Myths, Illusions, and Solutions: Relationship Pitfalls and Saboteurs
Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. offers counseling and therapy in Reston, Virginia, Washington, DC, and Bethesda, Maryland.
At a Caring Approach, Couples Counseling in Bethesda, MD by Dr. Durana, we help couples develop relationship skills, enhance intimacy, and communicate and resolve conflicts effectively.
In our intimate relationships, we tend to hold unconscious or unexpressed expectations about love, trust, friendship, power, disagreement, etc. Unmet expectations lead to disappointments and misunderstandings. Often, underlying these expectations are limiting or self-defeating beliefs; if unrecognized, these beliefs become pitfalls that can sabotage a relationship.
Here are few:
“If you loved me, you…would know what I need…would know how to love me…would agree with me,” etc. “If I have to tell you what I need, want, etc., it no longer counts. You should have known; therefore, you don’t love me.” My friend and colleague, Lori H. Gordon, founder of PAIRS relationship training, calls these assumptions “love knots.” Our partners are not mind readers. When we assume that they should know us without telling them what really matters to us, we assume they are the same as we are. We have to teach our partners what enhances our well-being, and what causes relationship distress and unhappiness.
“If we have differences, we are failing; we should see things the same way.” A couple is made up of two very different people. Differences have to be accepted as part of a relationship; differences don’t have to become sources of conflict. For example, gender differences can contribute to marital problems, and there will always be gender differences, but they don’t have to cause marital breakdowns. Differences are not the problem; it is how we argue that can be constructive or detrimental to a relationship. There can be different styles of resolving differences for different couples. Some couples settle differences quietly, other prefer intense expressiveness, and so on. What matters most is finding a blending of styles that work for both partners.
“I don’t love my partner anymore.” “We have grown apart.” “The thrill is gone.” We confuse the early stage of a relationship and its romance with the love that endures beyond the early infatuation. Enduring love is based more on friendship, compassion, understanding, care, intimacy, and respect than on the stuff of Hollywood and romantic novels. “Our relationship will stay together if we have common interests.” This is not the case. It is not what people do together but how they do it, how they are together.
“I don’t feel fulfilled.” “If this were the right relationship, I would feel better, and you would help me heal all the things my parents screwed up in me.” The mutual healing process in a relationship cannot come from demands; it is a gift out of love. We can’t expect our partner to make up for the history of pain nor for our lack of fulfillment. Our partners won’t be able to satisfy all of our wants and needs; good friends are important. Relationship fulfillment comes out of love, respect, care and self-responsibility.
“If we learn to solve our problems, we’ll stay together.” In actuality, there are many problems that can’t be solved. Rather than polarizing around differences, taking “right” and “wrong” positions, couples can at times agree to disagree. By shifting the context in this way, and by changing attitudes toward the problem, enduring differences can then be managed successfully. In our Caring Approach to couples counseling practice in Reston, we use relationship therapy to teach skills for resolving conflicts effectively.
“It is too late, my partner won’t change. We have grown apart. I never loved my partner to begin with.” In reality, most likely you haven’t changed as much as you think, nor is it impossible to reconnect if you decide to recommit and work on the relationship. Earn the right to leave the relationship only after you have done your very best to make it work. That entails taking a good look at your contribution to the problems. In recalling past experiences about the relationship, be fair; by only looking at the negative experiences and ignoring positive ones in reconstructing the past, it is possible to develop a biased position.
“My partner had an affair; it won’t work.” Affairs are not the root of divorce; rather, affairs are the result of problems. Most often affairs are not about sex but about attention, respect, understanding, etc.
“A relationship can’t survive if there are personality problems or illnesses.” Flaws can be accommodated in a climate of compassion and care. “There is one way to make a relationship work.” In truth, there can be different approaches in dealing with conflict, expressing love and affection, etc. What is most important is finding out what works, and learning each other’s “love language.”
“Once my partner changes, things will work out. I’ll be happy.” Lack of acceptance and understanding destroys relationships. Positing our happiness on another person is not only disempowering but also a fairy tale – waiting for your prince or princess. “Intimacy has nothing to do with sex;” “Intimacy and sex go together.” Either or positions rarely work. Intimacy can lead to sex and sex can lead to intimacy. “I’ll do my 50% and you do your 50%.” Satisfied marriages don’t keep a running score, tit for tat. Successful relationships require teamwork, 100% by each partner, not waiting for the other to act first in a positive way.
Our approach to couples counseling and marital therapy in Washington DC is to create an environment where healing, growth, and the higher capacities of individuals can emerge.
Dr. Durana has offices located in Reston, Virginia, Bethesda, Maryland, and in Washington, DC.