“We have something to tell you: we’re getting married!” — Couple
How are we supposed to be ready to handle this?
Nothing forces people towards personal growth the way a relationship does, the biggest mistake we can make in a relationship is to ignore the call to develop ourselves. Those personal changes help to fuel us in our relationships, make us more creative and flexible, more loving, more respectful, and more fun with our partner. Make no mistake about it: relationship therapy takes personal changes, in addition to changes you make together, in order to develop a better working relationship.
Many people who are struggling in their most important relationships feel like they are dealing with a communication problem with their partner because they aren’t able to solve their problems with words. People may blame each other entirely for the problems in the relationship. They may find themselves getting heated and angry easily and quickly even over small differences and disagreements. People in close relationships often feel extremely sensitive to conflict and differences with each other, that intensity makes them explode easily with each other. Some people know how to push their partner’s buttons but they can’t seem to stop themselves and don’t know why they do it.
Most of us are born with a deep desire to have loving committed relationships, but we aren’t born knowing how to navigate the intense push and pull of the often contradictory forces we experience in a relationship. For example, we might experience an intense fluctuating desire to have deep togetherness and then suddenly tip and crave individuality and distance. We don’t come equipped to handle the consequences of trying to fulfill those desires for ourselves or for our partners, many people feel they have lost part of themselves in relationships, or fear it so strongly they struggle to maintain closeness.
Relationships aren’t easy. Each relationship is unique, bringing two (or more) individual histories and family patterns into a complicated emotional web of needs, desires, hopes, hurts, and fears that can inadvertently become a tangled mess. The fact is that most partners will struggle at some points: they will have broken hearts and they will have terrible disagreements with each other. Often people in real distress have little idea why they feel so misunderstood, so hurt, and so unable to get what they want from the person they love. And they think their partner should bloody well know what to do about it! Therapy can help.
People often seek therapy when they are already in significant distress, or have been for many years already, but that isn’t the only reason to seek relationship therapy. During sessions and when you’re practicing skills with each other, you can:
Enhance intimacy and communication
Solve difficult personal differences
Explore expectations of married or committed life relationships
Have support through divorce and amicable separation
Negotiate parenting and co-parenting differences
Develop deeper understanding and empathy with your partner
Resolve conflicts and reduce interpersonal emotional volatility
Ameliorate destructive relationship behaviours and patterns
Address issues of infidelity and repair emotional bonds
Support each other through grief and loss
Repairing the Emotional Bond
In my practice, one the most common focuses of relationship therapy is the repairing of the emotional bond between partners. If you or your partner is currently feeling resentful, angry, or hurt to the point of being demoralized, discouraged, disconnected, and distrusting—this is likely a good starting point. As with most forms of relationship therapy, this begins with the development and practice of communication skills and techniques to help couples talk to each other in clearer and more effective ways. This helps reduce patterns of misunderstanding, criticism, defensiveness, and antagonism. Often couples notice that working with improved communication begins to soften their reactivity but hasn’t solved the problems yet.
Relationship problems don’t exist because of poor communication, they exist because people have different emotional and mental ideas of what a relationship should be, they have different needs, and wants, and desires. They also have different personalities, different tastes, different habits, and different hobbies. And some even have the nerve to leave their dirty socks in the kitchen sink.
Rebuild intimacy and trust through shared commitment and understanding
Learn to support each other’s individual growth by changing reaction to receptivity
Put love into practice, not just words
Expose deep patterns that cause an emotional drive to lash out when we don’t get what we want and don’t feel heard
Explore how attachment style causes differences in how we handle tension in the relationship
Help each other sooth and heal painful past experiences
Discuss difficult issues with more respect for each other’s different views
Heal from insecurity that drives an anxious and jealous need to control
Reignite and explore sexual intimacy with each other
Providing support to relationships in distress has been the greatest honour of my professional career. Relationship therapy isn’t successful for everyone, but for those with the commitment, desire, and determination, there are methods to patch things up and make improvements. When we are able to work together and support each other’s potential to grow and learn, as well as to put aside our own ego, we can make significant leaps in our relationship.