Imagine you say the phrase, “relationship problems,” and someone responds skeptically, “What is that? What do you mean? You have problems in your relationships?” You may have a tough time imagining that. When you talk about conflict, everybody knows what you mean, because there is not a relationship in this world that is conflict-free, with two possible exceptions:
- You barely know each other or have a surface-level relationship.
- You have a spoken or unspoken agreement to ignore any problems that arise.
Now, you might be thinking that the second choice is inherently unhealthy, but that’s not necessarily the case. It depends on the relationship. In some relationships, it’s not worth dredging up problems and sorting through them. You don’t need to do that with everyone in your life, and most of us know that instinctively.
For example, you probably avoid conflict with your boss, people you’re serving in a retail establishment, your landlord, or people sitting at the next table in a restaurant. You may dislike their actions, you may feel offended by things they say, or they may get on your nerves or not do their job correctly, but in most cases, you’re not going to make an issue out of it.
Why? Because the quality of your relationship isn’t worth it. All of us have shallow social relationships with strangers, acquaintances, and even friends. There’s no need to work through conflict in most of these cases, unless:
- Injustice or wrong is being done, especially to someone else.
- Someone is breaking the law.
- There’s a pattern of egregious behavior that needs to be called out.
Outside of these exceptions, where does conflict in relationships normally take place? It’s in our close relationships, the ones that matter to us, and/or the ones that affect us most on an everyday basis. It’s the people who we live with, are related to, or are married to.
Understanding the quality of a relationship is the first step towards understanding how to handle potential conflict. Our relationships have a significant impact on our quality of life. We all tend to have an instinctive approach to handling conflict, and many of us are conflict avoidant. We’d rather avoid a problem and pretend it doesn’t affect us. But relationship conflict always affects us.
We can’t ignore problems in our social/family lives and hope that everything will be okay. Investing time into conflict resolution improves (not detracts from) a healthy relationship. Good relationships not only improve our quality of life now but also increase our chances of longevity and well-being in the future.
So, when relationship problems arise (and they inevitably do), what is your natural response?
Is it to:
- Avoid them?
- Confront them head-on?
- Be aggressive?
- Be passive-aggressive?
- Tackle them in a healthy way?
And of course, you’re only part of the equation. How do the other people in your life handle conflict, and how does that inform your response?
Relationship counseling offers a place for you to explore these questions and set goals for improvement. If you’re experiencing significant conflict in one of your relationships, you may have trouble convincing the other person to go to counseling with you, but that doesn’t have to stop you from going. Individual counseling can be effective at helping you respond to conflict in a healthy, peaceful way.
Why Seek Relationship Counseling?
People go to counseling for all types of relationships:
- Family of origin
- Relationships with adult children
- Handling in-law issues/problems
- Extended family
Some of the issues involved can include betrayal, codependency, bullying, major disagreements, future plans, personality disorders, toxic behavior, social anxiety, abuse, trauma, and more.
You might be asking, “Do any of these scenarios involve family counseling or couples counseling, not just individual counseling?” The answer is yes, but sometimes the best place to start is with you. After all, the only person you can control is yourself.
One common area of focus in individual counseling is learning how to respond to others instead of reacting to them. We all tend to react instinctively based on a complex array of factors including our upbringing, personality, habits, and weaknesses. Learning to control our first reaction to unpleasant circumstances or triggers can help us consciously choose how to respond, and to feel in control of our conversations instead of at the mercy of our emotions.
What Happens in Christian Relationship Counseling?
When you schedule your risk-free initial session at [Christian Counseling], you can meet with a counselor to decide if they are a good fit for you, and you can discuss the issues you are experiencing as well as your goals for treatment. You can get your counselor’s input and recommendations for a treatment plan, the frequency and number of sessions they recommend, and areas of focus for your treatment going forward.
Because relationship counseling can address such a wide variety of issues, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but here are some common themes that might be addressed:
- Your childhood and upbringing and how they affect your relationships and conflict style.
- Your attachment style and how that affects your natural response to conflict.
- The dynamics in your interpersonal relationships.
- How to discover where you need boundaries.
- How to set and enforce boundaries.
- How to respect the boundaries of others.
- How to balance self-care, self-discipline, and self-respect with loving, caring for, and respecting others in each relationship.
- Learning and internalizing God’s love for you and how that can help you feel secure and free in all your human relationships.
If this sounds like a process you’d like to walk through, reach out today! The counselors at [Christian Counseling] are here for you.
Tips for Dealing with Relationship Problems
No matter what kind of relationship you’re striving to improve, remember that you are only part of the equation. You get to choose your behavior, and other people get to choose theirs. But no matter what other people choose to do, you will still receive help from having healthy boundaries and empathy for others and finding your worth and value in God.
The Gottman Institute offers three tips for couples to build a healthy and satisfying relationship. These are evidence-based ideas and can also apply to other types of relationships, such as with friends and family:
Express interest. Ask questions about the other person’s day, their interests, and their perspective on life. The most effective way to use this tool is through open-ended questions.
Be gentle. When a conflict arises, use “I” statements and talk about your needs rather than criticizing or blaming. (For example: “I feel overwhelmed when I am the only one who does the dishes. I would like to have more of a shared approach to household chores.” vs. “You never help around here, and I’m sick of it!”)
Repair negative interactions. Take responsibility for whatever your role was in a disagreement, and attempt to restore the relationship.
God’s Word gives us many examples of how to handle relationships, especially with other Christians. Jesus talks about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies, which means that Christians are not supposed to focus on retaliation, but on doing good even when harm is done to us.
Remember, doing good for the other person means doing what is good for them, not necessarily doing what they want. For example, if you are twenty-five and your mother wants to tell you where to live, who to marry, and what job to have, it is not good for her for you to yield to her desires.
What is good for her is for you to gently set proper boundaries and distance yourself if you need to. When you set boundaries, you’re not acting out of hatred or contempt, you’re acting in everyone’s best interests, including the other person’s.
Sometimes, deciding what boundaries to set can feel like learning a new language. After a while, it becomes easier to discern when and how to set them. In Christian counseling for relationship problems, your counselor can help you work through any foggy dynamics in your relationships and make decisions that feel peaceful to you, even if they’re difficult to carry out.
If you’re interested in Christian relationship counseling, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the counselor directory. Your journey towards healthier relationships can start today.
“Flock of Seagulls, Courtesy of Mehdi Sepehri, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stair Maze”, Courtesy of Scott Gummerson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lady in White”, Courtesy of Joshua Rondeau, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of Joshua Fuller, Unsplash.com, CC0 License