Why Do I Keep Having the Same Relationship Problems?
In Ingmar Bergman’s film, Wild Strawberries, we see an elderly academic, Isak, who is portrayed as a sad, introverted and emotionally arid figure. He makes the journey with his daughter-in-law to receive an honorary doctorate for his lifelong contribution to medicine. Outwardly, he seems to have all the credit and achievement of success, but inwardly, he feels his own sense of loneliness and deadness. The journey becomes an exploration and insight into his own struggles, vulnerabilities and grief over lost relationships as he relives his past both through his dreams, flashbacks and memories.
Their journey is interrupted by meetings with people on the road; from Sarah an irrepressible hitchhiker, who reminds Isak of the girl he lost, due to his selfishness and cold aloofness, to a quarrelling couple who remind him of his own tragic marriage, where he struggled to relate to a wife, whom he felt wasn't good enough. He recognizes, with sadness and grief, a reflection of himself in his own son's aloofness and brittleness in the way he relates to his own wife. As the film continues; gradually his self-awareness brings about a change both in himself as well as in the way he responds and engages with others, including his daughter-in-law as well as his old faithful female companion, as he begins to come alive with a sensitivity, warmth and lively humour.
We can all identify, in one way or another, with the characters in this film and, like Isak, many people are baffled when they find themselves experiencing the same type of relationship problems, over and over again, with different partners or the same partner. They often conclude that it's the partner that is the problem, and feel victimized by the ubiquity of this issue.
For some unknown reason, every partner they have ever been with doesn't quite have what it takes to give them the love they truly desire. Every relationship ultimately ends up in the same stale place, missing something essential, or repeating an unhealthy pattern of distance, unavailability, neglect or even abuse.
These questions, which the characters in the film raise are not unlike those we struggle with today, when relationships are repeatedly dissatisfying or continually breaking down, and many people begin to reflect and ask themselves:
- What keeps coming up again and again in every relationship, or every attempt at trying to start a relationship?
- Why do I stay in relationship with people I know aren’t good for me?
- Why characteristics I don’t like in myself are are the ones I perceive in my partner?
- What do I get from reliving this pattern of behaviours and feelings over and over again?
- What needs to shift inside of me before I will start getting a different result?
- What lesson can I learn from these experiences?
We often bring our familiar patterns of behaviour into our day to day living and from relationship to relationship. But for many of us, there comes a point when the pain, frustration, loneliness or dissatisfaction breaks through and we realize that we too are the ones who need to learn to change.
There is a saying: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's there are few."
- This is an important and encouraging first step: your awareness that you are an "expert" at some unhealthy relationship pattern which you may not even realize you are creating, so certain are you that it comes from someone else.
- The second important step is that of invoking your ‘beginner's mind’, with a genuine curiosity and wonder about yourself and your relationship patterns.
- A third important step for you is: rather than just perceiving yourself as ‘stuck on a treadmill’, you may consider another possibility too: that of your life like others’ being a ‘perpetual treadmill of opportunities for learning constantly coming our way again and again’. Many people at this point find that it becomes more possible to discuss their situation with their partner or with a trusted friend. Others may consider finding a separate space such as psychotherapy, counselling or Relate. Risky and unfamiliar as this may seem, it does create the possibility for you of being open to new ideas, new learning, new responsibilities, new attitudes and new behaviours entering into your consciousness, your relationships and your life.
Ingmar Bergman: “Wild Strawberries”
The Relationship Institute: Article on Relationship Problems
How to Improve Relationships
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What is Psychotherapy?
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Psychotherapy may be understood as healing of the mind.
It can be seen as a healing process by which a psychotherapist helps a client learn about the 'self' that he or she has perhaps been unconsciously and unsuspectingly concealing, primarily from himself or herself.
The process involves a confidential and mutually trusting relationship between the person and the therapist. It is an intimate relationship but not a social one.
In other words the therapist makes his or her mind available for the client to recover...
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