When our love relationships are working, they can be the source of our greatest joy.
When they are not, they can be the source of our deepest pain.
And when they’re somewhere in between, they can leave us longing for more.
Why do so many of us, so often, find it difficult to navigate our romantic relationships with success?
Relationships are challenging for a wide variety of reasons.
Our challenges may be any combination of our past experiences and trauma, social and cultural influences, media and pop culture stories, our own lack of clarity, and a general lack of skills or tools that support strong relationships.
- We each come to the table with our own set of trauma – trauma that we haven’t dealt with. When we haven’t done the work to heal our trauma, we expect the other person to heal our wounds, so to speak. We expect the other person to fill the gaps or holes within us. Essentially, when we haven’t started or completed our own work, we risk becoming work for someone else.
- We also come to the table with a set of rules from our “family of origin” that shape our expectations about how our partner is supposed to be based on how our parents were with us and with each other.
- We’re influenced, consciously and unconsciously, by our society or culture’s stereotypical gender roles. There can be underlying expectations that men are the providers and women are the caretakers. In spite of personal beliefs and attitudes, deep-rooted social stereotypes can add challenges to relationships
- From Disney movies and romantic comedies, to romance novels and pop music, we’re continuously exposed to stories of love that aren’t real, but still contribute to our expectations. We think love is like a fairy tale – we’re going to fall in love, everything is going to be magical and we’re going to have a great marriage that lasts. But that’s not really what love is. Love is an emotional bond where we feel safe and secure with another person. It is a bond that requires nurturing.
- So often relationships don’t work out because we’re not clear with ourselves about who we are or what we want. As a result, we can get into a relationship and then decide this isn’t actually what we want; meaning that the relationship is rather doomed from the beginning.
- Relationships take a certain set of skills in order to be successful. We didn’t learn “how to be good at relationships” in school and often our role models are also just flailing themselves. We often don’t have great role models in terms of the people around us. And TV or the media aren’t portraying relationships in a real way. Really relationships fail because people don’t know how to resolve conflict, communicate effectively, empathize with others, and nurture their partners.
Self protection can do more harm
When relationships aren’t working people go into a self-protection mode to avoid or prevent being hurt. But the things that they do when they’re trying to protect themselves are likely to be things that are harmful to their partners. It is common for partners to enter into blaming the other, instead of stepping into compassion, empathy, and curiosity about each others’ unmet needs.
Knowing how to repair your relationship makes it stronger
It’s natural to pursue pleasure over pain. Therefore, it’s understandable to want to run away from pain, or move on from a painful relationship. However, in life, pain is inevitable. It’s suffering that is optional.
It is inevitable that old issues, past hurts and wounds, are going to come up. Learning how to deal with the hurt and pain, working through it so we can express it and feel it, allows us to repair those pieces. We are only connected in our relationship about a third of the time. We’re disconnected about a third of the time. And for the other third of the time, we’re focused on repair. The most important of these is repair.
A good relationship is not the absence of pain. A good relationship is one in which a couple gets really good at how to repair because that is what strengthens the relationship.
Pain not addressed repeats itself & creates more distance
If we don't address the pain in our relationship, we are going to repeat it. We end up in unconscious cycles of hurting each other. These cycles of pain create distance which comes to feel unbearable. Couples get to the place where their relationships end, not because they don't care or because they say “I don't love you anymore.” They eventually were unable to cross the distance created by hurt.
Why can't we just do the repair work ourselves?
Why is counselling important?
Counselors are neutral third parties We are here to advocate for a healthy relationship and not to take sides. It’s important for clients to get emotional support from their friends and family. However, friends and family tend to have a vested interest or a biased viewpoint, because they don’t want to lose their relationship with you. They may also not have the skills, knowledge, and experience that a counsellor would have.
In terms of building the skill set that’s needed to support, repair and create successful relationships, it takes more than information, such as what can be learned from reading several books. As counsellors, while we’re helping couples to be seen and heard, helping them to find solutions, we’re also demonstrating or modeling the roles and behaviours that build healthy relationships. Knowledge alone is not enough. It’s the experiential component of actually doing what we know or learn that creates positive change in our relationship.