Dr. Lynn Margolies
Relationships and the ending of relationships are one of the most common reasons for talking to a psychologist. When relationships end, many people find themselves overtaken by powerful feelings. It is not uncommon to experience painful feelings such as: loss, grief, depression, anxiety, guilt, death wishes, numbing, confusion, regret, and anger. During such difficult times, therapy can provide support and help in coping with painful and overwhelming feelings. In addition, therapy can help people make sense of what happened and, ultimately, restore a sense of equilibrium. Relationships can be challenging for us all, especially intimate relationships and family relationships, where feelings are the most intense and where we are most vulnerable to feeling hurt. It is in these relationships where we rely on our needs getting met, where we have the greatest dependency, and where we are most exposed. Common struggles in intimate relationships which can be helped through therapy include: a pattern of choosing the wrong partners, the inability to find or sustain a relationship, fear of commitment, difficulty trusting others or trusting too easily, fear or uncertainty about leaving a relationship, sexual identity issues, anger, fear of sex/intimacy, sex addiction, infidelity, destructive or self-destructive patterns, and uncertainty about what constitutes an abusive relationship.
In relationships, especially intimate ones, unhealthy patterns of behavior can develop, which a psychologist can identify and help to change. Common unhealthy patterns in relationships include: passive-aggressive ways of expressing anger, using guilt to get one’s needs met or to express anger, using indirect or ineffective means of communicating, being domineering or controlling, giving too much or too little (confusion about boundaries), getting victimized or victimizing, harboring anger or hurt, submerging one’s own identity/individuality, being overly accommodating and then resentful, rescuing.
Many people come to therapy because of difficulty in other relationships as well, including relationships with co-workers, employers, peers, and friends, where similar unhealthy patterns can exist. Common issues in these relationships which therapy can help include: rivalry, feeling victimized or intimidated, difficulty managing anger, rebelliousness, impulsive behavior, poor judgment, difficulty with assertiveness, feeling controlled or being controlling, difficulty communicating effectively.
Therapy for relationship issues usually takes into account the feelings, thoughts, behavior patterns and personality of the individual coming into therapy, as well as the context in which this problem developed and continues. A psychologist can help people get “unstuck” by helping them learn to recognize, understand, and change patterns that do not work for them and develop more effective ways of managing feelings and conflict.
Therapy can help people in their relationships by promoting greater self-awareness and change, providing education, healing trauma, preventing destructive spirals, offering alternatives to unhealthy patterns, improving skills to manage feelings and conflicts, teaching better communication, and helping people find a balance between taking care of their own needs and accommodating others. (Please also see psychotherapy section for a more detailed explanation of how therapy works.)