Relationships - should I stay or should I go?
Relationships can be times of happiness, but they can also be times of conflict, disagreements and feelings of being unsettled and confused. Sometimes we can find these periods difficult and hard to move on from, if things are going wrong.
What does my relationship look like?
Often, the first step in relationship counselling is being aware of what is happening in your relationship. This could be observing events like arguments that happen again and again. It has been said that couples have only one fight: the problem is they have it many times over.
Counselling can help you discover these recurring patterns of behaviour. Having this knowledge can give you the confidence and self-belief to think of alternatives which may be more helpful. This, in turn, can then lead to emotionally closer and more meaningful relationships.
Do you communicate to those close in your life with respect and honesty, allowing each other the space for self-expression? Or do you often feel that you are the one to blame? Feeling guilty by taking on not only the responsibility of your emotions but also that of your partner’s in order not to upset them, can lead to feelings that you are the "bad" person in the relationship. Attempts to try to change your partner will not help you to feel better about yourself or change the situation.
Getting your message across to your partner in a clear and assertive way and setting out what behaviours are acceptable to you can enhance your self-respect. This, in turn, can increase your confidence in communicating your needs to your partner and allowing them to express their needs.
Transactional Analysis (TA) is a theory which helps you to understand how you communicate and allows you to identify your role in arguments. Arguments can be a way to allow self-expression and to then find a mutually-beneficial way forward. Sometimes, actions that appear on the surface as caring may be conscious or subconscious ways to manipulate and dominate the other person; having ways to explore the different types of communication can help you to understand what is happening in your relationship.
TA describes each of us possessing three ego states, and we all experience these differently and to varying extents. It can be helpful to identify which one dominates for you. Ego states encompass our behaviour, thoughts and feelings.
- The Parent ego state often includes attributes copied from parents or parental figures, such as teachers. If you start thinking or saying the words ‘should’ or ‘ought’, then this is an indicator that you are in this ego state. This ego state can be beneficial, for example by giving guidance to your partner in a nurturing role. However, too much of the Parent ego state can lead to controlling relationships. If you hear yourself saying I ‘should’ be working long hours, then this can result in hostility, when your partner says they want to have more time with you leading to possible feelings of frustration or even anger. This can then lead to distance, and resentment building in your relationship by having different values towards work.
- The Adult ego state includes behaviour, thoughts, and feelings which are direct responses to the present time, being our rational and calm "adult" self. We make decisions based upon facts, weighing up the evidence, and then act accordingly to what makes sense to us at that moment. This may be appropriate at work by acting impartial based upon facts, but can be seen as ‘cold’ and unfeeling when ignoring emotions of those close to you.
- The Child ego state represents our behaviour, thoughts and feelings experienced from our childhood. This may be some action we took as a child which made sense to us then. This state again can be positive or negative; for example, keeping quiet when hearing your parents argue for fear of making things worse, or being frightened or overwhelmed by them. If these actions are continued as adults, it may result in you withdrawing from arguments, which can lead to your partner feeling frustrated and arguments not getting resolved. Frustration can then increase over time, building up and finally erupting, leading to destructive outbursts in the relationship. These outbursts can then be difficult to overcome by the recipient. The positive side of this state can be spontaneous activity resulting in fun and excitement in your relationship.
Becoming aware of what’s happening and learning new ways of thinking and acting can be the difference between a relationship growing or breaking down.
The number one rule is to take care of yourself. There may be a time when relationships can survive periods of separation, but this may be difficult if you have greatly suffered emotionally. A break-up may be your partner’s decision and not your own. This may be difficult to understand and accept, leading to frustration and anger.
Remember: a relationship is made up of two people, each taking responsibility for their own actions and decisions. This can be something we don’t want to think about, and are wanting to do anything to try and make the relationship work. This can result in confusion in the relationship, especially if the other is finding it hard to walk away due to not wanting to upset their partner.
It is always important to have self-care. It is good to find time to do what you enjoy, respect yourself and to account for your own needs and remember who you are. You may have others in your life that rely upon you, such as children; this may help you to have a purpose in the most distressing times.
Thinking of what helps is a big first step in helping you to manage such times. Examples of healthy activities include eating healthily, regular exercise, practising meditation, meeting friends and keeping to routines. It is also important to slow down to give yourself time while you are grieving the loss of your relationship. You may be feeling more forgetful, unable to concentrate and more tearful than you normally are; allow these feelings and be kind to yourself.
Using CBT to help with a break-up
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a good way to help you explore and assess your thoughts and actions. It enables you to replace the old negative ways of thinking and behaving with new more constructive ways when faced with challenging situations. CBT uses strategies tailored to you, which can show you a way forward so you are in charge of your direction.
With every step forward your confidence increases. Confronting our negative thoughts and assumptions can be uncomfortable and even painful - however, without changing anything, how can you expect the future to be different? It feels empowering to be the author of this change and provide new opportunities for you.
Mindfulness techniques enable you to stay in the present and can help you to feel more grounded. Skills such as appreciating the moment, and activities including walking, can prevent your mind from having obsessive thoughts about your relationship. Nature can be very healing as it provides something constant in a permanently changing world. Learning these techniques can give you stability during times of overwhelming feelings of stress and uncertainty.
Think about what you would like, and take time out for you, as you are important. Act upon your feelings and remember that doing something different may be ok.
Do you have a healthy relationship? Try this test.
Ask yourself these questions and be honest with yourself, and you will know the answer to whether you have a healthy relationship.
1. Are my physical and emotional needs being met in the relationship?
2. Do you have flexibility, can you change arrangements if the need arises without an argument?
3. Can you express yourself without fear of criticism, blame or needing to justify?
4. Is there respect given to each other in the relationship?
5. Can you be open and honest and be yourself around your partner and are they accepting of who you are?
6. Are you able to be assertive and say no sometimes, without feelings of guilt when your partner becomes upset?
7. Do you enjoy spending time with your partner?
8. Do you fear the loss of your partner’s family more than the loss of your partner if you separate?
9. Do you see a positive future together with your partner?
10. Are you afraid of being alone?
What do I want my relationship to look like?
Counselling can help you to assess your relationship and decide what you want to work towards in your relationship.
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