Relationship Counselling in Downtown Vancouver, BC

By Katherine Young, M.Ed, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Vancouver, BC.

 

Love seems to elude so many of us. Those of us who have it struggle with it, and those who don’t search it out.  The need and desire for love and connection seems to be a basic human drive, and yet it seems, as a culture we are far from understanding how to love well and freely. Whether you are a member of a couple or an individual looking to understand your own part in love relationships, relationship counselling can help shed light on this tricky topic.

Relationships trigger our hurt and stuck spots. Being embroiled in relationship turmoil where our oldest wounds are repeatedly exposed is an experience of a certain kind of hell, which most of us have floundered in at least for a while. There is nothing like a romantic love relationship to show us where we are still undeveloped.

When seen in this way, our relationships can be our greatest teachers. Relationship counselling offers people in Vancouver, BC an invaluable opportunity to investigate their unhealed wounds and undeveloped parts. Nothing reveals what needs to be worked on as well as repeated interactions with those who know us well.

Attachment

Human beings are emotionally and physically built to bond. In fact we bond so easily and so completely with others, particularly when we are sexually involved that a great deal of effective relationship becomes about managing to hold on to one’s autonomy and independence while still staying close and connected to our loved one.

This is the dance of relationship, staying close while remaining distinctly ourselves. The problem is many people, and all of us at times, use unhealthy ways of establishing closeness and also of establishing individuality.

Afraid of losing closeness, we attempt to control our partner; afraid of being engulfed by them we distance, withdraw and coldly shut them out.

Our habits and preferences for maintaining closeness and autonomy usually begin when we are very young and can be very deeply rooted.

The Goal: Emotional Intimacy

In real emotional intimacy we are revealed to our partner. With true closeness, we are most ourselves and we share who we are in our depths. It is through this sharing of the deeply personal that two people can create a beautiful and intimate interpersonal relationship.

Relationships are a System

However, as we have all experienced, relationships are not always intimate. We don’t feel we can be ourselves. We feel pushed and pulled and don’t know how to manage our needs. We may fall into conflict or into detached apathy. Relationships have patterns and cycles, and relationships in conflict have particularly rigid, repetitive patterns and cycles which can be very hard to break because generally the pattern or cycle reinforces itself. A skilled therapist as a third party can be invaluable in helping a couple or an individual identify the system and find new ways of engaging without further entrenching the negative pattern.

In therapy, the partners learn to identify and look at the entire cycle, they can then begin to find ways to break the pattern. Counselling helps the couple to create awareness about how the cycle is created and then clients and counsellor can practice breaking the cycle and try engaging in new ways.

Cycles of Engagement

Some of the most common patterns in a stressed relationship are:

Attack/Withdraw

Pursue/Withdraw or

Attack/Attack and

Withdraw/Withdraw

Attachment Styles

There are a limited set of attachment styles. People tend to have the following attachment styles:

  • Secure
  • Anxious
  • Avoidant
  • Fearful/Avoidant or Disorganized

Anxious attachment is characterized by nervous preoccupation with securing engagement with the partner, while avoidance is pretty much the opposite. Avoidant partners mitigate rejection fears by withdrawing from the loved one and finding some form of distraction. The fourth category, Fearful/Avoidant or Disorganized is marked by fluctuation between the two previous styles.

Enmeshment

When we sacrifice our personal autonomy too much we can become too involved in our relationship. We’ve probably all felt it, often in the beginning of a relationship and sometimes throughout. We give up our usual activities, we spend all our time with our partner, we lose friends, we stop speaking up about what we really think, we look after our partner’s feelings too much or we sacrifice our own goals and dreams for the comfort and security of being with the person we love. We lose a sense of where we end and our partner begins. Suddenly we are not the fascinating, engaged, attractive person we used to be. Our partner may even find themselves bored with us, or us with them.

Learning to maintain boundaries in a relationship is one of the most effective ways counselling can help create a healthier relationship and a more satisfying life.

Disengagement

Sometimes a couple will navigate enmeshment, arriving, reactively at a stage where they are more able to maintain autonomy. However, this can go too far too with each person maintaining individuality, but at the cost of emotional intimacy and connection in the relationship. This may end in a break up or sometimes, a couple stays together noticing less conflict and feeling, in a certain sense, safer, however many couples at this stage feel there is something missing. Connection has been sacrificed and intimacy is not achieved. Therapy can help a couple learn to create more emotional connection through honest sharing and deep listening and responding.

Goals of Therapy

Different couples may have different goals for where they would like to end up in therapy, however much of couples therapy and relationship counselling centers around exploring the dance of autonomy/intimacy to arrive at a successful marriage of the two, where both people are autonomous, and intimacy is also enjoyed.

“Entering any relationship requires a transformation of the self.”  –Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi


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