Healthy Relationships Needs Honest Communication
An interview with Faith Foo, Registered & Licensed Counselor, discussing what makes a healthy relationship and the reasons self-sabotaging in relationships happen.
Q: What are the signs that a person is getting in the way (self-sabotaging) their own romantic relationships without knowing (reluctance to commit etc)?
Self-sabotaging one’s own relationships could happen when one of these reasons happen:
- When the person panics and doesn’t feel emotionally safe with the partner. For example, can I count on you/depend on you? Am I dear to you? Will you respond to me when I need you? Are you here for me? Do I matter to you?
- When they deny longing to be emotionally close and focus instead on actions that give only some degree of expression to their own needs.
- When the person experiences some degree of fear when he/she has disagreements or arguments with his/her partner.
- When they wind up demanding rather than requesting.
- When they do not feel confident in their relationships.
Q: Why would a person unconsciously sabotage their own romantic relationships (Self-esteem, confidence, over-thinking PTSD)?
I remember a saying from Sigmund Freud, he said “We are never so vulnerable as when we love.”
In a relationship, when we suddenly perceive a negative shift in our sense of connection to a loved one or when we sense threat or danger to the relationship, we experience what neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University calls “primal panic”.
When a person is under panic mood, they unconsciously either become demanding and clinging in an effort to draw comfort and reassurance from the partner or they withdraw and detach in an attempt to soothe and protect himself/herself.
Q: What is the first step to take to address the relationship issue (e.g. talk to partner, make sure there are no secrets, counseling)?
In my own experience as a counselor, I have noticed that Asian clients tend to seek help only at the eleventh hour. I can understand the difficulty they have had to overcome in order to take this step. Many clients come in because they have exhausted all their personal means of help. In fact, I am antagonised by some their comments like: “It’s embarrassing to air our dirty laundry”, “It’s shameful if our family members or friends find out that we come for counseling”.
Nevertheless, every couple is different and so when they choose to seek help it will depend on the nature of the issue they are facing. If they are worried about their relationship for whatever reason and feel they both are impotent to reach a conclusion alone, it is likely that they will benefit from couples counseling.
My advice for couples is, do not wait until things get bad before trying couples counseling. Many couples use counseling sessions as a way to keep their relationship healthy and to address underlying concerns that may become conflict in the future. Similarly, receiving help early brings early relief. It also means early damage control.
This is especially true for those who experience extreme emotional and psychological pain. I highly recommend that they do not tarry. I have seen many couple cases coming in too late. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
Q: What is a healthy romantic relationship?
To me a healthy relationship is when the couple feels safe to relate deeply to one another. They feel generally secure, which means, they are comfortable with closeness and confidently depending on one another. They are good at seeking support and better at giving . They feel safe to connect to their partners, more easily get over the hurts their partner unavoidably cause, and they are less likely to get angry or hostile when they get mad at them.
Q:How can a person maintain a healthy relationship?
First, increase positive connections and intimacy in the relationship and also on increasing one’s own self-awareness and understanding of the partner. Understand that intimacy in it’s full glory means closeness and connected-ness and sharing each other’s vulnerabilities, not just sex.
Second, Do your part! As Shirley P. Glass puts it, it’ s more important to be the right person than to find the right person. Don’t just focus that your spouse is the source of the problems. Even if he/she plays a part to it, you have lot of control over what you can do to help in the relationship.
Third, healthy relationship is teamwork. Work as team in the relationship. Keep the fun and friendship, make the relationship a safe haven. A healthy relationship is when each member does his or her part.
Forth, be realistic about each other’s expectations.
Lastly, “make love and not war”. Seek ways to understand and accommodate each other.
Q: What is your advice for a person who might be doubting their ability to maintain a healthy romantic relationship (factors that need to be evaluated etc.)?
I will tell the person there is no perfect ideal man; there is no perfect ideal woman. There is no marriage made in heaven. Each one has to invest love, respect and trust, in making the man ideal, in making the woman ideal and in making the relationship work. Each one has to invest. Without investment there will be no harmonious relationship.
I like to quote Tom Robbins, he said “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”
Guest Contributor: Faith Foo, Registered & Licensed Counselor