Posts Tagged ‘differentiation’

What’s the #1 Thing that Sabotages Relationships?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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For those of us who have courageously sat on the therapist’s couch, terms such as “co-dependency,” “differentiation,” “individuation,” and “holding on to yourself” may be all too familiar. The important point is, did we understand these terms and that they’re all essentially ways to describe aspects of emotional dependence? Did we identify how they’re operating in our lives? And did we take away tools to incorporate positive change in our relationships? If your response is, “somewhat” or “I’m still confused,” read on.

Am I emotionally dependent?

Many factors from childhood and adolescence play a part in promoting emotional dependence or inhibiting it. Some examples that interfere with our ability to foster a strong sense of self may include: needy parents, helicopter parents, instability in the family, trauma/loss in the family, low personal resilience, and high personal sensitivity. These factors all play a role in our ability or inability to foster healthy relationships and our degree of emotional dependence.

What emotional dependency looks like:

1. Wanting to constantly please others.
2. Putting others’ needs before my own.
3. Difficulty asking for what I need or want.
4. A pattern of taking what another person says to me as personal criticism.
5. Not being able to tolerate anxiety in relationships (often resulting in “giving in,” trying to control the other, or running away–literally or metaphorically)

Sound familiar? The price we pay for these learned behaviors is that we’re caught in a “catch 22.” Maintaining these patterns leads to communication breakdown, resentment, and anger with those we wish to be close to—especially those people who mean the most to us, like our romantic partners and family members. On the other hand, we may not know how to change, and we may fear our changing will result in the loss of relationships that are incredibly important to us.

The gift of close relationships is that they force us to confront our degree of emotional dependence. The greater my emotional dependence on another, the more I’m going to take everything personally, become defensive, and “lose myself” when I connect with those most important to me. The lesser my emotional dependence, the more I can stay connected to people I care most about while holding my ground—and not “run away,” try to control the other person, or people please.

A critical key to lowering our emotional dependence requires that we become aware of our anxiety and learn skills to soothe that emotion when it arises. This is the only way we can stand on our own two feet and bring more of our real selves to our relationships. Learning to do this isn’t an event; it’s a process we have to learn and practice every day, just like if we wanted to learn a new hobby. Getting support from someone who can identify our particular unhealthy patterns and help us to learn new skills is important.

As a marriage and family therapist, struggles with aspects of emotional dependence and the way it sabotages relationships are the most common issues I see. So the next time you need space or your partner or friend needs time alone, try to view it as the need to take care of oneself. As Gestalt therapist Walter Kempler said, paradoxically, if we want to get more personal, we must stop taking things personally.

I invite you to take the first step on a new path to healthier relating and the freedom to be who you were meant to be while staying deeply connected to those you love.

How Healthy is your Romantic Relationship?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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It’s often difficult to gauge the healthiness of our love relationships. This is understandable when we consider how many of us grew up with parents who didn’t model caring behavior or who had little knowledge of positive or productive ways of dealing with problems and the natural conflict that arises when two people commit to live together. Having trouble in a relationship is actually to be expected. And it’s an indicator that something is going right. Yes, it really is! Conflict provides an opportunity to become aware of an area of need in our own personal growth.

Our intuition tells us that something is not right in our relationships. Keep in mind that blaming (oneself or one’s partner) serves no purpose and actually prevents us from moving forward. We may have fallen into patterns of disconnecting from one another when conflict arises by using silence, criticism or anger. If we feel sad more often than happy with our significant other, this is a sure sign that something is amiss, and we may need support looking at the relationship with the help of an objective party.

Below are some elements operating in healthy romantic relationships. I invite you to reflect on your relationship and consider whether these principles are characteristic, most of the time, of your interactions with your mate. If you feel these traits don’t describe the way you and your partner relate, you may want to discuss your thoughts and feelings, either with your partner or with a therapist.

Kindness – Do you and your partner treat one another in a gentle and considerate manner?

Trust – Do you and your partner feel that you can be vulnerable with one another and speak honestly about your feelings for each other and the relationship? Do you feel you “have one another’s backs” when difficult situations arise?

Respect – Do you and your partner feel equally important and valued in the relationship? When either of you expresses the need for a limit or boundary, is it respected?

Safety – Does it feel safe for you and your partner to experience conflict with one another and disagree?

Sexuality – Do you and your partner enjoy being intimate with one another and able to communicate your preferences or difficulties around sexual relations?

Fun – Do you and your partner enjoy your time together and find things to laugh about? Are there fun activities you share that bring you closer and make you laugh at one another and together?

Differentiation – Do you and your partner maintain a healthy sense of individuality and the ability to continue activities and engage in friendships that were meaningful before the relationship began?

Keep in mind that the principles above can never be operating in every moment of a relationship. The sense of connectedness and belonging a romantic relationship brings us is extremely powerful, and we are going to have difficulty maintaining a connection all the time. While love is the most profound emotion we experience as human beings, our ability to create and sustain a healthy relationship is something almost all of us need to learn. As difficulty arises, embrace this challenge and know it provides an opportunity to take responsibility and figure out where we may need to do some work on ourselves.