Often, people find themselves in unhealthy patterns in their intimate relationships. On the one hand, these patterns can be challenging and debilitating to the relationship. And on the other hand, they are the very opportunity to help a relationship grow and become more loving.
Unhealthy Patterns in Relationships
Becoming aware of certain patterns is the first step in healing them. There are a variety of unhealthy patterns, but here are a few common ones:
Codependency – this exists in relationships when there is excessive emotional or psychological reliance on each other. Often, in codependent relationships, one or both people struggle with powerlessness, low self-esteem, and enabling. Those in codependent relationships might have a difficult time expressing their needs, knowing what their needs are, or taking responsibility for their own needs. Codependency might also include feeling unworthy, assuming the responsibility for the feelings of others, and may include a level of addiction.
Enmeshment – Enmeshed couples are overly involved with one another, such that there is little room for one person to experience life on their own terms. Being enmeshed with another might overlap with codependency in some situations, but not always. Enmeshed relationships often have boundaries that are too close and have the following characteristics. One or both people might:
- have a hard time saying no
- give in too much
- get involved too quickly
- trust too easily
- intrude on others (such as violate their boundaries)
- stay in relationships too long, even when they’re ready to move on
Distant – Distant couples might have plenty of physical proximity but lack any emotional connection. In this relationships, couples are detached from one another. One or both people in the relationship might:
- have difficulty saying yes in a relationship
- distrust too easily
- feel lonely
- stay in relationships too briefly
Fortunately, as mentioned above, you can work to change relationships by becoming more aware of the patterns between you and your partner, and then you can adjust what’s not working.
Healthy Relationships are Fluid
You might imagine a healthy relationship like a beautiful, full lake. Water pools into the lake from two separate sources. Those sources are the two people in the relationship. In other words, each of those two people live independent lives and take responsibility for the ups and downs in their own life. The lake is where two people connect emotionally, intellectually, physically, and perhaps spiritually. In this relationship, there are clear and healthy boundaries that are fluid and change depending upon the situation. A healthy relationship might experience boundaries that are:
- Appropriate for each person versus controlling or manipulative
- Firm but flexible not rigid
- Protective not hurtful or harmful
- Receptive not invasive or domineering
- Not set by anyone else but yourself
The trouble is if you’ve been in the same relationship for many years, you may have a hard time recognizing what is unhealthy between you. Or you might know exactly what’s wrong, but not sure how to change it. In other situations, you might be able and willing to change, but perhaps your partner is not. Here’s where couples counseling can help.
Therapy is meant to be an experience that illicits courage, insight, and inspiration to change. And it’s no different in couples counseling. If both partners are willing and able to see a couples therapist, change is possible. In fact, in some cases, even if one person is willing to engage in therapy, that too can help make a difference in a relationship. Here’s how couples therapy can help:
- At least one person must be willing to participate in therapy. In 1985, psychologist Harriet Lerner wrote the popular book, Dance of Anger. Her main point is that a relationship is a dance. When one person changes so does the relationship. For instance, if two people are dancing and one person steps back instead of forward, the dance will obviously change. And the same is true for relationships. If two people are in a relationship (doesn’t matter the type of relationship – friendship, marriage, etc.) when one person changes, the relationship is destined to change.
- Increase awareness. Couples counseling can illicit awareness about the dance that you and your partner are engaged in. Perhaps it’s too distant a relationship, too enmeshed, or codependent. In therapy, you can give your attention to the relationship and uncover those areas that are feeding into your distress. You can peel back the layers to the ways you and your partner relate with one another and perhaps discover areas where more attention might be needed.
- Develop steps to change. As mentioned above, your relationship will change when one or both of you are dancing differently. With a therapist, you can lay out how you and your partner are going to dance together. You can agree to say “I love you” more often, establish a weekly date night, or learn how to speak each other’s love language.
- Stay on track. By attending therapy together weekly, you can stay committed to your goals and to each other. You can notice where your plan isn’t working and where it’s working well. You can discuss your progress with your therapist and explore deeper issues that might surface as you and your partner heal.
- Learn simple tools to support the love in your relationship. Mental health professionals share a number of tools and techniques that can keep a relationship going for the long-term, such as emotional awareness. One source of arguments in relationships is when a person does not take responsibility for their own feelings. Instead, they blame the other person. However, when you can take responsibility for the way you respond to a certain situation, you’re becoming emotionally intelligent. Emotional awareness is the ability to know how you’re feeling, when, and why. You’re able to take responsibility for the way you feel versus blaming others. This alone can help ease the tension that relationships might experience.
Many couples try to work on their relationships but do not find lasting success. If you’re ready to invite a professional to assist you and your partner in healing your relationship, contact Ventura Community Counseling today.