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4. If we just learned to communicate better...
This is the most common misconception I hear from couples, the belief that the problem lies in unhealthy communication patterns. On the surface, this is true. However, we tend to have many levels of communication: what we say, what we really mean and how we feel. These levels do not always match and the last two are often hidden from our partner and sometimes even from ourselves. You are not supposed to know how to identify and change these communication patterns on your own. Sometimes couples think a counselor is there to "police" the relationship but I see my role as someone who can help both of you understand the meaning and feelings behind your communication. Once you have these insights, changing what you say will naturally follow.
2. Relationships are about performance.
Generally, we all have strong beliefs about performance for ourselves and our partner in almost every area of the relationship. Think about the mental checklist you run through to evaluate how your relationship is going. How many of those items are one way or another linked to you or your partner doing something well or poorly?
Love and understanding have nothing to do with performance. They exist even when someone is “bad” at showing you because “bad” is relative to your performance standards. Performance gets affected by stress, mood, general life satisfaction, motivation, skills and anxiety. And the more you stress about yours or your partner’s the less you and they will perform. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask for what you need or get what you need. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have expectations. But generally speaking, it’s not what your relationship can do for you but what YOU can do for the relationship. As Hedy Schleifer puts it, your relationship does not exist in you or in your partner, it exists in the space between the two of you. She calls it a sacred space. And when we demand or criticize we pollute the space.
I have found that often the reason why relationships are conflictual, unfulfilling or failing comes down to unrealistic expectations around relationships or marriage. We have been told finding a partner is important and we know it helps combat our loneliness but we were never taught relationship skills that can help us be successful. Here are some beliefs we go into relationships with:
1. Take me as I am.
Most of us put a lot of effort in the beginning of a relationship but not nearly enough effort later in it. Typically, after a year or so of dating, you have an idea where the relationship is going. And typically, if you feel secure that this is something serious and it will end up in marriage and/or some serious commitment, you may stop trying. When you first start dating, you care about your body, how you look, how you dress, how you speak, etc. You try not to disclose too much about yourself, just enough to keep the curiosity and interest alive. You may even lie about interests, habits and that porn collection in your computer. You edit your disclosure around previous relationships and your responsibility in their failure. You want to make a good impression so you talk politics or philosophy or claim to be a much better cook than you really are. Then with time, you stop because it’s too hard to keep it up. But, as David Schnarch puts it, marriage is not an excuse to get complacent and stop trying. Just because someone has committed to being with you, does not mean that you have no reason to grow and be the best you can be.
Of course, I think a relationship is only conducive to growth if there is some basic acceptance, respect and unconditional love for who your partner is. A person can only grow and mature in an emotionally safe relationship. Change is only possible through loving relationships.
3. Relationships should make me happy.
Yes. But before they do they might just challenge you. Even the happiest couples have, at one point or another, wondered if they married the wrong person for them. Relationships are about joy and pain. Conflict can be transformed into growth with the right skills. You can say “I don’t like this, I have married the wrong person, I need to leave them and move on.” Or you can say “This is causing me pain but it’s growing pains. How can I grow?”
Moreover, if you invest in your own happiness you will be a better partner. Don’t stop doing the things that bring you joy. Your relationship is not enough and putting all the burden of your happiness on it can cause stress. The balance between independence and dependence can be tricky but not impossible to find.
Elvita Kondili, LPC © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The Good Therapy
anxiety depression therapy charlotte
5200 Park Road
Charlotte, NC 28209