I don’t write because I am good at it. I find writing particularly difficult. I write because it helps me make sense of things and, in that case, I don’t write nearly enough. If there was one thing that is challenging to make sense of in psychotherapy, it is the complexities of intimate relationships. So I am making a commitment to write more about them in an attempt to make more sense of them.
Humans are an interesting species. We’re a bit like beavers, weavers, budgies or hamsters; we are designed to pair up with a mate and build a nest together. We are all, even the most liberal and free spirited of us, I believe, cursed with an inherent longing to bond and we crave a sense of belonging. But, despite this instinct, there’s a strong argument for how terrible we are at sustaining these bonds.
On the brighter side, relationships are the best therapy. They compel us to grow in ways we might have never chosen to. I think it is the job of psychotherapy to make the most of this therapeutic opportunity that every relationship provides us. We all have needs and expectations of each other. How we respond to these needs and expectations will either compel us to grow together or apart.
Our need to bond, to belong, to evade the pang of loneliness, can also keep us stuck in relationships that are very bad for us. It can take incredible courage to leave these relationships. Often people stay in bad relationships simply out of fear of loneliness. But, it can take just as much courage to stay and to be willing to grow.
Couples usually come to see me because there is a conversation that they are not having that needs to finally be had. This is key to the kind of growth I am talking about. A “therapeutic relationship” is a relationship where there is the courage for real honesty. Not just the kind of honesty in response to “Do I look fat in this dress”. Nor just that kind of honesty in response to “Who are you messaging on your phone”. But the kinds of honesties like “I think I have lost respect for you over the years”.
So many of us can spend years in a relationship, thinking and feeling things that we never express. The personal price we pay for this silence is that we slowly disconnect from ourselves, from our own thoughts and feelings. Until, one day, when someone asks us “How are you?” we have no authentic answer to give. The damage of dishonesty (no matter how well intended) doesn’t, unfortunately, end there. By hiding how we really feel and what we are really thinking, from our partners (even if out of concern for their feelings) we rob them of the opportunity to be the best they can be.
“I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.” – Pietro Aretino