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Healing Our Relationships from Within

By Michael Mongno, Ph.D.

When we stop and consider the nature of our thoughts, we notice that most of our focus is external, on the world outside ourselves. But we fail to realize that much of what we perceive as “the outside world” is actually our inside world, projected outward. 

If our inner reality becomes our lived experience, it would behoove us to pay more attention to how we think. Our minds are very powerful. They’re like movie projectors that project our thoughts onto a neutral world of matter and form, creating a subjective reality—our own, the seemingly real experience shaped by what’s going on inside us.

This is the basis of the popular saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If we’re creating that change in our personal lives, it will begin to appear in the outside world. 

The same goes for our relationships: If we start focusing on being our best selves, this shift will transfer to being the best partners we can be. 

Being the Change

In my work as a couples therapist, people frequently come to me wanting their partner to change into something more like they want them to be—often back into what they used to be. This takes the focus off themselves, where it needs to be for lasting change to occur. When we realize that we’ve brought our partner into our lives for a reason, such as self-reflection and integration, it’s easier to see the bigger picture, one where our own healing can take center stage. 

In our quest for self-help, growth, and independence, we often forget that we can’t grow and heal by ourselves or in a vacuum. Without reflection, it’s impossible to see ourselves. As children, we need our parents to see, acknowledge and value who we are in order to develop a healthy sense of self. As we mature, this self is who we take into our relationships, particularly our intimate ones. If our upbringing wasn’t ideal, we don’t develop as fully and healthily as we might. It’s this distorted version of ourselves that we bring to others. 

The problem with self-growth is that it’s hard to see ourselves from the inside. We simply think, and even say, “This is who I am.” And since our thoughts create our world, it’s even harder to realize that the subjective reality this distorted self creates isn’t absolute. 

But if that self is reflected back to us by others, we can see our own blind spots and dark shadows, and then work on changing ourselves from within while experiencing healthier ways of being. Who better than our intimate partner to help shine that light of awareness?

A Loving Mirror

This is actually a big task. It takes supreme self-awareness and patience for our partner to reflect back with sensitivity, skillful speech, and hopefully love so that we can take it in with openness and receptivity. 

Not everyone is up for this task—at least not at first. Usually, there’s a begrudging coming along as the infatuation stage of the relationship moves into the power struggle stage, where reality enters in and we see that we’re in for something bigger than we had imagined. This is where the rubber meets the road: Our ego is met with resistance, and we have to decide whether we’re in for the ride of a lifetime or it’s time to eject and start the whole process all over with someone else. 

Either choice is fine, because if we’re going to end up staying in a relationship, no matter which partner we choose, this process will still be the same. It’s just a matter of when. That’s usually determined by what’s happening in our lives, along with our level of emotional development, which will determine what kind of relationship we’re ready for—one of convenience, personal pursuit, or life purpose. Sometimes we know this at the outset and the road is well defined. At other times, clarity comes over time. 

No matter which it is, this process of self-awareness will happen on its own, simply by partners being with and to each other. It becomes a healing relationship when both partners know that’s the goal, which makes the reflection of difficult parts easier to take in, accept and coalesce into a healthy, more considerate, patient, and loving self.

The office of Michael Mongno, MFT, Ph.D., LP, is located at 100 W. 67th St., Ste. #2NE. For more information, call 212-799-0001 or visit


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