A Relationship Therapist Answers All Our Questions On Love
As much as we love to talk about the ins and outs of lurve and relationships, we know we are far from qualified on the subject - so we’ve brought in someone who is. Laura sat down with relationship therapist Kaye McGregor to ask her... pretty much everything. What causes attraction? Why do our friends keep picking bad boiz? What’s the secret to a happy relationship? Are we all doomed to be stuck in unhealthy patterns caused by our childhoods? Can you re-train your brain? She answered it all below x
Hi Kaye! So your job is talking to people about their relationships?
Yes, I love my work helping couples to feel more deeply connected and to grow healthy loving relationships. I have been doing this for 15 years now through my business Convergence Couple Coaching, using Imago communication skills, which can be both personally and relationally transformative if applied in daily communication. I like to assist couples early on in their relationship to learn to practice loving openness to eliminate destructive relating patterns before they become habitual.
To kick things off, what do you believe is the biggest myth about love/relationships that we’ve bought into?
There are two big myths that I believe catch people out in relationships:
1) The other person is the total key to my happiness and they owe it to me to make me happy - I am not responsible for my own happiness or maturity. This creates a sense of entitlement and is cause for much frustration within relationships.
2) A lot of people believe that intimate happiness is attained through a 50/50 ideal of equality and sameness. This leads to resentment and futile attempts to make our partner the same as us and usually leads to the killer of all relationships: score-keeping and self protection if I feel my relationship is "unfair."
We have been talking recently about the pattern of people being attracted to the same kind of person. Is this a common concept?
This is more common than many people realise. We are attracted to certain types of people from many levels; e.g. physical characteristics; a sense of fertility and virility, compatible humour and intelligence. When we meet a possible partner, we relate from both conscious and unconscious patterning of reactions to them dependent on our own unmet needs and how we tend to negotiate getting those needs met. For example someone who is used to shutting down and isolating to keep safe during conflict will often be attracted to a person who tends to express their anger or pursue in a clinging needy way.
Do you believe that people can chase the ‘wrong kind’ of love?
I don't believe in wrong love as a concept. Being "in love" is very complex and often you are attracted to someone who triggers deep unmet needs that activate your same reactions you had in childhood. There are dysfunctional gridlocked relationships and these need to be worked through in healthy communication until both partners are able to show up and stay open to each other. However love is based on choice to stay connected with another person in a respectful trusting way. It takes openness and commitment from both people.If you feel you are "chasing" another person in love and finding the relationship is frequently disconnecting in frustration, get help or ask yourself why you are "chasing" this relationship so hard.
Okay so inside a relationship, we can’t escape our childhood wounds?
We can't escape our childhood wounds but we can heal and release the past through intimate connection in the present. As we practice moment to moment open-hearted intimacy of being in love, the power of the past weakens. The partner choices we make are often based on an unconscious attraction to subtle pattern matches familiar to our early caregivers and we are attracted to these partners as we attempt to heal some of the unfinished emotional and psychological business of childhood.
Imago communication is a unique skill that helps couples to truly hear each other and develop a deep understanding of the needs that have arisen from unmet childhood needs in each other. It is not based on dwelling on the childhood wounds but staying open to meeting the longing and need for true understanding, empathy and open hearted love that heals the partners "neediness".
So how do we make things work?
The good news is that you can learn to love and stay open even when the relationship is painful and you are hurting. It involves learning to respond/ not react, and negotiate needs with your partner from a more conscious state so that you both stay connected. We all live for and long for connection and once both partners become conscious of the dance of connection in the relationship they can learn to take care of the relationship rather than acting out of hurt and wounding each other by pulling away or clinging to self protect.
Love is not about meeting someone to make you happy. That is just the romantic phase to get you bonded; then pretty soon all relationships develop power and control battles that expose the need we have to grow up in an area. We can either choose to stretch and grow in a relationship or exit it. Interestingly if we don't learn the lesson love is trying to teach us, we will be strangely attracted to a similar person who will eventually activate us to show up and grow up in if the relationship is going to mature into a well connected happy one.
You’re suggesting that we can learn to change how we respond to our partner and stay connected - how is that possible?
Relationships take time and energy and communication skills most of us have not seen in action in our own families. However, there is hope as it is possible to lay a healthy template down in a relationship even if we come from dysfunctional backgrounds. We can release the past pain by practicing connected intimacy right now in the present by staying open and curious rather than closing down, striking back or becoming distant. If there are entrenched destructive relationship patterns you may need to seek professional relationship coaching to learn the skills of negotiating your needs while staying open and connected. This can feel very frightening at first but there are ways to do this and practicing with a skilled mediator can help you relearn new ways of relating.
What would you say to someone who is single but wants to find someone to be with?
Go out and get involved in your own interests so you know yourself well first; then meet others and stay open to the possibility of discovering a healthy relationship. Practice being open hearted and prepared to show up and be vulnerable and true to yourself. Get to know lots of different people in lots of different scenarios before getting over committed. It can take two years to really start to know and trust someone. It does take time to grow and nurture a strong bond with someone so don't rush it.
And finally (we have to ask) you’ve seen countless couples come in and out of your office - what is the secret to a happy relationship?!
A successful couple uses a powerful style of intimacy that heals each other by requiring both partners to yield their protected sense of self; to trust the inevitable stages in which love grows and relax into deep connection while accepting and enjoying each others' differences. You can learn to nurture love by practicing opening your heart in every moment including when you feel hurt or misunderstood rather than turning away or closing down. A loving couple stay curious about each other (rather than assuming) and want to stay connected rather than rupture the relationship to self protect. Successful couples want relational maturity over personal happiness and growth and challenge that transports them beyond self seeking and self protection to create safe deepening connections and healthy communication.
For more on this read Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. Kaye runs individual courses for couples wanting to learn more about staying intimately connected through healthy communication and Courses are available at Imago NZ regularly throughout the year.