What does it mean when we say relationships heal? Or that we heal in community?
Representation and Connection
First, the concept of relationships healing speaks to the power of representation and connection. It is healing to see ourselves reflected in others. One of the most human concerns we have is am I normal? Do I make sense? When we can connect with others who share our experiences we can feel assured that we are not alone, that we belong somewhere.
Reconditioning & Recontextualizing Triggers
Second, relationships offer opportunities to restructure our implicit responses to triggers. We are often healing from harm done in previous or other relationships; healthier relationships present an opportunity for a different experience.
Our triggers and fears are conditioned responses and our bodies are sensitive to data that feels familiar to situations where we felt more helpless. There can be subtle reminders, such as the look on someone's face, or their tone of voice. And sometimes it’s not so subtle reminders, like our partner criticizing something our parents also criticized us for.
In relationships where there is mutual respect and a desire for each partner to heal we can both recognize when our bodies are reading into subtext that might not be there, and advocate for our partners to be especially tender around our raw spots
Rewriting Relationship Rules
Finally, relationships can provide us new templates for engaging with others and navigating our way through this world. The relationships we actively choose are opportunities to practice new behaviors and values that weren't available to us in our families of origin, for instance. Rather than following a predetermined set of values and expectations, we can explore and experiment in our relationships.
Non-monogamy is one example of how more people are consciously choosing new relationship styles, and even if we are monogamous I think we can learn from non-monogamy’s resistance to what we’ve commonly accepted as “traditional” relationship models. Mutual aid is a larger example of how whole communities are mobilizing to support each other in ways that their governments are not.
How Couples Therapy Can Help
Many of us grew up in families and communities that lacked healthy or diverse representations of good relationships. There are a number of historical, systemic, and interpersonal reasons for this. And if you’re hungry for different options, you’re not alone!
Yet, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. For couples navigating differences in racial identity, or evolutions in sexual or gender identities, for instance, the process of intentionally claiming a relationship style and relationship values that feel resonate can be both liberating and overwhelming. The options might feel both limited and endless.
You might worry that if differences, misunderstandings, or insecurities come up that your relationship will be strained. But with skills and tenderness, these moments are actually opportunities to foster deeper connection and fulfillment.
Couples therapy is a safe and effective container for exploring these hopes, fears, and possibilities. While you may worry that differences, misunderstanding, or insecurity in relationships signals failure, with the right skills we can use these moments to foster deeper connection and fulfillment.
If you and your partner are reading to write your own relationship rules, schedule a consultation today using the button below.
Photos by Joshua Mcknight and Mikhail Nilov