If you've ever been in any kind of relationship (and you have, right?!), you already know the messy joy of trying to get along with another human being. Relationships (at their best) are exciting, beautiful, supportive, stimulating, and life-giving. Relationships can also be effortful, ugly, heart-breaking, stifling, and soul-crushing (it's a huge bummer--and it can be pretty darn confusing, too).
As a private practice therapist who specializes in relationships, I see the good, the bad, and the ugly in human entanglements every day. I'm also, of course, a person just like you, who has lived (and continues to live) the wide variety of experiences relationships have to offer.
While there is so much about relationships that I will always hold loosely and will never pretend to fully understand, there are a few things I've learned for sure in my work as a couples therapist about how we can experience more of "the good" that relationships have to offer.
I'm going to share them here, but with a bit of an unexpected twist--all of these lessons apply to our relationship to self, and more specifically, to how journaling helps us relate well to ourselves. Here we go!
Showing up is the most important thing you can do for your relationship.
When couples start therapy with me, I often joke that scheduling sessions is half the battle because it can be so darn hard to find a time when both people are available to meet. Not always, but a lot of the time the degree of difficulty a couple has with scheduling correlates with the degree of disconnection and disengagement in their relationship.
Making time and space for one another, simply showing up to the other and to that relationship, is truly at least half the battle of having a great relationship. If your life is too full to invest in being present to someone you care deeply about--then your life is too full, period! It may be time to re-evaluate your priorities, take some things off your plate, and get creative about how to free up more time and energy for your relationships. Just like you can't be physically healthy without putting in consistent time and effort to eating well and being active, you can't be relationally healthy without putting in consistent time and effort.
Journaling is a way you show up in your relationship with yourself.
If you want to have a good relationship with yourself--one where you treat yourself with kindness, compassion, and care--you have to show up for yourself. It's truly half the...(say it with me)...BATTLE. When you make time and space for journaling, you're making time and space for YOU and you alone. It's a rare opportunity to turn all your attention and energy to little old you with no need to be responsible for anyone or anything else.
If you're life is too full to invest in journaling regularly (or any other form of relating to yourself that is meaningful to you), your life is too full, period! You may be giving too much to other people, too much to your work, too much to life responsibilities. Learning to say "no" to other people and demands and to say "yes" to yourself is easier said than done, but with enough practice it does get easier and the results are SO worth it.
Conversations are the most effective way to create change in your relationships.
You might think my job as a therapist is to "fix" relationships (I used to think so, too), but it's ACTUALLY to help people have better conversations with each other. I firmly believe (and consistently witness) that when two people can be in dialogue with one another in productive, respectful, honest ways they can conquer just about any hurdle or challenge that may emerge.
While it's awesome that's possible, the truth is that it's super hard to have those sorts of conversations--especially when the stakes feel high, as they often do when you love somebody a lot. It takes a lot of emotional maturity, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and patience to dialogue well. It's not about skills or techniques about what to say or how to say it (though some of that can be helpful), it's largely about developing the kind of inner resources that enable you to engage with others in change-producing conversations.
Journaling is a conversation with yourself that enables change to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
While dialogue seems like it requires two people, it's completely possible to have a dialogue within ourselves. Whenever two or more perspectives, voices, or part of our self are present, we've having an inner conversations. Writing a "pros" and "cons" list related to a potential change is a simple example of this--the part of us that is "for" the change speaks back and forth with the part of us that is "against" change. As we play out this conversation within us, new clarity can emerge about what we want, need, and prefer to do.
There are all kinds of variations on this that we can play with in our journaling. The gentle, affirming voice within us might get into a conversation with the critical voice within us. The ambitious part of us might want to talk to the part of us that values rest and relaxation. Our anger toward a friend might want to dialogue with our compassion toward that same friend.
Just like how conversations with others take inner resources more than techniques, the same can be true of journaling. While journaling provides us with a fantastic laboratory to experiment with better ways of talking to self, it doesn't magically change our self-talk. We have to develop our self-relationship inner resources with plenty of intention and practice both on and off the journal page.
Being deeply honest with someone else is risky, but it's also the heart of genuine connection in relationships.
There is often a pivotal moment in couples therapy where all of the sudden, someone gets real. Really real. When that happens, the whole atmosphere in the room changes. The show the couple has been putting on for me and for each other, the one where they talked about and acted in the way they thought they were "supposed to", comes to an end and the work on the relationship finally begins.
It often feels a bit shaky, chaotic, unpredictable, even unhinged when the honest truth first shows up between two people. My stomach usually drops with empathy for the wild ride this couple is about to embark upon. But I also know deep down that once everybody buckles up, the ride is actually a lot of fun. When authenticity and vulnerability can be practiced in a relationship, genuine connection becomes possible--intimacy flourishes in truth-telling spaces in lively, adventurous ways.
Journaling can open up deep honesty with yourself, which can feel risky, but is also the heart of a genuine connection to your authentic self.
As scary as it can be to be honest with someone else, it can be just as scary (if not scarier) to really get honest with ourselves. When we finally acknowledge what's true for us (instead of what we think is "supposed to" be true for us), we may have to feel new feelings, make hard decisions, and let go of people or pathways that aren't working for us. It can get pretty messy and uncomfortable.
But just as connecting with someone else requires the risks of vulnerability and authenticity, relating well to ourselves takes risk, too. The writing we do in our journals can open the door for us to hear our honest voices with greater clarity--and it's important for us to acknowledge that can be unsettling at times. If you find yourself writing something in your journal that makes your stomach drop, don't panic--remember this, too, is part of treating yourself with kindness. And then buckle up for the lively, adventurous ways you're about to (re)connect with your authentic self.
All of this is a fancy way of saying:
Relationships take work, but the rewards are rich.
Journaling takes work, but the rewards are rich.
Hi there, I'm Laurie, a private practice therapist and an avid journaler. I write about the intersection between journaling and therapy, helping you cultivate greater emotional and relational wellness via journaling pathways filled with self-compassion, self-nurture, self-discovery, & self-trust.