CBT and the Perfect Relationship
When you are a CBT Therapist, you talk to a lot of different people looking for CBT Therapy. Among my clients are also a good deal of couples, and I hope that this can be helpful to many of them as a ‘food for thought’ either before they see a CBT Therapist or perhaps afterwards as a kind of reminder.
There may be no such thing as the ‘perfect ‘relationship, but perhaps a realistic aim is to make a ‘good enough’, ‘right enough’ or ‘satisfying enough’ relationship. The critical point though is that we make relationships, they don’t happen to us. This fact is in line with how CBT sees relationships.
CBT and how do we make relationships?
Creating the nature of a relationship has many ingredients, including the personalities of the individuals involved. However, in CBT, it’s also about the way each of us behaves and the kind of things we say and the way we say them.
CBT and Choosing a partner
Choosing the person that we decide to make our partner is a vital part of the process of building a relationship that works. Despite western myths, we do choose to fall in love with someone – it’s not something that we ‘can’t help’. But because we’re not always in touch with our feelings, which is a core element in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy the process can happen somewhat out of our awareness, so we sometimes imagine that we have no say in the matter.
It’s more likely that you’ll make a satisfying relationship with someone that you can talk with easily and that you share interests, likes and dislikes with. If you start seeing someone whose behaviour, which is another core element in CBT, makes you feel sad/angry/bad more often than it makes you feel content/happy/good, they are NOT a good choice as a partner. Stop seeing them before you become emotionally involved. People sometimes believe that they can change another person, and this is often why they get involved in such relationships. But you cannot change another person. The only person that you can change is yourself.
CBT and Asking for change
If you’re in a relationship with someone where you’re unhappy, you can work towards change. Although you can’t change another person, you may be able to influence their behaviour. CBT works with behaviour, feelings and thoughts. Try to do this in a planned way at a calm time and not in the middle of a row.
A good model for asking for different behaviour is the ‘x y z’ formula or assertive communication. It works like this: ‘When you do x, I feel y, so I’d prefer if you did z’. For instance, ‘When you leave the house during an argument, I feel abandoned and rejected. So, I’d prefer it if you’d stay to discuss the problem.’
CBT and Conflict resolution
One of the best indicators of the success of a relationship is the couple’s ability to negotiate solutions to problems and conflicts. To do this, you must both want to resolve the issue and be willing to discuss it. By looking at what each of you is unhappy with and at what you would both like out of the situation, you can start to consider different options. If you do this, you are effectively following the CBT way.