Whether your difficulties relate to intimate relationships, be they in real life or online, or to family members, friends, work colleagues, getting support for yourself can be a powerful part of improving things. I work with clients on a one-to-one basis, to help them to understand their patterns in relationships, and make the changes that they have control over. Even if other people’s behaviour is part of the problem, we can still make meaningful choices about how we handle what’s going on.
We can learn a lot from thinking about where our patterns of behaviour, and our expectations of ourselves and others, come from. It can be helpful to talk though our experiences growing up, and the roles we may have taken on as children. These are often played out in the present without us being aware of this, despite the fact they are no longer be serving us. Working with other factors, such as our identities and relationship styles, can also be critical.
Putting other people’s needs before your own: It is a common cause of difficulties in relationships to focus on meeting other people’s needs without necessarily looking after your own. This may mean you feel overwhelmed by taking care of others, and may feel starved of love or support yourself. This is especially the case for people who discovered, as children, that affection and approval was conditional on being ‘kind and caring towards others’ and may have received negative feedback for asking for help, or showing anger or disapproval. If you think of yourself as a ‘people pleaser’, co-dependent, or are always doing something for someone else, it may help to think about what’s keeping you in this role and what it would mean to start changing.
Anger: Anger can also be a problem in relationships – it often covers up more vulnerable feelings, such as fear of losing the other person, or of being seeing as weak. Looking at what might be ‘hidden’ inside the anger – and what purpose angry outbursts or words might be serving – can be an important step towards changing behaviour patterns.
Loneliness or difficulty starting relationships: Some folks have problems getting started in relationships, or maintaining them even if first steps are taken. This can be an issue in sorts of relationships. Looking at what’s getting in the way of you being more connected to others can help pave the way to change. Shyness, embarrassment, low self-esteem, or even ‘not knowing what to do’ may be playing a part.
Identity and relationship styles: It can be critical to think about social norms and influences, particularly if you identify outside the norm, such as being part of LGBTQ+/GSRD communities, or having a different relationship style due to your neurotype or cultural background. Becoming more confident in relationships will almost inevitably involve understanding how you are impacted by society’s attitudes and expectations. This can range from unspoken assumptions about your gender, sexuality and neurotype -which can influence how people treat you and respond to you – to outright discrimination. Working to gain confidence about your identity, and what matters most to you, can be a key part of getting your needs met in relationships.
It can take time to change any behavioural or relational pattern, and be challenging – but it is possible. It often means getting in touch with the full range of our feelings, including the ones we were taught were bad or wrong, or which we feel uncomfortable about or ashamed of. We may need to re-visit how we see ourselves – maybe being the ‘good one’ all the time, or always being in control, isn’t sustainable. It can be a very liberating and empowering experience to work out who you really are, and to know it is okay to feel all your feelings, and ask for what you need.
Change can also mean setting clearer boundaries with others, and dealing with what comes along with this. It can be anxiety-provoking to deal with other people’s reactions when we start behave differently – for instance if we say ‘no’ – as well as our own feelings, such as working through feeling guilty for asking for what we need. Therapy can give you a space to feel supported whilst you are making changes, by someone whose only agenda is to help you.
If you are looking for couples counselling Relate may be able to help.