Natalie Spautz, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 86678
Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy
Online in California
Therapy for Relationship Issues
What makes a healthy adult relationship?
When struggling with relationship issues, this question often arises. Most of us did not get a roadmap to creating and maintaining healthy relationships. Since a relationship is something that two people create together, a healthy relationship requires particular ways of relating from both individuals. A healthy relationship offers safety for both which is created from mutual respect, honesty, non-violence (i.e. non-judgment, no intent to cause pain) spoken or unspoken agreements on relationship limits, and consistent engagement from both people. It also requires clear boundaries, reciprocity and willingness from both to participate. When these conditions are met, connection can happen. Connection is something created between two people when both come forward with their inner truth and vulnerable feelings and have the experience of being understood or "seen" by the other. Connection is something that is usually felt more often than not in a healthy relationship. On the other hand, feeling disconnected or encountering conflict sometimes does not necessarily mean your relationship is unhealthy. If you are experiencing difficulty in a relationship it is usually because understanding and connection are compromised.
I've heard about this thing called boundaries in relationships. What are healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries require respecting differences between two people! When differences are unacknowledged, denied or punished in a relationship, boundaries often become blurred and distorted. The ability to be oneself in connection to another must include awareness and mutually sharing of how differences exist between both people. Awareness and knowledge of oneself greatly helps to create healthy boundaries. In order for healthy boundaries to be maintained, both must consent to relating to each other and saying "No" must also be respected and honored by both. It is important for all healthy relationships to include consent and ability to withdraw consent at any time for any reason. Often when we experience our "no" is respected by another, we often feel much more ease in offering a "yes". If you notice you have a hard time saying "no" in some or all relationships or if "no" is your go-to in some or all relationships, working on how to create those boundaries can be helpful so that you can assert a need for safety and respect no matter who you are relating to.
What do I do if I can't get over something that happened in the past?
A rift occurs in relationship often when something happened, even long ago, that compromised trust. The event was experienced by one person as too painful or crossing some kind of internal limit or agreement within the relationship. Typically these kinds of experiences of betrayal have compromised one person's basic needs for safety, respect or emotional support at a critical time. Sometimes the interaction around the event caused a similar experience for both. Willingness to reconnect or repair can sometimes get complicated, particularly when one or both people become hardened into a self-protective stance. When such a rift happens, it can sometimes be difficult to tease out what happened for who and why. Sharing feelings can be challenging and resentment can build if conversations about it are lacking in resolution. When these crucial conversations are unsuccessful, stalled for long periods of time or not possible, the painful experience can get stuck and remain unhealed. Beginning an intentional process to work through any anger, disappointment, pain or sadness is often a helpful first step toward forgiveness.
Repair takes work and has some crucial components. It cannot be rushed, especially when it is true repair of something that was deeply felt and holds great meaning. It takes gentle attention, vulnerability and openness to acknowledge, understand each other and connect again from both. This process often gets put on hold when fear, shame or other challenging feelings come up and cannot be tolerated. When trust is regained, connection and healing are possible.
How do I know if I am a victim of abuse in a relationship?
Abuse often happens in the context of a power differential in a relationship and a lack of consent of one party to a particular interaction. This is not to say we cannot experience feeling abused in a relationship with mutual ground. Most of the time it occurs when one person loses connection to their sense of inner power and another person intentionally uses their power to gain something for personal benefit or cause pain for that person in a position of less power. Abusive behaviors are not just physical, but also verbal and relational. If you are unclear about whether you have been abused in a relationship, I welcome work around sorting through it and processing feelings about it. Maintaining a connection to your inner truth and learning to stand up for yourself in ways that create safety can be helped through individual or couples and family therapy.