Do you wonder why it has been so difficult to have a long-term satisfying relationship? Is it hard for you to meet new people? Perhaps you have no trouble meeting new people but find developing intimacy challenging? Maybe you have tried dating sites, exploring new social avenues, or even a match maker, but have you ever considered psychotherapy? That may sound like an odd thought to you and you may be wondering how psychotherapy can help your romantic life, but oftentimes it can!
Yes there are practicalities involved in finding a romantic partner, such as needing to be social and active in meeting new people; however, there are many other factors that most people do not think about that can hinder having a satisfying romantic life. Many of these other components that can be interfering with the development of intimate relationships may be specific to your personal history with relationships, and to your ideas about your self and others. However, despite idiosyncratic differences in people's history and perceptions of relationships, there are some common patterns that perhaps you can relate to or have witnessed in others. Here are just a few examples of such patterns:
1. Some people have no problem getting to know others, are social, and can easily start dating. However, once the relationship becomes serious some people may begin to question whether they actually like the person, start to find things wrong with the person, and ultimately end things despite the relationship having gone well. This does not just happen once or twice when the relationship actually isn't right; it happens with every relationship even when it does feel like the relationship is right. Clearly there is a fear of commitment here, but simply knowing that will not help people who are stuck in this pattern. It is important to understand what this fear is about in order to work through it, in the service of maintaining relationships long term. A trained psychologist can help people explore their history and help them understand where these fears come from, what they are about, and how to move beyond them.
2. There are other people who would really like to be in a relationship but find themselves unable to be comfortable when talking to potential romantic interests. Some may feel so anxious about it that they just avoid contact with anyone who peaks their interests, and others may only be able to converse with romantic potentials if they behave in a "fake" manner. These patterns can stem from a number of different things, and a surface explanation for what is going on is likely to be incorrect and unhelpful. For example, one might assume that people who fall into this pattern have low self-esteem. Perhaps that is true for some people, but maybe for some other people this avoidant behavior is about being unable to trust others and not wanting to open up. Regardless of the reason, some people are conflicted about really having a relationship. On the one hand they genuinely want a romantic partner, but on the other hand there is a part of them that does not and therefore keeps others at bay (either literally or emotionally). Oftentimes, people are not even aware of these conflicting desires. Psychotherapy can help people recognize that they have these two competing desires and assist them in understanding where these conflicting desires come from. With a more integrative and broadened awareness of one's feelings, a person is then in a better position to really define what s/he wants and to work towards achieving that.
3. Many times people are very aware of why they are unable to have a long-term satisfying romantic relationship despite their desire for one. These are situations in which therapy is extremely useful in working through feelings or experiences that a person acknowledges is impeding his or her ability to form intimate relationships. For example, some people may feel so hateful towards their bodies that they avoid romantic relationships so that nobody else will see them naked. Other people may have a history of having been sexually or physically abused and are fearful of being sexually, physically or emotionally vulnerable. There are also people who suffer for extreme social anxiety. Others may have a medical condition that they fear a romantic partner would not accept. These are all examples of experiences that can be discussed in psychotherapy with the intention of finding ways to adapt how these experiences influence and impact one's daily life.
There are numerous other reasons people may struggle with forming or sustaining genuinely intimate relationships. Asking for help with one's romantic life is not always an easy thing to do; however, it can be extremely fruitful. Psychotherapy is a safe and non-judgmental space for exploring these very difficult topics. So the answer to the question of can therapy help, is yes! It may not always be quick and it may not always be easy, but yes psychotherapy can help give your romantic life a makeover!