RELATIONSHIPS ARE ALWAYS A TIMELY ISSUE ESPECIALLY AS THE GRAY DAYS OF WINTER GIVE WAY TO SPRING AND OUR “FANCIES TURN TO THOUGHTS OF LOVE”!
So often in relationship counseling I see people blaming their partners instead of looking inside themselves. I hope this article encourages spring cleaning of our relationship skills as well as our houses!!
Spring has arrived and many people’s thought turn to love and relationships. There are many obvious advantages to finding a relationship partner – physical, economic, social – but another significant advantage is that relationships allow us to come to terms with many of our own personal issues.
It is true that the families we come from (our families of origin) have a profound influence on how we will behave in the relationships we create for ourselves in adulthood. How many times have you heard the phrase, “You are acting just like your father (or mother)”. Or, “I can’t believe that I am saying the same things my mother (or father) said”. Sometimes we find ourselves acting toward our partner, or ever a friend, in the same inappropriate way we have acted before, as if there were a repetitive pattern in play. And if we look closely enough, we might discover that we have the same pattern of difficulty in every one of the relationships, as if we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
A COGNITIVE APPROACH
For most of us, our parents did the best job they could with the skills that they had. However, there is no parenting text book and many of us already recognize that there are flaws in our thinking or gaps in our learning, when it comes to having good relationship skills. Our thoughts are the filter through which we interpret all the events in our life and our style of thinking comes from our early experiences as well as the teaching of our parents and significant others. Whenever we have problems in a relationship we must look not only at how we feel and what the other person did, but we must closely examine our thinking at the time of a negative encounter.
Because our parents are so instrumental in how we learn to think we may often find ourselves not only repeating their words, but replaying their thoughts inside our heads. When we find ourselves doing that we must ask ourselves if these thoughts are accurate and if they really reflect what is going on for us in the present. It is important to stop and think before we respond. Ask yourself, “Are the negative feelings and thoughts I am experiencing now an accurate reflection of what if going on for me, or am I just replaying an old tape from an unresolved issue?”
FANTASY OF IDEAL LOVE
Some theories say that we are attracted to a person who carries both the positive and negative qualities of our parent or caregiver. We carry an image around with us of who our perfect partner will be – and we search for a person with these traits. This image often becomes our view of what ideal love should be.
Over time, however, reality intrudes and our adult selves begin to see that our parents too were not perfect. Yet here we are married to someone who may encompass some of their less than stellar qualities. According to theory, this is expected and predictable.
For example, if we had a chaotic parent, we might find happiness at last in a partner who gives us a feeling of security. This is the partner’s positive trait. But then the negative parts creep into the relationship. He or she will not always be there on time, or tell the truth, or in other ways provide us with the security we need. Nobody is perfect, and sometimes our partners will indeed engage in behavior that dredges up our old fear of chaos. In fact, because we need to work on our issues with chaos, we may even perceive the presence of chaos where it doesn’t really exist. We accuse our once-beloved partners of threatening our feeling of security. We may even blame our partners for not understanding us at all or for deliberately trying to undermine the relationship.
Many people report that they seem to have the same problems time after time in relationships. The same problems emerge regardless of who the other person is. This fact suggests that the problem resides in the individual, not in the choice of partner.
Many people would rather breakup than work through their relationship issues. Unfortunately this deprives them of the opportunity to develop good interpersonal skills, to make successful connections and ultimately to find commitment and love. (Note, however, there are times when breading up is advisable, as in situations where physical or sexual abuse is present.) Rather than searching for the right partner, it might be more helpful to think of being the right partner.
What is the impact of our childhood events in our choice of partner? How does our own thinking contribute to our making the same mistakes again and again? Are we being sensitive and empathic enough to understand how our partner feels? What does a mature relationship look like?
THE HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
- Both partners acknowledge that childhood events may effect their relationship. They make an attempt to understand how these issues developed and how they influence the relationship.
- Each partner owns up to his or her own faults and talks about them freely with the other. Each partner identifies what he or she needs in the relationship, within reason – and the other provides those things unconditionally.
- Each partner is seen as a whole, complete person striving to live an individual life as fully as possible. The two partners have equality in the relationship with open dialogue between them.
- The partners understand that when they feel uncomfortable, they need to engage in constructive communication. They don’t engage in acting out behavior such as withdrawing from their partner or looking outside of the relationship to get their needs for intimacy met
- Both partners agree to avoid blaming or criticizing each other – and they engage in constructive communication instead.
- Anger is recognized as an expression of pain, and the partners agree to accept each other’s anger and other emotions. However, they also agree not to dump their anger on each other. They recognize that anger must be contained and expressed constructively.
- The partners in a healthy relationship develop their own strengths rather than relying on the other to provide them. Both partners strive toward wholeness – themselves and in each other.
Rather than leaving a relationship in order to find yourself, it may be possible to find yourself through a relationship. A mature relationship is based on commitment, awareness, and mutual respect. It is healing and it leads to genuine wholeness for each of the partners. We recognize what our partner needs and we provide these things gently, lovingly, and without conditions.
Loving and being loved are important goals in life. Whether we are talking about the unconditional love for a partner or the unconditional positive regard for a friend, the same skills are required. Delving into issues that may have prevented good relationships takes courage and is a difficult process. It is best accomplished with the help of a professional therapist. The rewards however can be immeasurable. If you have been stuck in a series of relationships with the same destructive patterns emerging time and time again, it might be best to put relationships on the back burner and focus on yourself, your choices and your role in making relationships work for you.