Humans are complex beings. And that’s not negative at all. Put them in an intimate, passionate relationship and that beautiful complexity gets compounded. Nor is that negative.
Human complexity is like thumbprints, different convolutions and curves forming millions of cognitive, emotional and behavioural webs. It is what makes every human being unique, their stories a fascinating tale of experiences and their minds, a giant tree that has as many deep roots and tubers as it does layers of foliage.
Relationships are opportunities for us to engage and belong and carry our unique and distinct wharf into another diverse and inimitable weft. They can nourish and strengthen us on mingling but can also weaken, break or crush.
It is when these complex worlds are unable to accommodate, accept, allow and adapt that they collide head-on, turning every complexity into a complication or conflict.
Identifying triggers in relationships is fundamental to relationship counselling.
Preoccupation with the self
In our minds, and, for a few even outwardly, we are unabashedly preoccupied with ourselves. We have a tendency to believe things, people, their actions and events revolve around “me” or at least definitely have something to do with “me”. Self-talk primarily involves statements with “I”, “Mine”, “My” and the like.
If our partner is coming home late, it is not so much about their busy day or hard work but more about us having to wait for so long. If our children did not do so well at the end of a school year it is not so much about them, but more about us feeling guilty, sad, embarrassed, etc.
Being at the centre often takes away our capacity to think beyond and apply ourselves to problems and those of other people effectively.
In the unique past lies our sense of belonging, identity, memories and the foundation of perception tendencies that over time become too strong and rigid to accommodate the new. Experiences from the past, good or traumatic, become a significant part of our fabric and we are too threatened to walk away from it, into the new and unknown, thereby impacting our present. “How I was brought up”, or “treated by my earlier family”, “what I went through”, “what I am used to” and these stories interfere tremendously in our daily functioning in relationships.
Need for approval, praise, acceptance
A high need for approval leaves us vulnerable simply because it is dependent upon others or the outside for gratification. Fragile self-esteem chases dopamine release, emotional uplifting and a sense of purpose from praise and acknowledgment and in doing so, we can experience many relationship challenges. For people, who need words of acknowledgment to feel loved, not only are they eager to please but also find it hard to accept (or ignore) criticism leading to many conflicts.
Expectations and demands
This is probably one of the toughest ones to tackle. The reason behind this is that the fundamental premise of a relationship is commitment and that for most of us translates into needs being met. Desiring, wishing, hoping and expecting is not a problem. Conflict arises when desire becomes a demand, a rigid need that when unmet leads to significant sadness or unforgiving anger. The difference is subtle but significant. By nature, we want our loved ones to love us in ways we feel loved. In that one sentence itself lies multiple unique subjective complexities that when not treaded carefully can cause pain.
While relationships are more than the sum of the people in it, the building unit of any relationship is the people involved in it. It is important then for us to look at each human being, every self as a significant part of this whole.
As a therapist, I strongly advocate self-work and dropping our beautiful fantasies of the other changing for the sake of us or for our love. Self-work begins with self-awareness, understanding what we bring to the table, our own baggage, our exposure or the lack of it without judgment. There is no story that is perfect, no upbringing that is foolproof and no human that comes with zero baggage. Awareness and acceptance give us the direction, peaceful motivation and security to move forward and invest further in the relationship. Our ability to take responsibility as a significant part of this whole, own our strengths and weaknesses, stop the blame cycle and look at our role in impacting the collective present, is a stepping stone towards healthy relationships.
Empathy has been the buzzword lately. However, it is not entirely and clearly understood and certainly not as frequently applied as spoken of. Empathy is understanding another one’s feelings as if they were your own, sharing their experience as if it were your own and a capacity to see their perspective, without ifs, buts, advice or judgment.
Empathy extends into accepting and respecting differences keeping in mind the various life experiences of your relative. Often, we know of their stories but we reject those facts when they come in the way of our happiness.
Let go of the past, depart from what was and what happened
The past keeps us anchored in pain, sadness, anger and such. Research has proved that our brain has an affinity to remember negative experiences and carrying the past weighs down our experiences in the present, especially with the same person. The best way to cope with your past is to use it as a learning lesson. The desire is not to forget or wipe out the past, but to take away some value from experiences no matter how painful they were. While excruciatingly painful, it is those events that best increase our chances of learning more about our self and life. As Sadhguru puts it, walk away from your past wiser, not wounded.
Dropping the past also helps rid ourselves of grudges and resentment. These can be significantly damaging to yourself and the people around you. A regular check-in, declutter and departure from past conflicts, grudges and complaints can help both our health and relationships.