A well-known quote from Sartre reads, “hell is other people.” Seemingly misanthropic as a sentiment, it certainly reflects the reality that it is our relationships that cause us most heartache and pain. Romantic relationships, family relationships, friendship relationships, sexual relationships, workplace relationships. The irony here is that much as other people are so often the cause of our difficulties, they are also often the source of our greatest joys. The part of the equation that Sartre missed, was that heaven is also other people.
So, what happens when an important relationship you are having becomes more hell than heaven? When you feel you have tried everything to repair it, restart it or reconnect and you are still distant, hostile or just not good for each other anymore.
Coming for relationship therapy can be a way forward out of an impasse, not least because it usually means you have acknowledged together that your relationship is in crisis and you need some additional help.
“Love, like light, throws shadows”
Relationship therapy is often referred to as couple therapy, and it is the case that most people who come to me for relationship therapy are couples in a romantic relationship. However, I also work with any other types of relationships where the people involved are facing difficulties. Whether that be family members stuck in unhappy family dynamics, work colleagues dreading seeing each other five days a week or life long friends who are in crisis but cannot face ending their friendship.
In romantic relationships too, there are many variations beyond the norm of a heterosexual couple in a monogamous relationship. Most of the couples I work with are in non-monogamous relationships. They may be in open relationships. They may be in polyamorous relationships and need support as a primary couple or they may be a polycule who need to meet for therapy with three people in a session rather than two, and in different combinations of pairs in order that the more complex interactions can be helpfully explored.
They may be couples who are part of the swinging, BDSM and kink scenes or couples who enjoy threesomes, casual hook up’s, sex parties, cross-dressing or fetish play. They may be asexual, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian or without a neat sexual identity label. They may be female, male, cis, trans, non-binary or gender queer in their gender identity.
Relationships are as wonderfully varied as the people in them and each variation brings its own challenges and own set of pleasures.
My role as a relationship therapist is to facilitate a more honest, more explicit, more connected conversation between the people involved. I am not invested in whether people stay together or separate, change or repeat the same patterns. That part is entirely up to the people in the relationship. What I am invested in is offering feedback about the dynamic between the couple, to hopefully throw some more light into the shadows, helping people notice and then address, unhelpful communication styles and ways of relating to each other.
Most people come for relationship therapy wanting the other person, or people, to love them in the way they prefer to be loved and for their partner, lover, family member to change in ways that would benefit them. Thus, one of the first tasks of relationship therapy is to encourage each person to express their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Then to attempt to understand the other person’s perspective. Empathy is when we are able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to recognise in other people what we know in ourselves. It is not always easy - particularly when you are feeling wronged - to allow a generosity of spirit to emerge in order to sit back and really listen to what the other person is trying to tell you.
Having a therapist present can make this initial process far easier. A therapist can intervene when communication is breaking down, or when contradictions or blind spots are not being picked up on. A therapist can help you feel safer and more willing to take some risks with each other and with yourself.
Certainly my intention is to be your ally, whilst you work through the difficulties that are preventing a good connection, to help you explore the way you co-create the quality of your relationship and make decisions about how you want to be in the future, individually and as a pair or trio or group.