So I’ve been studying a lot about psychology and different therapy methods and such, so much that I find I am analyzing people and situations in my every day life. One of the topics that I am absolutely fascinated about is relationships and the dynamics of our behaviors in relationships.
Successful relationships require hard work. Every relationship will be faced with challenges, some small and some that really tests the strength of the couple; most relationship challenges can be overcome with trust, open communication, and a willingness to change if needed; however, some relationships are also doom for failure, and no amount of therapy can “fix” it. These barriers are often left unstated and ignored, leading to resentment, contempt, and a general unhappiness that not only affects the already troubled relationship but can also spill over into our work, family, friends, and other aspects of our lives.
The most common relationship issues involve financial difficulties, communication barriers, routine arguments, and lack of trust. Even marriage itself can be the cause of conflict for an unmarried couple, when one partner wants to marry and the other partner is reluctant to. This is often the case in long-term relationships where many women start comparing their relationship to others, and they feel the family and societal pressure to get married; especially as they approach their late twenties, and even more so when they’re reached their thirties.
Having chronic conflicts in the relationship can produce stressors that can cause mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety; it can also affect self-esteem and even physical health, as well as contribute to addictive behaviors, like substance abuse. Relationship problems can also unintentionally affect family members, especially children, who may repeatedly witness relationship conflict between their parents, thus developing them to have their own relationship issues to work through in their adulthood.
Couples usually seek counseling for their relationship when the constant fighting has become too overwhelming to be able to cope independently, or to save the relationship; or even to fight in front of a “referee” so that they can get the sought after confirmation of who was right or wrong.
Case Example of a Relationship Conflict
Jane and Joe enter counseling because they have been fighting often. Inquiry reveals the fights are verbal but not overly emotional, it has never been physical. The fights have so far been considered “healthy”, with no traded insults or direct intent to hurt one another; yet, it seems that the fighting has become routine over the same topics. Joe feels the pressure of Jane wanting to get marry. It’s a big commitment, and although he loves Jane, he’s not sure if he’s ready for that just yet. Jane feels insecure about the relationship; she feels Joe is dragging his feet in regards to marriage, but they have been having somewhat of a good communication in regards to getting married. However, lately they’ve been fighting over an incident that has caused a rift in their relationship. An ex has contacted Joe, and Jane feels unsure about how Joe reacted to it. Joe responded to the attempted contact, and this has Jane questioning whether or not there is unresolved issues that Joe needs to work out with his ex.
During the sessions, there are many ways that a counselor can go about trying to help Jane and Joe, including finding out what the “family of origin issues” are. As the saying goes, everything starts from home — much of who we are have been developed from our childhood environment. From our family we learn many of our values, which can directly affect our behavior and actions; as adults we can either reject our family values or enforce them. An example of this is the belief that children who grew up in abusive homes are more likely to be abusers themselves, or be in abusive relationships, thus continuing the cycle. Our self-identity is also defined by our family, which can dictate a strong self if we were loved and felt safe within our family, or a damaged sense of self if love and safety were not shown during our childhood.
When children lack a healthy environment to base love and relationships on, they develop survival skills that are attune to what they perceive is “normal”. Jane shows signs of having commitment issues, despite pushing for marriage. Jane’s family origin issues were revealed to have been a very unhealthy and unsafe one. Of course, since the child’s behavior isn’t the cause of a parent’s failure to love, this created the personality that is now Jane’s.
A client may recognize their family wasn’t “perfect”, but for many individuals it is still difficult to confront our childhood, especially our family. We often feel loyalty to our family. It can be stressful in itself to examine our upbringing, but often it is necessary to get to the roots of our personalities. However, it should be noted that family experiences doesn’t contribute or explain everything about who we are; genetics often play a role as well, including external factors outside of the family, like friends and school.
Couples bring their extended families into their relationships, whether consciously or unconsciously. The issues that we struggle with in our childhood contributes to our adult personalities. If we sought out our parents’ attention through perfection as a child, we may well continue to strive to achieve perfection for our mate. Additionally, we may put our own unrealistic expectations on a partner that is unaware, unable and ultimately unwilling, to live up to these irrational expectations. Bringing unaddressed family of origin issues into a relationship can create problems that are often confusing and overwhelming to both partners. In order to fully understand the behaviors we exhibit in our adult relationships, we must first become familiar with why we developed those behaviors in our childhood.
Joe stated that he wants to “wait for the right time” to get marry. He feels that he is not yet financially secured enough to support a wife and ultimately a family. Joe’s family history reveals that he comes from a large family, where finances were always a cause of concern, as well as his father being the main provider for the family. With Joe, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) would be the best approach; it deals with the here and now, and puts emphasis on the present, not the past. Although Joe’s values might have come from his childhood, in his situation it is best to focus on the present for a solution.
Joe needs to change his current cognitive outlook on what he perceives as his reality. Unless Joe wins the lottery, it is unlikely that he will ever feel financially secured enough at any point in his life. Other contributing factors to Joe’s values is gender-roles and societal expectations; the man is the provider of the family. This puts great pressure on a man to be able to support a family, and is often one of the focusing reasons why men are reluctant to get married. However, with CBT Joe can change his current thinking process — which is that the concept of the “right time” is unrealistic. There will never be a right time, financial stresses beyond his control will always come up — the stock market crash, he lost his job, he got injured and is now disabled, the car broke down, the roof caved in, the pipes broke — basically Joe needs to realize that he will probably never be financially secured enough to not worry about money, but he has to learn to be okay with that.
(This psycho-babble, Sigmund Freud stuff is actually really interesting, right!?)