Relationship issues: therapy with individuals or with couples
22nd September, 2008
Many people may begin to notice that intimate relationships with partners or friends are unsatisfying or fraught with difficulties. You may realise you have a certain ‘type’ that you are attracted to or discover, often painfully, that you have a pattern of relating to others in unhelpful ways.
This can take the form of engaging in repetitive arguments where the root cause is never resolved. Old grievances are brought to the surface each time so that even a fairly simple disagreement turns to dispute.
New ways of relating
You can stop this cycle by gaining insight into how you contribute to this and find new ways to relate. The cause of this is often that we get stuck in playing out a role - usually this is done without really being fully aware because we have learnt to minimise the importance of our feelings.
You may play out roles in one of three ways:
- Perhaps you habitually ‘Rescue’ others putting your own needs aside for them but then feeling resentful or ignored later. You may know what you want but give others’ needs a higher rating of importance. Or you may ask yourself ‘if only I knew what I really wanted because saying “I want whatever you want” just frustrates my partner’.
- You fall into a Victim role feeling unheard, minimised and thinking others have hurt or betrayed you
- You take on the role of Persecutor, belittling, attacking or undermining others shortcomings/faults. This can be accompanied by a sense of being let down or of righteous indignation
You may operate habitually from a ‘favourite’ one of these positions or even move through all three of them in the course of a single conversation. When we do this we are playing Games (ways of gaining recognition through others that are inauthentic because our true selves are minimised). These are never intentional on your part or the other persons, in fact by definition we are only in a Game when we don’t have full awareness. These Games (named by pioneer psychotherapist Eric Berne in the 1960’s) can take the form of thinking and behaviour patterns such as;
- If It Weren’t for You (“I’d be able to..........”)
- Now I’ve Got You …., where we feel a satisfaction at having caught out the other person in the act of manipulation (“aha, see I knew you wouldn’t do it”)
- After All I’ve Done For You, so you feel hard done by, betrayed even
- Wooden-leg, implying ‘but I have to be helped, I can’t do it alone
- Uproar, where angry arguments are a substitute for healthy negotiation
In therapy you can:
- Discover the roots of these behaviours. For instance you may find that you are replaying old patterns through the current relationship and see how your family of origin has narrowed your options for relating and negotiating your way through conflict.
- Discover if you have different value systems. Do you have the same opinion of what’s important in life? What if your cultural backgrounds or the style of your families differ? Does this prevent you agreeing on the basis for cooperating? For instance your partner is a dreamer, ever-hopeful, whilst you are a ‘realist’
- Learn to deal with conflict. What is a fair argument? Or a compromise? Do you sacrifice your needs more than the others
- Find what the balance between you consists of? What do you both bring to the relationship? Is one of you seemingly more dependent on the other? Are you seen as ‘clingy‘ or the opposite, evasive?
- Find greater intimacy. How do you take care of one another? Or have fun, or meet each other’s sexual needs?
You can work through your problems together as a couple or attend individually. Often people who are in individual therapy change the way they relate to others. Even if at heart you feel the relationship is over, you may want help ending it healthily, so you don’t repeat the same scenario in the next relationship.
TA today: a New introduction to Transactional Analysis Stewart and Joines
Brief therapy with Couples Gilbert and Shmukler
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