8 Ways CBT Can Improve Your Relationships
CBT is one of the most popular forms of therapy these days, and is commonly used to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, and a variety of other problems. It is based on the theory that our thoughts, attitudes and beliefs affect our emotions, and this in turn affects the way we behave. Treating the issues that are troubling you is likely to improve your quality of life and help you to have a more positive outlook. This in turn can have a positive impact on your relationships. In this article we’ll have a look at some of the ways CBT can help you to improve your romantic relationship, as well as relationships with friends, colleagues and family.
You can stop assuming the worst
As you start challenging your negative thought patterns, you will start thinking more positively. It’s easy to assume the worst if your partner is acting differently – do they not love me anymore, are they cheating? Once you have learned to question your cognitive distortions with techniques used in CBT, you don’t always assume the worst anymore. Perhaps your partner is stressed or has something on their mind. Thinking this way will help you to stay calm when you open a conversation and will more likely to lead to productive communication rather than confrontation.
Better communication skills
When you start a conversation with the assumption that it will turn into an argument, it likely will. When talking about difficult subjects, we often start the conversation with expectations. We might have even played out different versions of how the conversation might go in our heads. This is a cognitive distortion called fortune telling. You think you know what will happen – but are you a psychic? Probably not. Once you stop “fortune-telling” and go into situations with no expectations – or better yet, positive expectations – you will feel more relaxed and at ease, and it will be easier to communicate clearly and calmly.
Start seeing more pros than cons
Especially in romantic relationships, after you’ve been with the same person for a long time it’s easy to start taking the positive things for granted and pay more attention to the things that annoy you in your partner. With the help of CBT, you can learn to focus more on the positives. This doesn’t mean you will completely ignore everything negative but seeing the positives too can make your life and relationships to feel more balanced. Sure, your partner might leave their laundry on the floor and be forgetful, but also they make you laugh, so it’s not all that bad.
You will be more self-aware about labelling others
If you label someone as a mean person, you easily only pay attention to when they are acting rude and ignore it when they are being nice. If you have labelled someone as a lovely person, and they act rude one day, you may brush it off as a one-off, and think they were just tired. This is why first impressions are so important – we label people quickly, and those labels tend to be difficult to change. However, simply being aware of this habit can help you to question the label and pay more attention to instances when the person acts differently than you assumed they would.
Removing “should” statements will save you from disappointments
You might think your partner or friend “should” be doing something he/she isn’t doing. You are setting expectations for other people, and when they fail to live up to these expectations, you get disappointed. The people around you might not even be aware of what you are expecting from them, especially if you have not told them. If you communicate your wishes and needs, you are more likely to have your needs met. This ties into the habit of mind-reading – we cannot expect the people around us know what we want, unless we tell them.
You will stop assigning blame
It’s easy to blame others for bad situations. Having a difficult day and taking it out on your partner is easy, but it’s not going to do any good. Most likely you will both soon be in a bad mood, which is only going to make the situation worse. Instead of yelling at your partner for burning the food or not taking the bins out, try questioning why you are so angry. Is it because you are tired, or had a horrible day at work? If so, simply admitting this out loud is a lot more productive and will probably help your partner understand why you are in a bad mood. CBT can help you recognize your emotions and question them before reacting to them.
Instead of black and white, you will see the shades of grey in between
All-or-nothing type or thinking is a cognitive distortion where you see everything as black and white. Things are either good or bad, and there’s nothing in between. This type of thinking can be extremely harmful in relationships, as it often extends to people as well. You may see your partner as either loving and caring, or cold and indifferent. If your partner is having a bad day and does something to upset you, this type of thinking might lead you to over-react as you think they don’t love you anymore. We all make mistakes and sometimes hurt the people we love even if we don’t mean to. Understanding that people can love you and still sometimes not do the right thing will help you to find balance in your relationship.
You will be happier
If you are suffering from anxiety, depression or stress, CBT can bring you relief and help you become happier. CBT delivered online or in-person has been found to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety disorders (Høifødt et al 2011). If you take the steps to become a happier person overall, this will likely affect your relationships as well. When you are feeling better about yourself and the world, you will have more to offer to your close friends and family as well.
Overcoming automatic negative thinking is difficult, but it’s worth it. CBT can provide great tools to help you change your outlook from negative to a positive one, and help to improve your relationships with people around you.
Høifødt, R., Strøm, C., Kolstrup, N., & Eisemann, M. (2011) Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy in primary health care: A review. Family Practice, Vol 28(5), pp. 489-504.
Janica has her bachelors in psychology from the University of Strathclyde and her Msc Clinical Health Psychology from the University of Strathclyde. She loves psychology, statistics, and scientific writing. She's also interested in humanistic sciences, travel, health, and holistic well being.