vendredi 6 février 2009

CBT and relationships

If you're successful at CBT, odds are good it will change your relationships, and not always in the direction you wanted.

Consider this. A durable relationship is based on the interaction of two complementary sets of schemas, yes? As a simplistic example, let's look at me and Tinky-Winky. My dog schema is that I want a dog that can walk long distances in cold weather, behave itself around the house, and be MY dog, not everyone else's best friend. Tinky-Winky's human schema is that she wants a human that can walk long distances in cold weather, maintain pack discipline, and be HER human and hers only. I wouldn't enjoy a short-haired dog, or a pug, or a retarded inbred bichon - shih tzu cross that can't be housetrained, or an attention whore like a lab. Tinky-Winky wouldn't enjoy an invalid who keeps four dogs and lets them run all over her. So, our two schemas complement each other, and we're gonna be together for ever.

Likewise in human-to-human relationships. I've had the opportunity to watch them quite a bit when driving taxi, and I've come to the conclusion that being in a durable relationship doesn't in any way depend on being a good person or a good provider or a good cook or a good partner or a good anything. The only thing that matters is that the two sets of schemas agree with each other. I've seen couples who are very verbally abusive to each other but have been together for decades. Couples where one is always cheating and the other is always taking him/her back. Couples where one is a deadbeat and the other does all the work of providing. All kinds of couples where you look at them in light of what TV and Cosmo have taught us about what makes a "strong" relationship, and you're thinking, no way are these two people gonna stay together. But they do, because the reality is, we're not looking for a partner that matches some ideal standard. We're looking for a partner whose schemas mesh with ours.

Family relationships also work along the same lines. As you're growing up, the family teaches you its schemas, and so even though the schemas might be maladaptive, you're tied to your family by the fact that your schemas are shaped around each other.

Of course in all this there is also the biological process of attachment, but I believe that in humans at least, the compatibility of schemas is a stronger motivator than biological attachment, which is why we can separate ourselves from a person to whom we are attached, when we realize that their schemas and ours cannot be reconciled.

So where I'm going with this is, as you make progress in CBT and your schemas change, so will your relationships. Some times a relationship will get better. This is the purpose of family or couples therapy, to understand each other's schemas and each make changes to accept the other. When one person's schema is stronger or more adaptive, the other person would hopefully accept this and adapt to the stronger schema, knowing that in return his or her schemas that are more adaptive will be accepted by the other side, and thus the two will grow together. This is the ideal outcome and hopefully something that we would do naturally as we come together in a relationship.

However, when one side evolves cognitively in one direction and the other doesn't, or goes in a different direction, then there is no possibility of growing together. Or when one side can't accept and yielf to the other side's schemas. In fact, as you evolve cognitively, it's not unlikely that you'll encounter strenuous resistance from some of the people in your life, as your new schemas no longer agree with theirs and they try to hold you back and keep you in the old schemas, where you were complementary with them.

What to do? Well, since you're the one who's evolving cognitively, you might find a way to evolve so that you can continue to make progress and keep those people in your life. That's possible. In fact I think most of us instinctively do this with aging relatives, we yield to their schemas in their presence and keep our own counsel, knowing that they are leaving us anyway and that it's better to keep our attachment with them while they're with us, than to blow them off out of pride and impatience. But if the person resisting your change is not an ailing relative, then you might have to impose drastic changes to the relationship, whether they like it or not.

This is particularly evident with our friends and life partners. As we evolve cognitively, whether in a more adaptive or a less adaptive direction, we often find that the people we've been friends with are no longer congenial to us. They become critical of us, or we of them. We no longer understand each other and share everything. Some times we drift apart, and some times we have a big fight and never speak to each other again. Some times also we have to make a conscious choice to remove someone from our life who is a poisonous influence on our schemas. This happens a lot for people trying to overcome addiction. If all your friends are alcoholics and you're trying to quit drinking, they will pressure you to drink with them, and get mad at you when you decline, and as you stick to your sobriety guns, you find yourself losing touch with your friends and becoming isolated.

So, once again this brings us to the issue of choice, which is the keystone of CBT. We have to realize that changing our schemas will change our relationships, and that some times we will have to make a choice between an adaptive schema and a relationship that is threatened by that schema. Think of it as getting a job offer elsewhere and your boyfriend or girlfriend is not willing to move. Do you pass up the job and keep the partner, take the job and leave the partner, or take the job and continue the relationship long-distance? Likewise with schemas. Do you take the schema and leave the relationship, or leave the schema and keep the relationship, or take the schema and adapt the relationship around the schema?

There is no "right" choice. There is only your choice. The important point to remember is that it's your choice to make and that whatever you decide, you will live with the consequences of that choice.

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