Updated: Aug 18, 2021
We are social beings, and that means that we like to be around other people. Study after study has shown that those who report that they are in an interpersonal relationship rate themselves as happier than their peers who are single or not in some type of interpersonal relationship. I’m sure there are many out there that are saying right now, “I don’t know what he is talking about, I am miserable in my marriage!” This may be true, but the funny thing is, why do we keep trying to have relationships if they just make us miserable? The truth of the matter is that we like to have someone to share our lives with. Some one who listens to us, someone we can listen too. Men especially thrive in relationships. For most men, the relationship is what gives them meaning. The reason why they go to work is not just to earn money, but to demonstrate that they love their spouse and care for them. Sadly, women and men are wired differently and what does it for one does not generally do it for the other. I was about to go into the differences between the sexes, but this is not the time for that. As a therapist, and a husband, I searched for ideas, researched theories, studied research and read books, listened to pod casts, talked to colleges all in an attempt to increase my competency in working with struggling married couples. I was also looking for ways to solve my own marital struggles. I encountered many theories about communication styles, personality differences, and the differences between the sexes and how it complicates marriage. This was all helpful information and helped in degree’s, but I never really felt fully satisfied with the answers I was receiving. However, recently I discovered what I believe to the best initial marital counseling, and the funny thing is that it has nothing to do with your partner!
You may be wondering right now how we got from clarification of self and interpersonal relationships to marriage counseling? That’s a good question! To gain clarification of ourselves in our interpersonal relationships means becoming completely honest with how we act in our most intimate relationships. This means looking at how we “one up” or “one down” our partners. When do we play the victim role, when do we use righteous indignation to justify our hurtful acts. When do we act entitled and then expect our spouse to accept our entitlement. What type of personal boundaries to we have with ourself and with those around us, especially our spouses. Do we place ourselves in the one up grandiose position, looking down on others? Or do we place ourselves in the one down shame position where we beat ourselves up and then try to make our spouse take responsibility for our personal choices and reactions when it was us that place ourselves in that one down position.
The first step in clarification of self in connection with interpersonal relationships begins with gaining and accepting your own individual worth including all of your own short comings. Understanding how you try to use others to justify our own choices. Understanding how you may use possessions, power, abilities, personal attributes, or actions to gain self-worth and personal value. Accepting all of the good and the bad that is you. That is where the real work is, that is why therapy or self-improvement is difficult. If therapy or self-improvement does not hurt, you are not truly engaged in the process. We all bring our own past experiences, personal beliefs, thinking errors, and baggage to our relationships. To have a healthy relationship you yourself needs to be healthy. Never did two unhealthy people make a healthy relationship! Whatever you want your relationship to be, you have to become that first before the relationship will ever become what you envision.
Once you have started the process of taking responsibility for your own self and your own personal development, you can clarify other aspects of the relationships you have. Mainly, who do you want in your life? Who do you not want in your life? Who are those people that bring happiness, joy and vitality to your life, and who are the ones that drain it from your life? Those people that do not bring positivity to your life may need to be cut out! Easy right? My guess is a big fat no, not easy at all! Most of us have people in our lives that do not bring happiness or joy to us but cutting them out of our life is not really an option. Cutting these difficult people out of your life could also mean cutting other very important people out of your life also. Cutting out an ex-spouse, may also mean cutting out a child. Cutting out in-laws may mean that your spouse leaves you or retaliates and punishes you in other ways. Figuring out how to make this part of your relationship work can be very tricky. It is also generally accompanied by much sadness, pain, and grief.
What do we do then? How do we keep the good relationships in our life and not allow the bad ones to impact us. There is an easy answer to this, but an extremely difficult path to follow. So difficult that may are unwilling to try, or fail in their attempts. What is the answer? The answer is becoming a confident healthy person ourselves. One with boundaries, one with self-worth and self-esteem. One that does not rely on others to reinforce their own personal worth. This is the difficult work, especially when we have to deal with past issues or trauma. However, it is worth it. As I mentioned earlier, we are happiest when we are in relationships of love, warm positive regard, safety and trust and when I say love I mean love is a verb, it is an action not a feeling. We individually are happiest when we feel that way about ourselves too! Interpersonal relationships in our lives are very important to us because we experience the good they bring. Sadly we also experience the bad they bring when we are not right with ourselves. Terry Real, a marriage therapist made a great description of marriage. He described it as harmony, then disharmony, then repair and back to harmony. That is what relationships are all about. If we want to stay in the harmony part of our relationships for longer periods of time, we need to make sure we are in harmony with ourselves first and doing the hard work to make ourselves better. Being personally healthy will make our interpersonal relationships better and bring us the greatest amounts of happiness.