bad, a supportive relationship can boost comfort, resilience and confidence. Heidi feels that when we are seeking to improve ourselves, a supportive partner can hold up “the mirror” and help us to see where we might need to change our thinking or mindset. When this is done in a caring way, we can grow and thrive. However, if the feedback is given in the spirit of criticism or judgment, relationships can become hurtful and damaging to our self esteem.

Heidi enlightened me that relationships without problems are myths. Sometimes we can be overly critical and there are times that we all say things that hurt people closest to us. In our caring relationships, though, we can acknowledge our own actions and contributions to the situation and honestly look to the other person to forgive and help. The strength in togetherness is feeling that you can turn to your partner to confidently collaborate and repair.

I asked Heidi if we should look to our partners to “make us happy”, and her thoughts on the romantic concept that a good partner should be the “piece that completes us”. She stated that how we look at romantic relationships today is quite different than in the past. We tend to lay a lot of unrealistic pressures at the feet of our partner. All of our expectations for life, fulfillment and happiness is a tall order. She emphasized that we are ultimately responsible for our own emotional responses in life. In the past, community used to play more of a role in supporting people. If we look at ourselves as being part of a larger system of connections, perhaps friends and work-life can provide more opportunities for our encouragement, growth and happiness. This kind of self-fulfillment certainly would take the pressure off the romantic partnership being everything that a person needs.  

She also encourages people to be realistic with the expectations we are making of the other person in a caring relationship. Do we know if what we are asking is too much given who they are, their personal strengths, history, weaknesses, values or point of view?  Unrealistic expectations can lead to criticism, resentment and ultimately an unsupportive relationship. It makes us want to turn away from each other instead to towards one another in times of struggle.

Heidi then provided some advice on how people can strengthen their relationships. She says to never assume you know everything about the other person. We all evolve. In sticky situations try approaching with curiosity and asking where the other person’s point of view is coming from. What experiences brought them to this way of thinking? We may gain their perspective, clear the air, and bring new insight.  

Heidi emphasized the importance of good communication between couples. If you ask these kinds of questions be prepared to actually listen and not have your own predetermined ideas about what answers will be or should be.  Their point of view might not be what you were expecting. 

As a couple we are where we put our attention. Spend time reminiscing and remembering the good times in the relationship. Intentionally focusing on stories to remind each other of the good foundations that began your journey as a couple can be healing and strengthening.

We thank Heidi for her contributions to Open Mind, and encourage you to reach out to professional counselling services as needed.

To reach Compass Community Services call 519-824-2431.

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Paula Frappier is an occupational therapist and community education coordinator with Homewood Health Centre and CMHA. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Paula Frappier