Relating & Relationship Difficulties
While our relationships with our family, friends, and/or our partner can provide some of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences throughout our lives, they can also at times involve the most difficult and painful experiences.
Relationships are not easy. Issues do, and will arise in our relationships, and in our relating with others. Everyone is different. We have different views on things, approach things differently, and things will have their own individual meanings particular to each of us (as determined by our own childhood experience).
But it is largely the handling of these issues and situations that will determine how much of a problem they become. The reality is that often individuals do not have the capacities, and/or the skills, to understand, to manage, and/or to adequately resolve the issues and difficulties that will inevitably arise.
The nature and extent of our relating (and our subsequent relationships), is very much determined by our relating/relationships with parents/caregivers in early childhood, when our sense of self (personality) was forming. The extent of our capacities (including emotional), and/or our skills (such as communicating, negotiating, problem solving etc.) will be highly influenced/determined by our parent’s capacities and skills – experienced in how they related to/with us, and how they related with each other (modelling). We can only know (and do) what we have known (and have done).
The less the capacity and skill that the individual has, the less the individual will be able to understand, manage, and resolve relationship issues. And one might even suggest, the more ‘issues’ the individual might have.
For some there may even be an inevitability for particular issues arising. Given that, to the extent that we are unconsciously drawn to ‘choose’ a partner (or friends) that we feel comfortable with … who will feel comfortable, will be who is ‘familiar’ to us, and not who is necessarily best or healthy for us. For example, someone who was emotionally neglected as a child is likely to find/have a partner who isn’t available/there for them emotionally … which over time, may become a critical issue in the relationship.
Common relating and relationship issues/difficulties that people experience, and may subsequently seek help for, include:
- Difficulty around feelings – such as difficulty with the actual ‘feeling the feelings’ (involving detachment; a lack of aliveness; emptiness); or difficulty regulating or managing feelings;
- Difficulty around communication and expressing oneself – difficulty communicating and expressing oneself and one’s feelings in a calm, honest, open, and respectful manner (particularly when one is upset);
- Difficulty handling and managing disagreement and conflict;
- Difficulty connecting deeply with others; difficulty around ‘intimacy’ (forming and/or maintaining a close and caring connection – not just with positive feelings, but also when negative feelings are involved).
These difficulties can then result in relationship dissatisfaction; communication breakdown; conflict and upsetting arguments; infidelity/affairs; relationship break-ups; difficulty finding fulfilling relationships; and/or difficulties with commitment.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be a useful approach to help with relationship difficulties, by:
- Assisting with correcting irrational and distorted thinking and beliefs about oneself, one’s partner, the relationship, and about relationships in general;
- Helping to develop (further) relating/relationship skills in the area of communication, negotiation, and problem solving;
- Assisting with acceptance (where appropriate); and
- Assisting with emotional management (particularly anger management).
However, in my view, psychodynamic psychotherapy is a more pertinent and useful approach for achieving fundamental and substantial improvement in the area of relating and relationship difficulties. Particularly given that the therapy approach itself places fundamental emphasis on relating and relationship. Thereby, the individual learns and develops through and from the experience of the therapy process itself (from the doing).
In the short term, an initial exploration of the issues and difficulties can assist with understanding what is going on, and possibly even with understanding the causes, such that appropriate options as to what can be done about the situation be explored.
With more long-term work, psychodynamic psychotherapy can assist individuals to:
- Develop their overall self-knowledge, self-awareness, and self-understanding;
- Develop their capacity to ‘be understanding’ (of themselves, as well as of others);
- Develop their capacity to work out what part is about the other’s behaviour/experience, what part is about the relationship ‘fit’, and what part they themselves bring to the situation (from their own past) … and therefore to develop the capacity to ‘own’ and take responsibility for what/how much they themselves contribute;
- Develop their capacity for (emotionally) managing themselves (self-regulation); and
- Develop their capacity for communicating effectively and relating effectively – remaining connected to oneself, as well as with the other – to adequately and sufficiently resolve the issue(s).
It is in the respectful and caring resolve of the issue that the relationship becomes closer.
Relationship difficulties are upsetting and often painful, and affect us on many levels. While seeking therapy and working on relating and relationship difficulties can be hard, and can be ‘hard work’, it is an opportunity for personal growth, as well as an opportunity for much improved and satisfying relationships and quality of life.