All Posts Tagged: relationships

Building Good Relationships

Psychologist John Van Epp, after working with couples and studying the topic for years developed a model for building good relationships.  His model makes a lot of sense to me and I often refer to it in my work.  He talks about his “Relationship Attachment Model” as being like an equalizer.  Each of the “5 universal human dynamics” in his model is at a certain level in any relationship.  The 5 dynamics are the extent to which you know, trust, rely upon, commit to and touch another person.  His idea is that ideally the first dynamic should be equal to or higher than all subsequent dynamics (visualize each of the dynamics as lever on an equalizer, with the first lever being higher or equal to the subsequent ones).  They build on each other. In other words, you shouldn’t trust someone you don’t know, you shouldn’t rely upon someone you don’t trust,  you shouldn’t commit to someone you can’t rely upon and you shouldn’t be intimate with someone you don’t commit to (if only all of this were as simple as it sounds!).  Obviously a lot of people do not follow this model, but his point is, that if you do follow this model you will be building a good foundation for a relationship.  There is much more to his model in terms of what to look for in a mate to ensure you are a good match.  I will post more on this in subsequent posts.

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Why I do what I do (And how does therapy help?)

People sometimes ask me, “How can you listen to people’s problems all day long? That sounds like it would be really depressing.”  I guess if I looked at it that way, it would be kind of a downer!  But thankfully, I don’t see what I do that way at all.  (A psychologist or psychotherapists job is far more complex than just listening, many sympathetic people can do that!)

I don’t see what I do as listening to people’s problems, I see it as listening for the solutions (and then the fun and rewarding part: helping people to find a solution or a different way of seeing and doing things).

The listening part of my job is a very complex task.  I am listening to “the problem,” I am looking for connections, patterns and threads. I am listening for the roots of the problem. I am listening for negative beliefs and maladaptive meanings that support the problems, and I am thinking of possible solutions. Phew. No wonder my brain is tired by the end of a full day!

I recently watched a TED talk called, “How to inspire anyone to do anything”.  I found it very inspiring indeed!  Simon Sinek’s point is that people are inspired to act by why we do what we do, not by what we do.  I think that is exactly why I find my job inspiring and rewarding, not depressing.  It is not the listening part (part of what I do), it’s why I do it, that inspires me, keeps me doing it, and hopefully is giving my patients what they need to improve their lives.

No one’s life is perfect.  We all have things that have happened to us that color the way we see things or that get in the way of our living to our potential.  I do what I do because I find it very rewarding to help people identify the source of the things that are getting in their way, so they can live a more full, productive, healthy and happy life.  I enjoy helping couples to deepen and improve their relationships, and their communication so they can continue the hard work of being in a relationship.

Sometimes people think having to get therapy is bit of a punishment or a sign of weakness.  I think it is an amazing opportunity and a sign of strength. Successful therapy requires at least two active and engaged people (the therapist and the person or people seeking therapy).  The transformation and meaningful change that ultimately results from”listening to people’s problems,” is why I do what I do!

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Love can be unconditional but relationships are not.

Loving someone who treats you in ways that feel unacceptable and is causing significant emotional suffering may require that you set some limits on the relationship, though you may still love them.  Loving someone who has a personality disorder often feels this way.

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Carrying the anxiety ball and the relationship seesaw

An interesting thing about relationships is that there often seems to be a finite amount of anxiety or other emotion around a certain topic within the relationship.

For example, if one partner is carrying all the anxiety about finances, the other partner often seems much less concerned about finances.  The more the worried partner can let go of the anxiety the more the other partner begins to worry and the more the partners meet in the middle.  And conversely, the more the relaxed partner can worry; the more relaxed the worried partner can become.

This can be true of many different emotions about many different topics.

The same concept is true with our relationships with our kids too.

If the child is unconcerned about completing homework, studying for tests, keeping their schoolwork caught up and organized—guess who picks up the ball?

As the child becomes a teenager, this usually leads to resentment from the child who feels the parent is meddling and/or being a helicopter parent.  The best way to deal with this, is to have the child pick up the anxiety-about-homework-ball him or herself.

Often relationships become sort of artificially polarized this way.

In other words, for example, let’s say Suzie and Tom (if you ask them individually) very much agree on how to parent their children.

They both agree that children need limits but should be able to exercise some age appropriate choice and control.

But somehow they have ended up playing different roles with Suzie playing “bad cop” and Tom playing “good cop.”

Suzie and Tom both think they are responding to the other parent.

Suzie thinks she has to be extra tough because Tom is so lenient.

Tom thinks he has to be especially lenient to counterbalance Suzie’s toughness.

The longer this goes on, the more polarized they become (picture them each moving further and further towards the opposite ends of a seesaw).

In my work, I sometimes suggest that the parents switch roles (this really throws the kids for a loop, who by now have learned which parent to go to, for the answer they want).

However by just working together as opposed to trying to counterbalance each other, both parents can move to a more comfortable position in the middle.

Do you notice any issues that have become polarized this way in your relationships?

Do you feel yourself being bad cop or good cop, even though you know that isn’t necessarily where you want to be?


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