How high are you on your partner’s totem pole?

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

I often see couples in my therapy room where one partner is complaining that their partner puts everyone and everything before them, like work, extended family, kids, friends, sport, social engagements and so on.

When I dig deeper, it usually turns out to be true.

Why does the offending partner put their loved one so low as a priority?

In many cases, it’s a simple lack of awareness. They are having fun doing what they like doing, and they assume their partner will be doing the same.

Or, they have a strong need to be liked by, or have a need to please, everyone who ventures into their sphere, and assume their partner will be okay with that because their partner loves them as they are.

In other cases, there’s a deeper reason, such as they don’t like spending time with their partner (for varied reasons).

Either way, the non-offending partner usually ends up becoming frustrated and annoyed having to ‘wait their turn’ to spend some time with their partner.  Over time these feelings can turn to bitterness and anger, and can eventually lead to a relationship-ending crisis.

It’s sad because partners should ideally be each other’s best friend, not ‘ships in the night’.  I don’t mean they should suffocate each other by spending every minute together.  I just mean they should almost always have their partner as their number one priority.

(Note:  For this article I have used the commonly-accepted hierarchal totem pole structure (i.e. higher is better), though I am aware Native Indians constructed totem poles with the  most important figures on the bottom, as they bear the weight of all the other figures, and are at the viewer’s eye level.)

What are the issues for which most people seek assistance?

  • Relationship break-ups
  • Constantly fighting with your partner
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • Communication problems with your partner or child
  • Difficulty parenting toddlers or teens
  • Pre-marriage counselling
  • A child misbehaving
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Family counselling
  • Wanting to separate from their partner amicably
  • Helping the children cope after a relationship break-up
  • Trouble staying in relationships
  • HSC stress for students and their families
  • Relationship commitment issues
  • Problems at work
  • Couple counselling
  • Difficulties with step-children
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Problems with in-laws
  • Substance addiction
  • Facing major life changes
  • Making new life choices
  • Relationship counselling