Keeping our most important relationships working well requires our attention, time and sometimes effort. We can't sit back and assume that they will always go smoothly. They won't and our relationships need to be strong to survive. We often begin a relationship by being eager to please the other person and look after and support (nurture) them without question. During the early days relationships flourish because of our desire to nurture the other person but this doesn't necessarily last for ever. Pressures from outside - life events and life changes both inside and outside our control - can damage our most important relationships.
Our relationships with others also affect the way we feel about ourselves. If important relationships at work or at home are going well, we feel good, able to cope with difficulties, able to enjoy life. However, if these relationships come under stress, we can become moody, difficult, and have no desire to help others. Sometimes we displace our feelings about someone on to our partner (e.g. we feel angry at the way our boss is treating us but instead of taking it directly to him/her, we take it out on our partner). This puts both relationships under stress, making our lives even more difficult to manage in a satisfying and fulfilling way.
Relationships can come under stress because a life change (e.g. bereavement or redundancy) has happened for one partner but not the other and the partner who’s left behind struggles with the changes this involves. The partner who is directly affected is unwilling or unable to share their distress because they don’t want to worry the other. Sometimes they can’t discuss how they feel and try to carry on as normal, pretending that nothing is wrong. This has a double effect, the other person isn’t approached for help or support when it’s needed and they feel shut out and excluded. When this happens, each person gets locked into their own feelings, unable to help the other and the relationship suffers.
My counselling clients have often contacted me because a significant relationship has come under this type of stress and they feel unable to do anything about it. When we work together I help them to get their thoughts and feelings out of their heads and into writing. Writing things down empties the negative thoughts out of their head and frees up more thinking space. Together we explore what has happened, trying to understand how things have deteriorated and what caused this. Because I don’t offer any judgment of the situation, my neutral stance encourages them to be honest and open with themselves. Once we are satisfied that we understand what has happened and its causes, we work out how to change the deteriorating pattern and find strategies to avoid it happening in the future.
Most of my work in this area is done with individuals but sometimes it is helpful to bring the other person involved into the work as well. This is generally a one-off involvement and is only done with everyone’s consent and an agreed focus.
If you would like to work on a relationship problem by writing about it, please email using this link.