How do relationships work? | relationships | Blog

How do I make relationships? is the tacit question forever present in so much therapeutic work. How do I relate to others in a way that feels right, healthy, mutually respecting and consistent with the person I want to be? (Whomever that may be). Or, how did I become this person in relationships that I don’t like, feel unable to respect as I constantly feel so turbulent, hurt and confused?

What is it that we do (unknowingly, unconsciously) to each other in relationships that makes “loving” so counter-productive, painful, disillusioning and yet desirable at the same time? 

I hear lots of alibis for not loving in my therapeutic work; reasons to keep the world at bay and avoid intimacy. “I'm always with the wrong person so can't love openly or be the person I want to be”.

When couples seek my help, I'm looking for the compass points that chart a trajectory from infatuation to disintegration, from healthy alliance to unhealthy co-dependency, from wanting each other to disdain and rejection. I see (so called)  romantic relationships degenerate to  something resembling a battle of wills or struggle for power in order to dominate to avoid being dominated. 

As if the tropes of acquiescence/aggression or masochism/sadism have become the defining forces of unravelling relationships. What are the unconscious communications between partners that sustain an unhealthy mode of relating? What are the tacit agreements or deals that couples make? You be the angry one and I can be sad all the time, you be the caretaker and I can be helpless... And to what extent has a fear of loneliness become a viable alibi for sustaining a dysfunctional relationship? And if we feel damaged, are we seeking that damage to be matched in the people we pursue or fall for? If I feel all this pain inside me, might this heaviness, this sadness be too much for another to bear?

In view of the afore mentioned “compulsion to repeat”, we are often seeking to resolve or work something out about ourselves, our history, in the romantic narratives we involve ourselves in. That we are inadvertently replicating an archaic pattern of relating.. a way of loving that feels both familiar but dissatisfying. The tropes of pop psychology reflect this ambivalence.. as with the “rescuer complex”. In this story of unrequited love the child seeks to keep a (needy) depressed parent afloat – saving, salving and counselling as a basic means of survival in a bleak emotional landscape. The adult version seeks a lover to be rescued as if this represented a guarantee of love: “If I rescue you, you will love me forever and never abandon me”. This flawed hypothesis highlights both the repetition/re enactment itself and a constrained version of how to love.