by Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R
Relationships are the cornerstones of our lives. We discover and come to understand ourselves through our relationship to all that surrounds us – our family, our environment, our peers, co-workers and the list goes on.
It is a natural and healthy human need to want to be loved, liked, appreciated and accepted and to reciprocate these feelings in a trusting, loving intimate relationship. Simply put, healthy, satisfying relationships nourish and enrich our lives. Yet, because we are all so uniquely individual ourselves, and because we each come with our own distinct personal temperament, our own distinct personal family history, our individual set of wants, needs, and preferences, healthy satisfying relationships with others can seem hard to find and build and can wind up feeling elusive and just out of our grasp. In fact, relationships, and here’s the catch…even healthy relationships…can often feel messy, confusing, irritating and just pointless to pursue because they can bring up too many uncomfortable feelings that we’d rather not have to deal with.
When things get messy or irritating, usually the first inclination is NOT to stay and work through the mess. Oh heavens no! Why would we want to do that? We tend to favor the thinking that the mess or irritation is someone else’s fault or just too big to work on. So when things begin to unwind and go down a less than happy path we tend to employ two faulty strategies.
Sometimes we bolt, to run from and turn away from the discomfort. We do this either by physically leaving and ending the relationship prematurely or by emotionally shutting off, closing down or avoiding or glossing over the issues, which usually only serves to create dysfunctional communication patterns and a maladaptive relationship.
A second commonly used faulty strategy is to blame or accuse the other for “making the mess” and/or try to change the other person to meet our conscious and/or unconscious criteria for how they “should” behave in this relationship. In this strategy we are firm believers that once they-the other makes these changes, the relationship will work of course, for I am the innocent party, right?! This stance usually tends to drive a deeper divide between two people and support a delusional perspective in the one who believes they have done little or nothing wrong.
In many situations, the discomfort that arises between two people is the point where a deeper intimacy can be reached, rather than a tip-off to cut and run. Sure, there are times when it is necessary to leave a relationship, such as a pathological, violent or a verbally, physically or emotionally abusive or neglectful situation in which partners are intentionally hurting or causing direct harm to one another. In these cases, these types of situations are strong signs to move away from what we could call a “toxic” relationship and instead focus on healing and understanding why we were drawn to the other and/or stayed in the relationship first place.
How do you know when to stick it out with the disruptions and discomfort that is bound to arise in a relationship or to cut your losses, move on and heal and try again with another person? Contrary to popular public opinion, there are no black and white “rules” so to speak when solving relationship issues, as every relationship is unique with its own set of complexities. One way NYC Therapy Group begins to help our clients who are struggling in a relationship, is by exploring and clarifying what is workable. We start by asking are the two people sitting before us able to be open to, and process through, the hurt and misunderstandings in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of one another, and hence arrive at a deeper level of intimacy and love? Once we can answer this foundational question, the real work begins.