Relationship Therapy for One
By Suzanne Morgan, LCSW
Certified Imago Relationship Therapist
In the last blog post, I wrote about the different types of relationships that can benefit from Relationship or Couples Therapy. Today, I am focusing on the individual in Relationship Therapy and what that might entail. Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Relationship Therapy has said, “Conflict is your relationship trying to grow.” I have said this to couples who are distressed by the level of conflict in their relationship and are afraid it means the relationship is unhealthy or doomed. It is a hopeful statement, which is part of what good therapy gives us-hope for a new way of doing things or solving our problems.
What if you are not in a romantic relationship and want to be in one? What if your partner is not interested in therapy or what if you are feeling unsatisfied or having negative interactions in several social areas? This is a time when as an individual, there is definitely a need and quite a lot that can be done to grow in your relationships by working in individual therapy that is focused on one’s functioning in relationships. The conflict may be with others or the conflict may be internal and this is a sign growth wants to happen. It is empowering to look at ourselves and identify our habitual patterns in relationships and look at how we might make different choices. Showing up differently will not control another’s behavior but it will change the dynamics. There is hope for change but the focus here needs to be on the self in relationship. A very common mistake we can make in our relationships is to analyze and focus on the other person when our power is in looking at and knowing ourselves first.
What might we look at to learn more in Individual Relationship Therapy? We will look at your history of relationships and the patterns. Often we find ourselves repeating familiar (sometimes painful) scenarios and end up wondering how it keeps happening. We might look at your attachment style and your patterns of pursuing or avoiding intimacy. We might look at whether you are unconsciously attracted to certain types of people who bring up old wounds that are a painful reminder of past hurts. We might look at your communication style and work on changes including boundaries and limits you might set or unacceptable behavior you will no longer tolerate. And finally, how can you identify and communicate your emotions and needs in relationships and (this is key) discern what needs you might meet yourself that you are expecting others to meet as well as many other possible insights.
This type of work requires accurate self-appraisal that comes from a place of self-respect and honoring one’s self with honesty and taking responsibility for your part in the relationships in your life. Ultimately I believe we must have a healthy relationship with ourselves to relate in a healthy way with others. We must avoid self-loathing and learn how to counter overly harsh perceptions of ourselves and we also need to avoid seeing ourselves as helpless victims without choices or agency. There is a middle ground we can find with ourselves that includes honesty and self-compassion. When we are trying to improve our relationships or even just trying to improve our physical activity or any other goal, we need to learn to use gentle self-discipline to hold ourselves accountable. So, ask yourself if you are ready to improve your relationships and also are you willing to do the work on this? If so, this can be a powerful way to increase your quality of life and your sense of self-worth.
Here are some books I have recommended to clients to focus on the self in Relationship:
“Keeping the Love You Find-A Guide For Singles” by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD
“Love Sense-The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships” by Dr. Sue Johnson
“The Relationship Cure”-A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships by John M. Gottman, PhD
Reach out to me at [email protected] or one of our other great therapists if you are interested in feeling empowered in your relationships.