Relationships can be tricky, even at the best of times. They can also be a great source of comfort, restoration, and growth. As a social species relationships are an innate part of who we are and an important part of how we regulate our nervous systems. But why can relationships be so tricky at times?
Relationships serve many different purposes, from giving and receiving care, comfort, and support, to fulfilling our reproductive and sexual needs, to providing us with opportunities to experience new things and to discover more about ourselves. The fact is however that when we start a new relationship we bring into it all of the baggage of our past - our old hurts, our fears and anxieties, our expectations and our needs. As does our partner! And these can be a source of common ground or a source of conflict.
"When we start a new relationship we bring into it all of the baggage of our past - our old hurts, our fears and anxieties, our expectations and our needs."
It’s inevitable therefore that within this complex experience we are often regularly confronted with obstacles and challenges that threaten the very foundations of the relationship and even our sense of self. Sometimes we rise to the challenge, we adjust our behavior, our expectations, and our goals, or we successfully communicate our needs and make progress together. At other times however we encounter friction, we shutdown, or we find aspects of our personalities that appear resistant to change.
Change is the nature of life and relationships. While our core identity persists throughout our lives we never stay the same. We grow and develop and change as a result. This process of change can be unsettling for the relationship and it’s not uncommon for people in long-term relationships to experience great highs and lows. It can be as if we experience a plateau in which everything is working well and then suddenly we encounter a new hurdle that temporarily throws our relationship into a state of turbulence.
"It can be as if we experience a plateau in which everything is working well and then suddenly we encounter a new hurdle that temporarily throws our relationship into a state of turbulence."
There are two hugely significant psychological principals that affect everybody and therefore everybody’s relationship. Sadly these are little known by the general public meaning that relationship conflict can be a profound source of stress and confusion. The two psychological principals affecting everybody are your attributional style and your implicit schemas.
In psychology, 'attributional style' describes the way in which you appraise your self, your environment, other people, and the situations in which you find yourself. All the time we are receiving information from the environment and processing it through the lens of our attributional style. Rather than seeing things the way they are, we see them the way we think they are. Understandably many problems can arise when the way we think things are isn’t consistent with the way things are! We have a sense of certainty about how things are that can easily be misplaced due to the way we filter information in accordance with our beliefs.
Implicit schemas are unconscious rules for how to protect ourself that we typically learn in childhood through our interactions with others, such as parents, teachers, friends, and wider family members. Implicit schemas can cause you to act in ways that you don't understand. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “Why on earth do I keep acting like that?” then it’s quite likely that implicit schemas are triggering your behaviour at an unconscious level.
"If you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “Why on earth do I keep acting like that?” then it’s quite likely that implicit schemas are triggering your behaviour at an unconscious level."
Schemas are essentially learned survival instincts. For this reason they are remarkably resistant to any efforts to change them by a force of will. Not only that, but a schema is a part of your reality construct – your brain’s internal picture of what the world is like. We live in our schemas as if they were reality, when actually they are beliefs about reality we acquired through our early learning experiences. Trying to see our own schemas is like trying to point water out to a fish! Fortunately modern therapy techniques can help you not only identify the schemas that are causing the behaviour you’d like to change, but also help your erase and re-write them where necessary.
Admitting that you need help in a relationship or with a problem that is affecting your relationship is a big step and I respect you for looking for ways to move forward. Occasionally partners look for help for their spouses, which is perfectly OK. However while it may be the case that one person in the relationship needs more help than the other, where appropriate I occasionally ask both partners to join me for the initial consultation as this helps me get a feel for your relationship and get a better sense of what's happening and how I can help. It also means both parties have a voice and don't feel coerced into having treatment.
"Where appropriate I occasionally ask both partners to join me for the initial consultation as this helps me get a feel for your relationship and get a better sense of what's happening and how I can help."
Naturally females tend to be keener on resolving issues and getting help from an outside source, whereas males tend to be more withdrawn and reluctant to get help. If this is the case in your relationship, look at it like this chaps: I have no idea what to do when my car starts acting up, that's why I take it to a mechanic. I could ignore the problem, or I could try an fix it myself, but if I take it to a mechanic he'll take a quick look and give me a breakdown of what needs to be done to get it back on the road. That's exactly what I do. No judgement, no airy-fairy wishy-washy stuff, just straight-forward problem solving.
Before I risk sounding sexist, it goes without saying that it may be the other way around with the man being keener on getting help than his partner, but the analogy is still appropriate, and of course, similar dynamics can be at play in homosexual relationships.
Whether you wish to see me alone or with your partner why not get in touch to book your free initial consultation and join me at The Bristol Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy Clinic or online via Skype to have a chat about what's been going on. A lovely chap came to see me because the behaviour patterns that destroyed his first marriage were reoccurring and beginning to create problems with his new partner. He desperately wanted to change and had tried hard to change his behaviour by himself without success. He had this to say about his time with me:
I decided to see Sebastian after some Internet research. He seemed friendly and I thought the way he described his approach was what I needed. I was feeling stressed because of work, relationships, family and many other things. From my first session Sebastian changed what I thought about myself. It was a life changing experience.
E.A. - Relationship Problems