Most of our deepest emotional experiences come from our closest connections to other people. Our family relationships, our romantic relationships, and our closest friendships are, for many of us, the most profound and powerful experiences of our lives. .
There is a great deal of evidence that humans are wired to seek love and attachment. Because we feel so strongly about love and closeness, it can be terribly painful when these things go wrong. Because the pain of loss or the pain of betrayal can be so intense, human relationships can feel like an area in which the stakes are high, and we have far less control than we would like to have.
Every relationship involves two people's quirky personalities and complicated histories. There is a lot happening, most of it deeply emotional, and not terribly rational. But there is method to the madness, and therapy can play a unique role in making sense of it all, in understanding what gets stirred up in us as we try to be close to other people.
Therapy can work on relationships in many ways, both by understanding the emotions inside you, and by learning to do things differently with those you love:
- Therapy can help understand the patterns that we learned to play growing up, and how we can now be close to our parents and siblings without continuing to play the role we learned to play when we were 12.
- Therapy can help a person learn new ways to communicate, both ways to be closer to those you love, and ways to have conflicts without doing damage.
- Closeness involves knowing another person well, in part by trying to really understand them and their experience. It also involves letting them know you, by letting them into your experience more deeply. Therapy can help with both parts of that process, since part of the project of therapy is to understand yourself more deeply, and to understand what seems to be happening between you and other people.
- At times therapy involves talking about and understanding the people in your life well enough to understand their limitations. There are times when the best relationship is the one in which you control the degree to which you expose yourself to being hurt.
- Therapy can help you understand more of how your heart works, how attachments have worked in your life, and how you have navigated the waters of emotional intimacy on the one hand, and loneliness on the other.