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“Owning Your Stuff” In Therapy…It Can Be Empowering!

Most of us yearn for friendly, rewarding relationships with other people…but we often find ourselves at times embroiled in relationships which are exactly the opposite; full of hostility, resentment, bitterness and distrust. As a couples therapist, I work with my clients to help them communicate more effectively, how to solve their challenges more systematically and how to treat each other in a more loving and open manner. 

Individuals who focus on learning to listen more actively, sharing their feelings in a more open way and treat others with love and respect often experience more harmonious relationships. There are many basic and essential building blocks that create a good, solid relationship. As you might guess, communication is extremely important. It is important to let your partner know that you are hearing them (really hearing them!) and stating your own feelings without blame or going into attack mode. It is important to be able to talk about the issues with your partner which arise as part of everyday life. Many couples come to therapy because when they fight, and find themselves getting defensive, frustrated and angry…making demands that ultimately drive the other person farther away.

Some of my clients provoke and maintain the same relationship difficulties that bring them to therapy. We are obviously not aware that we are doing this, so we feel like victims and quickly convince ourselves that someone else (our spouse) is solely to blame. We deny our own role in the problem, because taking a step back and looking at ourselves is too painful and difficult.

When we fight, it can be extremely easy to blame those around us for the problems in our relationships with them. When we blame others, we feel morally superior. It also lets us off the hook, because we are not forced to take a step back and examine our role in the given situation. We don’t have to feel guilty! When working with couples, blame can be a big obstacle. As soon as the “blame game” begins it sets of an endless back and forth, with blame flying all over the place…leading to feelings of self-pity. The partner being blamed can feel like a victim and may pull away…you feel like you have been punished unfairly and are not keen to listen to your partner. Communication breaks down, everyone feels hurt and nothing gets resolved.

I work with my couples therapy clients to engage each other with a constructive style rather than an ineffective or destructive one (like blaming). Many of my clients have good intentions but are often not aware of their actions and the impact of their actions on the relationship. Negative and ineffective styles of communication (like blaming or aversive control, mentioned in this blog post here: http://www.synergeticpsychotherapy.com/2012/03/26/building-awareness-identifying-your-aversive-strategies/) have consequences, such as creating resentments, hurting the other partner or simply making things difficult.

I often find myself encouraging clients to “own their stuff” when they are in session. Everyone has their own emotional sensitivities that they may not be aware of…and these special sensitivities can cause them to react to their partner in a negative or surprising way. In therapy, I work with my clients to help them become aware of these sensitivities and take responsibility for them, or “own them” so they are not in some way projected onto others. When you make the choice to take ownership, you are taking a large step forward. When you initiate changes in your own behavior, you become a special catalyst for change in the other person (and things usually DO get better!) It’s empowering.


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