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Essential to being a healthy individual is the capacity for effective interpersonal functioning. To become actualized as a human being an individual needs to be in a relationship with at least one other person. Man is born into and lives in interdependence with other people. Human existence occurs at the interface, the meeting place, between people. People do not prosper in a vacuum. Human needs are satisfied in an interpersonal matrix. People need other people to grow, develop and be human. We must have contact with other human beings if we are to conceive and fulfill the healthy elements within our selves. Our individuality is constantly renewed and refreshed by its contact with other people who provide opportunities for growth, intimacy and self- realization.
In life, an individual struggles to achieve meaning and significance. To be is to mean something to someone else. We are nothing within ourselves, non-existent. A person cannot directly create this existence for themself. Only another person can give meaning and significance to us.
Relationships can be very rewarding as well as a source of great pain and suffering. Participation in another’s life means something very positive. An individual’s world is greatly enlarged by participation in another’s life. Participation in another’s life implies not only experiencing greater pleasure for oneself but also experiencing shared pain and suffering which is clearly not a gain.
All relationships require a great deal of work to keep them viable and rewarding. The Columbia Center recognizes the strain and difficulties any relationship goes through. Couples experience an extensive array of challenges throughout their life cycle together, and each new phase of life brings its rewards and its challenges. As people develop they may grow in different directions. This distance puts stress on a relationship. Most relationships will get strained at some time, resulting in relationship not functioning optimally and producing self-reinforcing, maladaptive patterns. This in turn can lead to the relationship becoming mutual unsatisfying, distant or even ultimately to the termination of the relationship. There are many possible reasons for this, including insecure attachment, poor communication, ineffective problem solving, psychiatric problems, and third parties to name a few.
Our goal is to help the individuals to recognize and to better manage or reconcile troublesome differences and repeating patterns that lead to distress. To help individuals resolve the chronic conflicts that perpetuate emotional pain and strife, while preserving the self-esteem and personality integrity of the individuals involved. To do this each person must be willing to learn and develop certain relationship skills, to take equal responsibility for awareness of the problem as it arises, to develop awareness of their own contribution to the problem and be able to make some fundamental changes in thought and feeling.
These issues are addressed through individual, couples and family therapy.
A person in the most crucial sense is a symbol, a message that comes to life only by being deciphered, understood, and acknowledged by someone else. Everyone wants to have a life in the thoughts and feelings of others. Everyone wants to have another person reflect our individual existence and demonstrate it in an understanding affectionate way. All individuals have needs that they look to others to fulfill and all individuals also want to be needed. To be of no use to anything or anybody would make life intolerable. People are uneasy and restless when they are not needed because they feel unfinished and incomplete. People can only get completed in and through relationships in which they feel needed. Being of value to another heightens one’s self-respect. In effective social functioning an individual derives a positive sense of well being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves.
The healthy individual possesses the essential social skills to recognize, interpret, and respond constructively to emotions in oneself and others. There are several factors necessary for good relationships. For there to be a close and optimal relationship there must be clear strong semi-permeable boundaries between members. Boundaries must have enough strength and integrity to allow interaction with its borders. Affiliative, compassionate and accepting relationships support clear individual boundaries. Boundaries must also be permeable enough to allow effective interchange and commerce with the outside world. This openness to the world allows receptiveness to other viewpoints, life-styles, and perceptions. This is seen in the ability to understand and appreciate the mental state of others and to comprehend and appreciate the effect of one’s personal actions on others. Individuals in an optimal relationship are open and flexible to a range of other peoples’ ideas, emotions and behavior. They are responsive and completely acknowledge each other’s communications. This increases the ability to alter views of themselves and their relationship.
Boundary problems in a relationship can arise where the boundaries of the other is not respected. An example of this is invasiveness, which is the aggressive definition of another. Invasiveness destroys the other’s subjectivity by telling the other what they are thinking, feeling and wishing. Motives are criticized. Not respecting the subjectivity of the other in this way is highly destructive to an individual and to the relationship. The absence of invasiveness allows individuals to maintain their personal boundaries and have a respected and secure internal life space.
Fusion in a relationship is another boundary problem. To be close to another you must be separate. Without a clear sense of individual boundaries the murkiness of suffocating fusion rather than warmth and closeness is experienced. To prevent feeling engulfed a typical but unsatisfactory solution is the development of an overly rigid clarity of individual boundaries. This is attained at the expense of closeness and warmth. In optimal relationships individuals can maintain their individuality and attain closeness. In fact to achieve closeness individuality has to be maintained. The ability to establish and maintain closeness, intimacy and friendships is enhanced because of confidence and a lack of defensiveness.
In an optimal relationship clear communication is necessary. Clear communication requires contextual clarity. It is clear to whom comments are addressed. There is congruency in communication. Body language is congruent with the verbal and emotional messages being communicated to the listener who attends to the communication. There is a shared focus of attention when interacting.
In an optimal relationship autonomy is encouraged. The individuals in a relationship have the ability to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and behavior. There is a state of openness to each other’s communications. The individuals in the relationship are comfortable with anxiety. They can tolerate uncertainty, ambivalence and disagreement. When subjectivity is respected spontaneity is possible. This encourages the individuals to be open, candid and vulnerable. More flexible and adoptive behavior and thinking allows for joyful and spontaneous interactions as opposed to more restricted and stereotyped roles and behavior, which stifle spontaneity.
Another problem that is very destructive to relationships is the lack of clear communication. These are individuals who are not clear in expressing their thoughts and feelings, who do not listen and hear the other person’s communication and who do not relate in the here and now. They engage in obscure, vague and often confusing attempts to communicate information about their inner selves. When individuals are defensive they become obliviousness to communication. These qualities interfere with having one’s needs met and in the ability to resolve conflict.
Every relationship has conflict. If individuals are open and receptive to each other and can negotiate, their conflict is limited and resolvable. Poor responses to immediate disagreement lead to festering resentment, which then pervades the atmosphere and makes future encounters painful. In an optimal relationship the individuals are sensitive to each other’s feeling states and responded with concern and action.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LOVING RELATIONSHIP
The experience of a certain fundamental belongingness and unity between lover and love.
Identification with the other person. The experience of a certain sameness or communality which permits those who share the relationship to share also in each other’s lives. A sense of oneness that exists emotionally in spite of the awareness of separateness.
The recognition and acceptance of the separateness, the difference and the otherness of the loved person.
In the optimal case the person who loves, in spite of their identification with the other, allows the other to live their life and does not want to take it over. There is the realization that the other is different from one self, a person in their own right and in a very real way the person who loves stands off, enjoying whatever direction the other is taking, even if it is not what they had expected or preferred the other to do. The recognition and acceptance of the otherness of the person also implies an understanding of them. To love well one must love knowledgably and intelligently.
The understanding of the other, is an understanding of a special kind.
Real understanding of a person means seeing and knowing the person with their faults, weakness and peculiarities.
In a good relationship both parties develop and grow.