A large proportion of a psychologist’s clientele are seeking help and guidance on how to deal with relationship problems.
Usually it is because these relationships are causing them deep distress, or have, over time, undermined their health, wellbeing and self-confidence. They feel unable to free themselves from the pain and hurt for a variety of reasons: financial; family responsibilities; or perhaps a deep fear of change and the unknown.
Relationship Problems in Every Sphere
It is not just couple relationships which may cause deep distress. A client may be in an emotionally and /or physically abusive partnership; overworked and unsupported in the workplace; experiencing bullying and harassment at home and at work; or estrangement from family.
Some of these situations may be seriously harmful to health and wellbeing; some may frequently violate the client’s values and integrity, as they feel they have to go along with the wishes of another – or risk job, family or friendships. Others are hurting from everyday unkindness and thoughtlessness. The world we live in can be a difficult place.
Many clients come with the hope they will be told how to change the unpleasant traits and behaviours of the individual/s causing distress. The hard truth is that getting other adults to change and behave the way we want them to, is pretty much an unrealisable dream. None of us will change entrenched habits just because we are told to by someone’s therapist! So wishing, struggling, being angry and in despair about other’s behaviours alone won’t change things.
The good news is, we all have the potential to change ourselves in ways that can free us from making our life satisfaction always dependent on the behaviour of others.
Choices for Dealing with Relationship Problems
We have three choices in how to deal with relationship problems and difficult situations. None of these may be ideal, but when clients are helped to work through careful and realistic consideration of these options, it can help return a sense of control over their lives and self-concept. Feelings of helplessness when experiencing emotional pain and psychologically toxic environments leads to stress, anxiety, depression and even trauma.
These three choices are:
1 – Choose to accept the situation as it is and go on coping as before. Clearly, this is not likely to change the problem individual/s who are causing the client unhappiness. However, if given the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of not changing, and a client still thinks this is the best choice for him/her, s/he at least can take back some sense of control, with the knowledge that things might change over time, or that s/he can still decide in the future, to follow one of the next two possibilities.
2 – Change how one responds to the actions and issues that are the cause of distress and difficulties. This may involve learning to:
- communicate assertively;
- set boundaries;
- refuse to accept blame and put-downs;
- stop going along with the inadequacies, poor emotional regulation or unpleasant personality traits of difficult people.
Letting go of the struggle to change someone else and changing our responses instead, can often be a powerful influence over another to unconsciously begin to change how they behave toward the person they have been demeaning and disempowering. Refusing to engage in the usual defensive, submissive pleas for understanding and respect, paradoxically, defuses the usual tactics of the offender who enjoys their ability to disempower the other.
Repeat short assertive statements of one’s intentions or rights, with no apologies. Refusal to argue or reason with a continuously controlling, contemptuous person, often surprises the victim – as they find their independence and assertion of their right to be respected, even when the other disagrees with their views, does not break up their relationship or cost them their job.
However, the client must be prepared to face, that in some cases, the controlling, abusive or harassing behaviours may intensify. For a variety of reasons, such as personality disorders, substance abuse, insecurity, and personal backgrounds and beliefs, these changes may threaten the power and control of an abusive individual. The bully may intensify their controlling, insulting, or punitive behaviours to try and restore psychological dominance. Then the third choice may become a necessity.
3 – Leave the situation … the job, a business partnership, a relationship. Nothing is worth the destruction of one’s self-worth, mental health, safety and wellbeing. Essential to a satisfying life is self-belief: that one is worthy of love, respect and the sense one can deal with the inevitable challenges of living; that he or she has valuable contributions to make as a member of their family, work and society.
This option can pose an array of difficulties, of course, perhaps in finances, employment, single parenthood, dealing with legal issues, or the the loss of friendships.
However, allowing the potential for better opportunities, experiences and loves to enter one’s life in the long term, is far better than the destruction on an ongoing basis, of one’s psyche and integrity, and the likelihood of suffering psychologically and/or physically.
Author: Susanne Gilmour, BA, Dip Soc. Science, Grad Dip Psychology.
Susanne Gilmour is a Registered Psychologist with nearly 20 years’ experience working with children, adolescents and their families, in addition to a background in management.
Bookings and Fees: To make an appointment with Susanne Gilmour, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- “I Power: The Freedom to be Me”. George Dieter MA (Psych), MA (AppSci). EXISLE Publishing.