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Monday, October 20, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect If Your Relationship Survives

In a recent New York Times article by Anna North, Here's the Thing That Lasting Love is All About, she discussed how new research has determined that how you see your relationship--whether you see yourselves as "soul mates" or as two people "on a journey" who are facing obstacles and working together to overcome these obstacles--affects how you cope with problems in your relationship.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect if Your Relationship Survives

According to the research that Ms. North cites in her article, people who see themselves as "destined" to be together, or as some people call it,"soul mates," often don't work as hard as people who take the view that their relationship is like a journey with its inevitable ups and downs.

The research that she mentions indicates that people in a relationship where they see themselves as destined to be together often feel their so-called soul mate is the one and only person and the relationship should be "easy."

This type of thinking implies that when things go wrong, as they invariably do, they often question whether this is actually the person that they should be with rather than working on their problems.

People who see their relationship as being part of a journey usually understand that there will be good times, bad times and in between times, and they will need to work on their relationship when problems arise.

Using the metaphor of a journey, helps them to take the long view rather than assuming that destiny will make for an easy relationship.

In many ways, the research that Ms. North cites in her article confirms what I have observed in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC working with individual adults and couples.

In addition, problems arise when each person in the relationship has different perceptions about relationships.

The following is an example of two people in a relationship where one person thinks in terms of soul mates and destiny, and the other person sees relationships as a journey (as always, this example is a composite of many different cases with all identifying changed to protect confidentiality):

Ann and Bill:
During the first three months of their relationship, Ann and Bill were very happy together.  They met through their political volunteer work and hit it off immediately.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect If Your Relationship Survives

Bill had been in a couple of short relationships before that didn't work out.  But after he met Ann, he felt he understood why these prior relationships didn't work--because he was meant to be with Ann.  As far he was concerned, destiny brought them together and he saw Ann as being his soul mate.

Ann, who was a few years older than Bill, had been in a couple of long term relationships.  She had a different view of relationships.

Based on her prior her experience with relationships, she felt that after the initial stage of the relationship where everything is new and exciting, a couple will begin to confront issues that need to be worked on.  She considered her relationship with Bill to be new.

She knew they were still getting to know each other.  She also considered their relationship to be a long term process where they would deal with whatever issues came up along the way.

In their fourth month together, they got into an argument about how much time to spend together.  Until then, they were spending almost everyday together, and Ann was hardly seeing her friends.  When she told Bill that she wanted to have time to see her friends on her own, he didn't understand.

His feeling was that, since they were soul mates, they didn't need anyone else in their lives and they should be able to fulfill all of each other's needs.

So when Ann told him that she had certain interests that were important to her and that she knew weren't important to Bill, he began to question whether he and Ann should be together.

From Bill's point of view, soul mates shouldn't be having this type of problem:  The relationship should be easy and if they didn't see eye to eye about this, maybe they weren't meant to be together.

Bill's attitude upset Ann and she suggested that they start couples counseling.  But Bill wasn't sure that he believed in couples counseling.  He felt that if two people were meant to be together, they shouldn't need help from a therapist.

When he talked it over with his best friend, Andy, Bill was shocked to discover that Andy and his wife had been in couples counseling the year before for problems that they were having.

Bill always thought of Andy and Sally as being soul mates who were "perfect" for one another, so hearing that they attended couples counseling and worked through their differences challenged Bill's view of their relationship as well as relationships in general.

Andy encouraged Bill to keep an open mind and not look at relationships with such an "all or nothing" view.

Since Bill admired Andy and Sally, he decided to take his advice, even though it didn't feel right to him, and he agreed to attend couples counseling with Ann.

It took a few months in couples counseling before Bill became really open to seeing that relationships could be more complicated than he had imagined.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect if Your Relationship Survives

Even after he began to accept this, part of him still wanted to believe that relationships were either "meant to be" or not.  He was giving up a romantic ideal that he had held for all of his life.

Over time, as Bill and Ann continued in couples counseling and Bill talked to other people that he knew in relationships, he realized that no one that he knew had an "ideal" relationship.  Everyone who had been together for a while had issues that they had to work on.

Gradually, Bill and Ann worked out a compromise over time in therapy.  Bill came to see, reluctantly, that he couldn't fulfill all of Ann's needs and she couldn't fulfill all of his needs.

Although Bill was disappointed about this at first, he also realized that this took a lot of pressure off each of them as individuals as well as the relationship.

Ann and Bill worked out a compromise that allowed each of them to have time together, time with their friends, and down time where each of them had time to themselves.

Rather than seeing their relationship as being part of destiny, Bill began to feel good that they were each choosing to be together because they wanted to be rather than feeling that a force beyond them was controlling things.

Your Perspective About Relationships Can Affect If Your Relationship Will Survive
Also, the tools that each of them developed in couples counseling helped them in many other areas of their relationship.

Having a Lasting Relationship
Most people who have been in stable long term relationships will tell you that their longevity is due in large part to their flexibility, the compromises that they have each been willing to make, as well as taking the long view, in realistic terms (as opposed to idealizing relationships), about their relationship.

Having a Lasting Relationship

Most of them would say that there were bumps along the road, but they didn't see these bumps as problematic in themselves.

What is most important, most couples would say, is how they go about navigating the bumps.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many couples benefit from attending couples counseling to help them negotiate the challenges that come with any relationship after a while.

If you and your partner are having difficulties that the two of you have been unable to work out on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who can help you to develop the skills and tools to be happier in your relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:  josephineolivia@aol.com.