developmental stages in relationships

Working with many couples over the years I have been struck by how commonly people hold the view that the flaws we see in others are in some way a reflection of something about ourselves that we either don’t like or don’t want to see. I’ve often questioned this thinking and wondered if it really is true. It’s a way of seeing things that I’d like to challenge. 

As a psychotherapist I wholeheartedly encourage self-reflection in relationships and strongly discourage blaming, judging and criticism in relationships because, as a rule, it simply takes couples nowhere positive and, in my experience, it leaves behind a legacy of shame and resentment.

However I do strongly support the idea that if there is an issue that needs to be worked through, such as when a partner is triggering us into defensive behavior, it needs to be done with sensitive self-reflection that involves an honest appraisal of our own feelings, thoughts and actions. 

The key is, start from the inside out.

For most of us, our first port of call should be to look inward when trying to work through differences and problems in our relationships. It works better than pointing fingers for most of us, at least as a starting point.

Of course there are always exceptions and for a small handful of relationships this approach doesn't seem to work. Some people either meet at different developmental stages in life or move through different developmental stages during a relationship that means the couple is just too far apart to work through the gulf between them.

It can be like imagining a nine year old arguing with a 16 year old. Their worldview, needs and emotions and their experience and thinking are so different that common ground for the conflict is impossible to find i.e. their developmental stages are worlds apart.

By developmental stages I mean "level of maturity" or "the equal capacity to maintain an adult to adult relationship". Why am I saying this? I am saying this because too many people self blame and self criticize when really sometimes we need to let a relationship go because it is not a "good fit".

What I have come to know through 16 years of working with couples is that people need to have fairly close levels of maturity to work through the process of healing a relationship. With the help of psychotherapy understanding of these different maturity or developmental stages can be extremely helpful in identifying what direction to take in a relationship.

Melissa Ferrari - Psychotherapist.


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