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Natural Awakenings New York City

Mending Relationships Begins Within

Left untreated, our own hurt can turn a healthy relationship into a toxic, dysfunctional one.

By Michael Mongno, Ph.D.

One of the most common things I see in my work as a couples’ therapist is the struggle many people go through in their relationships with others. And usually, the focus is not on themselves, but on the other—what that person is doing wrong, or his or her inadequacies. 

What they often fail to see is that they are actually creating the dynamic from hurt inside themselves, and then projecting that hurt outward, onto the other person. By temporarily displacing the pain, they feel better in the moment; however, this becomes a circular process in which both people end up hurting each other, often more than the initial misunderstanding or discomfort. 

As this cycle gets repeated, it can harden into a constant, uncomfortable static or, worse, into a deepening resentment that can turn a healthy relationship into a toxic, dysfunctional one. This is when many couples enter my office in hopes of saving what they once had. But even then, what they really want is for me to help their partners change into something they’d like more. 

This, of course, is something that I cannot—and should not—do. My job is to reflect both partners back onto themselves, so they can see the part they play in their co-created dynamic and then decide how they might want to change something in themselves. 

A Healing Process

Often people don’t really want to look at themselves, as these realizations can be too painful, dredging up old feelings of worthlessness or shame. However, if they can sit with themselves long enough, and look with compassion at the things inside that prevent them from being truly loving, they can begin a healing process that will transform them from within and positively affect every relationship in their life. 

This process can be challenging for many of us who didn’t grow up with parents or caretakers who knew how to give love, show empathy or express compassion. If we didn’t have good models for loving in our early years, it’s something we don’t know how to do very well. So we must learn the skills of loving ourselves, which can take time to put into practice and to master. 

But if we choose to take the time to learn—practicing healthy self-dialogue and trying our best to treat ourselves with kindness and care—we can heal the parts of us that have been yearning for attention and love all our lives. Then we’ll project trust and positivity that will impact others and call forth the same from them. 

By showing our vulnerability, we can allow others to glimpse our deeper emotional selves, where they too might be touched by the tenderness and humanity that connects us all. Then what becomes recursive is a sensitivity and open heart, which, when shared, can set a new tone for all our relationships—one of compassion and love that contributes to the world around us.

Michael Mongno, Ph.D., counsels individuals and couples. His office is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center, at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. 

For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit