Why any relationship needs counseling

Mostly when a relationship starts to struggle, the first reaction is to ignore the issues and hope it will go away. The ‘burying their head in the sand’ expression comes to mind.

The notion is that the supposedly dumb ostrich believes that if it can’t see its attacker then the attacker can’t see it. This was nicely reformed as a joke on Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, in which the ‘Ravenous Bugblatter Beast’ was described as ‘so mind-bogglingly stupid that it assumes that if you can’t see it, then it can’t see you.’

But we know today that the supposed habit of ostriches hiding when faced with attack by predators isn’t true. The story was first recorded by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who suggested that ostriches hide their heads in bushes. Ostriches don’t hide, either in bushes or sand, although they do sometimes lie on the ground to make themselves inconspicuous.

So, who is the real “dumb” and “stupid” ones here? Because other than ostriches we as human beings, actually still believe, that when we ignore a problem/attack it will go away. But it seldom does.

So, the intelligent and courageous first step is always to acknowledge a problem or issue. To look it in the eye.

It involves admitting that things are not perfect in your relationship, which is often tough to do and scary to admit. And yes, most of the times you’ll need help. Someone who can help you unpack the issues, without complicating things with his or her own views and issues. Helping couples to find their own answers and their own solutions to their relationship troubles.

On the surface, what most couples fight about is money and sex. It’s the most explosive issue in relationships, but underneath the surface it’s actually about power and dominance.

So if you’re fighting about money, sex or family, at its core it’s a battle for control in the relationship. Usually when people get stuck in a power-struggle, the form it takes will vary according to the practical variables in your relationship – but underneath that is an internal struggle within both individuals: a fight for their version of intimacy to be realized.

In other words, it’s not about what it’s about – the fights are like masks worn on the stage of a much deeper story of a power-struggle for dominance.

Precisely what Alfred Adler, an Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology, said in his emphasis on the importance of feelings of inferiority, which according to him plays a key role in personality development.

“The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge to conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation to dominate.”

So, in relationships this power-struggle, this battle is really about your feelings of inferiority, not feeling worthy and trying to overcome your own inner feelings by dominating the other.

OK, why would this awareness be helpful to you?

If you are suffering or stuck and you’re both feeling increasingly unhappy because of unmet needs – the path to a solution therefore begins, when you can understand and perceive the correct problem.

It’s not about what he or she should or shouldn’t be doing. No, it’s about really seeing what is happening, most couples don’t see what the fights they’re having are actually about. They can only see their own needs and opinions – projected on their partner. And so it breeds resentment.

In other words, you’re fighting the wrong battle, let this be a starting point for you to unravel and unpack where the work needs to be done… in both of you.

When people fall in love, they relate to their partner based on a mutual and invisible agreement: to meet the others needs and help each another with their inferiority feelings, call it their void.

It’s something we can see in how we relate to others – it’s not like anything is specifically said. What originally attracts us to someone is the same thing we resent about them later on. That’s because we look for – in others – what we have suppressed in ourselves.

The voids we have are what unconsciously attracts us, and yet it’s also the foundation for the imbalance we’ll have as a couple. “I need this thing, you have this thing in abundance. Give it to me!”

So when conflict and unhappiness arises, it’s because the relationship relies on a particular kind of imbalance and that imbalance has caused the relationship harm. It’s grown too heavy for one partner – and it’s no longer rewarding to keep up the one-sided giving.  This comes about because of fatigue, and also the receiving end can never truly be satisfying. Only kept at bay.

Usually the most conflict in a relationship comes about because one person has changed the way they act in this unspoken agreement: either they begin to resent their role or start to grow out of their role. As soon as one person begins to cross over into the other partner’s department, it’s felt as an act of betrayal. “You have to love me in this way!” “You promised!”

It triggers the repressed anger attached to the unmet need. For example, in a relationship is between a ‘care-giver’ who has been attracted to a ‘broken-winged’ person. This imbalance causes overtime an increased lack on both sides. The broken person feels increasingly more broken. The care-giver feels increasingly more neglected in their needs. The care-giver eventually self-protects by distancing themselves which in turn triggers more neediness from the broken one.

Another set of conflicts arise when one partner begins to grow out of their role. For example, the emotional person might begin to demand more respect. This threatens the care-giver and makes them feel insecure in their role, thus it arouses hostility and attempts to correct the imbalance.

To the caregiver, it feels wrong – it makes them uncomfortable. These dynamics aren’t healthy for either person. Instead of a mutually rewarding relationships, it’s like sucking each other’s thumb.

When a couple is in a power-struggle of needs, the most common tactic is to polarize your partner: to pull even harder in opposite directions. And with the increasingly violent pulling, comes more triggered emotions.

What was comforting, now becomes a hostile battle fought on concrete terms. “You never were good in bed.” “You spend too much money!”

If both people are afraid to address the conflict, they will create a wall or safety zone of distance between them. This is so both can feel protected from the most painful manifestation of their intimacy problems.

The isolation on both sides causes the couple to feel like they’re being emotionally held hostage. It’s a problem that mystifies both parties, and hence it can feel that there is no solution.

But the good news is, there is always a solution.

If you’re wondering if you can save your current relationship based on how impossible it feels right now, in my opinion the only question you both have to answer is: is it worth it.

That’s it.

It’s not about if it can be saved, it’s about whether or not you are willing to try and fail and then try some more. If both parties choose to check the “yes” box, then I believe you will find happiness once again. And that happiness will be new and different. You will come back together in a different way, a different relationship.

As we experience a relationship, we too are always growing and as our needs change, and our lives change, so will the relationship. There are so many levels, never assume you know everything about a person.

Instead, practice knowing yourself first. Practice loving yourself. Practice accepting what you don’t know and embracing the things you don’t have control over. It’s not your job to change someone else. It’s your job to take care of yourself, be honest with yourself, and do no harm.

Make room for change to happen. Come from love not fear, and ask more of yourself than you think is necessary.

When you get two people to do that – pretty much anything is possible.

An incalculable amount of tension and useless effort would be spared in this world if we realized that cooperation and love can never be won by force. Alfred Adler