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Building Fulfilling Relationships

Relationships, well they aren’t always easy, but then again, nothing in life is easy. If you want to accomplish anything worthwhile or keep your life balanced, there are few short-cuts to be found. Whilst we may want everything to run smoothly, even successful relationships require hiccups! A relationship that becomes too comfortable has probably ceased to grow or challenge you. It Takes Two Any relationship depends on the people that have chosen to be together. As a couple, we bring together our personalities, habits, strengths and weaknesses. Each party in a relationship has their own way of thinking and feeling in situations and their own propensity for handling challenges or creating closeness, laughter and warmth. How we come through these ups and downs, shapes the relationship over time. Insecurity Some of us have fallen in love and regretted it. Others have wanted to be with someone, and then felt abandoned by them. Fear of being abandoned or let down again, can get in the way of how fully we commit to relationships in future. It can lead to us being guarded in what we share about ourselves, or how close we allow ourselves or others to get. We can become closed books, which inadvertently fuels the very abandonment we are anxious to avoid. Why would anyone want to be with a person, who is distant, cold or sending mixed messages as to how open they are about the relationship? Such guardedness can even take the form of hiding away aspects of one’s interests or personality, for fear of attracting criticism or being seen to be somehow flawed. It all boils down to doubt in one’s own worth and worthiness, which are just ways to describe a sense of insecurity. These blocks to openly relating are not confined to our love interests. Similar patterns can emerge with family members – our siblings, parents and even our children. If someone has felt the emotional aftermath of abandonment or rejection in a relationship, it can easily impact on the quality of attachments we make in future. Parents who struggle to be present with their children, or find it difficult to connect or relate to them, may foster such insecure attachments in their homes.

Generational Inheritance Sadly, this can lead to our children not knowing how to navigate secure relationships with others, in their own lives. Insecurity is sometimes passed on, such that repeating patterns of relational stress move from one generation to the next. The good news is that in many circumstances, if such insecure patterns of relating are identified, they can be addressed. The key is to finding or revisiting at least one relationship that is secure – perhaps a kind neighbour, teacher or grandparent. If nothing else, some security can be developed by opening up to a responsive therapist, who listens without judgement and accepts the person unconditionally. An experienced therapist can help you rebuild a sense of lost trust, so that you can step more confidently into relationships. Where Therapy Can Help Some of the patterns that therapy can assist with are;

  • Backspacing- for example, if we have become accustomed to being ignored or not taken seriously, we may develop the tendency to be self-reliant and heavily independent. We may not feel the need to have anybody with us, and actively reject offers of support or intimacy. Essentially, we may not trust anyone to be reliable, so seek only to rely on ourselves.

  • Self doubt– experiences of abandonment or rejection could leave us feeling we were not good enough or sufficiently loveable. This can happen where a parent has an affair and leaves the family to start another one. Such instances can lead us to grow up without a model of how to sustain a healthy relationship – perhaps keeping a distance from others and ending relationships again and again or finding ourselves cheating with partners in our own adulthood. Such infidelity can be a misplaced attempt to create back-ups and safety nets, because sooner or later we feel we will be abandoned, so why not have a Plan B?

  • Reject before you are rejected– this is a very common manifestation of insecurity. If we leave relationships, or never commit, we can never be taken for granted or dismissed. Rather, we become the one to dismiss others. It creates a warped sense of control, which offers some buffer against the fear and anxiety we may be feeling inside.

  • People Pleasing– this can be a means to gain a sense of self-worth and acceptance. If we are just a little kinder, more accommodating or the one to help and be the most patient, perhaps people will stick around and be nice in return. Often, this leads to a lack of assertiveness, and the risk of simply being taken advantage of. We may not ever be respected, because ultimately we are not respecting our own needs and wants.

  • Depression- Beck’s Cognitive Triad explains how a person can take one experience and use it to create a negative view of the self, the future and then the world. For instance, if

we have been cheated on, we may think we are not good enough, and so we make think we will not find a partner who will love us unconditionally. We may generalise this to the world and create an assumption that nobody in the world will love us like we want to be loved. Such negative thought processes tend to create feelings of sadness and despondency, which in turn lead to negative behaviours or habits.

  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy- thoughts we have about ourselves can influence our actions towards others, which then impacts other people’s beliefs or opinions about us. For example, if we constantly feel we cannot trust another, we may selectively tune into any act from them that suggests untrustworthiness i.e. we adopt a suspicious approach to them. This often leads to the other person feeling untrusted, which can over time lead them to feel they are infact untrustworthy. We end up attracting the very thing we feared would come to pass.

  • Fortune Telling– we all wish to avoid negative experiences and we all like our comfort bubbles – those familiar places, conversations and patterns that help us feel at ease. We have developed the ability to anticipate how any experience might affect us, before it has even occurred. Predictability offers a sense of security, that buffers us from unwanted situations. If our past experiences (perhaps of hurt or betrayal) cause us to assume the worst, this becomes a barrier to allowing anyone to get close. Intimacy can become arrested, when we can’t allow ourselves to be just a little vulnerable. All intimacy demands some degree of risk.

Next Steps To conclude, each one of us deserves and should expect fulfilling relationships. If ever you feel low, find that relationships keep falling apart or you are struggling to get close to others, it is important to talk to somebody who can help.

Some of us are more susceptible to finding partners who keep hurting us, and if this is happening we should seek some counselling to understand what is attracting such individuals into our lives. Abusive relationships take away our sense of protection and security, and need to be ejected from our lives before they take over completely. Finally, take the time out for yourself. Don’t accept feelings of helplessness, because there isn’t a feeling or situation that cannot be overcome. You can learn to love yourself, love others and feel loved. If you can’t do this alone, it is a positive choice to seek therapy. There is no shame or inadequacy in doing so. Rather, it is a sign of great courage and strength.

Gagan Dhaliwal BSc (Hons) Psychology

Assistant Psychologist

Gagan is a Psychology Graduate, looking to further her career within Mental Health and Wellbeing. She is supervised by Dr Bobby Sura, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, at Solihull Well Being Clinic. This article is the outcome of case studies, where identities of clients have been disguised during supervision discussions. Gagan has supported Dr Sura's therapeutic work with targeted research, and offered to put her thoughts and clinical reflections into writing.

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