Picture this scenario: you and your partner might both be morning people, but you discover that challenging conversations go better in the afternoon. Interesting.
All relationships are their own entity with their own vulnerabilities and strengths, biases and blind spots. In Western culture the individual is centered as the normative way of seeing ourselves and others. We focus on our own individual needs and wants, leaving us with transactional ways of 'relating’: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Or, less obvious but very common: why can’t you treat me the same way I treat you!
It is hard to wrap our heads around seeing our relationships as their own unit, whether it be between mother and daughter, married couples, or business partners.
Advice to help make relationships strong and healthy often focus on individuals effectively communicating with one another, or individuals getting the love they want, or individuals learning the love language of the other individual in a couple. These suggestions are surely helpful in some ways.
However, the social therapeutic approach I practice radically focuses on the relationship: helping people learn to see the relationship as its own unit with its own needs, tempos, and sensitivities.
I often give an example of caring for a baby that partners brought into the world. The parents might not individually want to get up at 3:00 am to console a crying, hungry baby, but they nonetheless get up to take care of that baby. The same can be said for taking care of relationships.
A lot of pressure is put on relationships. Relationships are frequently used, but yet they are often not nurtured enough. We want relationships to heal old wounds or to be the only source of feeding our needs and wants. We can find ways to support and nurture our relationships which might be weird, playful, not directly related to fixing a problem or negotiating needs, but nonetheless valuable in creating intimate connection. For example:
Partner A: I want you to be more excited when you see me.
Partner B: Well, I want to you to give me more space.
Partners speaking for the relationship: Let’s dance, wrestle, ask a friend to hang out.
Social Therapy can be a way to finding new, creative ways of problem solving together because it focuses on a new way of seeing the relationship. Check out my blog and Wellness Wednesday series for more playful practices to strengthen our relationships!