So many of the people I treat in my practice come
to therapy because their relationships are suffering, and so they are
suffering. It could be a teenage boy whose severe social anxiety prevents him from spending time with his friends,
a woman with depression makes it hard to be the partner she wants to be, a
father whose expressions of anger have put distance between him and his kids,
or the college student whose alcohol-fuelled behaviour has alienated her
friends. It’s hard for our relationships to thrive when we’re hurting.
The following 8 underlying devils cause relationship problems and are
difficult to fix on one’s own:
- Greater presence.
Our presence in a relationship proves to be one
very important factor since we cannot really “relate” to someone
who is not there. One of the biggest complaints about partners that I hear in
my practice is that s/he is not there for me. Sometimes the person means
quite literally that their partner is absent—always travelling for work, for
example. Just as often the problem is that even when the person is there in
body, his or her mind is elsewhere.
Next time when your partner talks to you about
something, bring your full attention to “presence” to what is said. Practice to
see the person as though for the first time and really focus on them and what
When we are overwhelmed by anxiety,
we cannot be our best selves. It is therefore understandable that untreated
anxiety disorders take a toll on our closest relationships. For example, the
need for a “safety companion/supporting partner” when a person
panic or fear to drive a vehicle lead to strain as the supporting partner has
to adjust his or her travel route or time schedule to accommodate the other
person’s travel needs. Similarly the chronic worry in generalised anxiety to
tension and irritability, causing conflict between partners not doing what
you actually want but to constantly make adjustments to suit the partner’s
needs. It is not always what one partner does but an underlying cause. The
best way to overcome this challenge is to get professional help.
As with anxiety, untreated
depression creates intense fatigue and irritability in a relationship. It is a struggle to be the partner we are
able to be when we have no energy, no sex drive, little enthusiasm and other
symptoms even for activities we would normally enjoy.
After a typical therapy course of
5-6 sessions for mild depression the average person will not only feel
substantially better but will be able to function much more effectively. It
is true that happier individuals make happier couples.
- Healthier Thought
Even if we’re not dealing with a
diagnosable condition like anxiety, depression, insomnia, or a substance
abuse disorder professional support can have powerful effects on
relationships. Most of the successful help is based on an understanding of
the connections among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When our thought patterns are aligned with
reality, they generally lead to positive feelings and behaviors. However,
when our thoughts become distorted in some way, they start to work against
us, including influencing our relationships.
For example, we might notice that our partner
left his clothes on the floor and think, “He expects me to pick up after
him. He thinks I’m his maid.” The result might include a fight driven by
resentment and defensiveness. Or we could think that our partner seems
distant and tell ourselves, “She’s unhappy with me and our
relationship,” leading us to withdraw in turn.
Most of the therapy used would focus on one’s
behaviour and encourage us first of all to notice the thoughts we are
telling ourselves; oftentimes they happen so quickly and automatically that
we don’t even recognize the story our mind is creating. Once we are able to
identify the thoughts we can test them out to see if they’re accurate. Maybe
our partner’s clothes on the floor say nothing about his view of us or
expectations. And perhaps our partner’s preoccupation has nothing to do with
our relationship and everything to do with her worries about her boss at work.
With practice we can replace distorted and destructive thoughts with more accurate
and constructive ones. Importantly,
cognitive techniques are not about fooling ourselves or pretending things are
better than they are. It would be important to know if our thoughts are
actually valid so we can deal with the situation directly.
When a child is struggling with
intense fears (e.g., phobias) it can lead to tremendous stress for the
family. Parents inevitably feel the strain when a child is refusing to go to
school, struggling socially, or having problems at bedtime. As the saying goes,
“You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
Furthermore, most couples have somewhat different
parenting styles with one partner more lenient and the other more of the
disciplinarian parent. A child’s intense struggles will tend to amplify these
differences, leading to conflict between the parents. At the end of the night
when the kids are finally in bed and both parents just want to unwind, they
may instead find themselves arguing about how best to help their child. Thus
they may feel like their reserves are exhausted, with little left to give
their child or each other.
There are several illnesses and reasons such as
bedwetting that could put enormous stress on a family and they all require
professions intervention, usually the sooner the better. Challenging children
could push an already vulnerable partner relationship over the edge.
As many as 23% adults suffer from
bad sleep. When we do not sleep well we tend to be irritable and impatient
which is definitely not a recipe for the best interactions with the people
who love us. Furthermore a condition such as insomnia can turn the bed into a
place of worry and stress which interferes with a relaxed night’s sleep
beside our partner. Professional treatment is typically 4 to 6 sessions and
is the best way to cure insomnia. The therapy would help the person to fall
asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
Better sleep helps with pretty much everything.
relationship with alcohol.
Problematic drinking can kill a
relationship. Alcohol abuse is tied to higher divorce rates, greater intimate
partner violence, lower relationship satisfaction and a host of other
Professional interventions can
effectively change the thoughts and behaviors that maintain problems with
alcohol, and replace drinking with healthier ways of coping. Interestingly,
the treatment with the strongest research evidence is with both the patient
and his or her partner actively involved in the treatment.
For many individuals with an alcohol use
disorder, lifelong abstinence is necessary. However, there is now “modest
support” as a treatment program that includes the possibility of moderate
alcohol consumption for some people.
- Greater being our
best significant other.
All of us want to be the best
significant other we can be. We want to be attentive, supportive, generous
and more tolerant. And like anything else, the road to impoverished
relationships is paved with the best of intentions. If we’re not deliberate about living out our
values, we risk leaving them in the abstract and intentions we are not able
to live out.
For example, we might tell ourselves, “My
family matters to me more than anything,” and then live as though family
is our last priority. We might idealise presence in our relationship yet
attend more to our phone than to those around us. We might plan for instance,
to turn off our phone during dinner and focus on our conversation. The goals
and activities can be anything that’s important to us in our relationship we
wish to do. It can be very beneficial to collaborate with our partner in the
process by asking what they need more from us.
This is not as simple to improve as it seems and
skilled professional help would assist us in being our best significant
other. Our partner and family deserve
to be with the best “me” possible.
Try it: Can you have a conversation with your
partner this week about your relationship and who you want to be for your
partner? From there, make a specific plan to move toward your goals. Check
how successfully you are able to implement what you have discussed and agreed