Search
Close this search box.

Overcoming Schema-Driven Relationship Problems

couple pointing fingers needing couples problems therapy counseling oakland
Table of Contents

We often find ourselves repeating the same patterns over and over in relationships, so much so that it can sometimes feel like we’re dating or marrying the same person over and over. This is a common phenomenon, but there is a way to break these patterns, to have fulfilling relationships that reflect our deepest values.

The key to breaking this cycle lies in understanding the underlying beliefs and schemas we hold about ourselves and our relationships. These deep-seated beliefs influence our choices and behaviors, often leading us into familiar patterns that reflect our past experiences.

Understanding Interpersonal Schemas

Interpersonal schemas are strongly held core beliefs that we have about ourselves, others, relationships, and the world. Schemas are hard to let go of because they make us feel safer by providing us with a level of predictability and certainty about how people will respond to us.

To identify your schemas click here to take a  Schema Questionnaire. This understanding is the first step toward changing how we interact with others and ourselves, offering a path to healthier and more satisfying relationships.

The Development of Schemas

Schemas get developed in early childhood through our experiences with our environment, including our family, peers, and siblings. We then learn to cope and respond to our environments. These coping responses are usually adaptive and reasonable reactions to our environments and our upbringing.

For example, individuals who have an abandonment schema may have been abandoned by someone they love or may have had a relationship with a caretaker in early childhood who was either unstable or unreliably available to them. Therefore they learned that people are unreliable, unstable, and may leave at any moment. Understanding where our schemas come from allows us to see them not as truths, but as perceptions shaped by our past, opening the door to change how we respond to them in adulthood.

The Persistence of Schemas Into Adulthood

All of our schemas come from somewhere as a response to our environment, and the coping responses that we’ve learned regarding how to deal with our schemas were also adaptive at some point. If our caretaker was unreliable and unstable then we might cope with it through excessive independence and autonomy or we might cope with it by becoming really clingy and needy with the people we love for fear that we will lose them.

Whatever coping strategies we learned or stumbled onto, we now continue to use over and over again in our adult relationships. This leads us to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in our current relationships where the same needs that were not meant for us in childhood continue not to get met in our current relationships. As adults, recognizing these coping strategies as responses to past experiences rather than reflections of current reality enables us to challenge and adapt them, fostering healthier relationship dynamics.

The Consequences of Schema-Driven Behaviors

When we respond to our schemas in very rigid and inflexible ways, it may lead to schema-driven relationship problems. Schema-driven relationship problems occur when we continue to cope with our schema pain in a way that continues to reinforce and maintain our core belief about ourselves, which ends up damaging our current relationships. To move beyond these patterns, we must become aware of how our responses to schemas play out in our interactions and seek alternative, more adaptive coping strategies.

Case Study: Emotional Deprivation Schema

For example, if an individual has an emotional deprivation schema, they hold the belief that their emotional needs and their need for nurturing, support, and understanding will not be met in relationships. They believe that people will continue to deprive them of their basic needs and that they will continue to be left feeling deprived and alone in all of their relationships. When their schema gets triggered in a relationship they might cope with it by not asking for help.

They do not express their needs because they don’t believe their needs will be met. This behavior leads to their needs not getting met in relationships, thus reinforcing their core beliefs. They may also oscillate between not expressing their needs at all and getting to a point of such a high level of deprivation that they become very demanding and urgent about their needs. They may demand that certain needs get met right away and may become very critical and blaming others if they are not.

This behavior leads to schema reinforcement and a self-fulfilling prophecy in which their needs are even less likely to get met in their current relationships. Recognizing these patterns as responses to our schemas rather than inevitabilities can empower us to choose different actions and to communicate our needs more effectively, creating opportunities for our needs to be met in ways they weren’t in the past.

 

interpersonal relationship issues

Overcoming Interpersonal Relationship Issues

We all have core beliefs and schemas about ourselves and others, but if we don’t have flexible coping responses and ways to effectively express our feelings and needs, we will continue to have the same barriers show up for us, as they did in early childhood. We will continue to recreate the same pain of our early childhood’s unmet needs. By understanding what triggers our schemas and identifying new behaviors aligned with our values, we can begin to enact change in our relationships.

Creating New Outcomes Through Self-Awareness and Flexibility

The goal is to understand what triggers our schemas, what our typical coping responses are when our schemas get triggered, and to be able to identify new alternative behaviors that are based on our values and the kind of person we want to be. When we are clear on our core beliefs in our relationships and how these beliefs affect the way we behave in relationships, we then have the freedom and the flexibility to try out new behaviors that might lead to new outcomes.

This creates the opportunity for us to get our needs met in our current relationships and to learn the tools and strategies to express ourselves effectively. By doing so, we give others the real opportunity to disconfirm our core beliefs and schemas. When we truly allow others the opportunity to disconfirm our core beliefs, we find the right people and we build healthy, fulfilling, collaborative, and fair relationships.

5 Steps to Overcoming Schema-driven Relationship Problems:

1. Identify your schemas: you can click here to take a Schema Questionnaire and identify your primary schemas. You can also ask yourself several questions to identify your schemas. This is called the downward arrow technique: What is a strong negative belief that I have about my relationships? –Ask yourself if this belief is true what does that mean about you? If this next belief is true, what does that mean about you and your relationships? Keep asking yourself what these beliefs mean and say about you and your relationships. Once you can’t go any further, you have reached a schema.

2. Identify your triggers. Stay mindful during the week of all you’re interactions with others and notice moments when your schemas get triggered. Identify and write down all the triggers that activate your schema. For example, if you have a self-sacrifice schema, it is very likely that anytime someone needs a favor from you or has a request from you, your schema will be triggered.

Click here to read about the common triggers and feelings that are connected to particular schemas.

3. Identify your values: Clarify the kind of person you want to be when your schema is triggered. What do you want to stand for, how do you want to respond, when you feel guilty, lonely, deprived, or hurt? Think about the kind of person you want to be and the kind of partner you want to be and write down all these values.

4. Identify the thoughts and the feelings that come up for you when your schema gets activated. What automatic thoughts are connected to your schemas? Do any of these thoughts stop you from taking important actions? Do they have to stop you? What feelings get triggered when you have these thoughts? Would you be willing to embrace these difficult emotions and still take actions that bring you closer to your values and what matters?

5. Identify new behaviors. Now that you’re clear about your values, pick three of the most important values and write down a specific behavior that will bring you closer to those particular values. Think about how you will try out this behavior this week and commit to it. When will you practice these new behavior?

Keep in mind, the new behaviors will not eliminate the thoughts and feelings that are connected to your schema. Are you willing to notice all the thoughts and feelings connected to your schema and still carry out these new behaviors, if it means that it will bring you closer to the kind of relationship you want and the kind of person you want to be?

Embarking on Your Journey and Embracing Change

Good luck and remember to stay curious about the outcomes of your new behaviors. It’s very important to stay mindful and observe the outcomes of your values-based actions. Even if the immediate outcome is not what you had hoped for, the long-term outcome will bring you closer to having the relationships that you desire.

Click here to take the schema quiz and identify your own schemas in relationships. To read more about your schemas check out the Interpersonal Problems Workbook.

Conclusion

In conclusion, overcoming schema-driven relationship problems requires a conscious effort to understand and challenge our deeply ingrained beliefs about ourselves and others. The journey begins with identifying our interpersonal schemas and recognizing how they influence our relationship patterns. By developing a deeper understanding of the origins of these schemas and acknowledging the coping strategies we’ve adopted in response, we can start to see the possibility for change. The five steps to overcome schema-driven relationship problems involve:

  1. Identifying and acknowledging your schemas: Recognizing the core beliefs that are influencing your relationship dynamics.
  2. Understanding the origins of these schemas: Reflecting on how your past experiences have shaped these beliefs.
  3. Challenging and reframing your schemas: Actively questioning the validity of these beliefs in your current life and relationships.
  4. Developing new, adaptive coping strategies: Finding healthier ways to respond to triggers that don’t reinforce negative schemas.
  5. Practicing assertive communication and setting boundaries: Learning to express your needs and desires in a clear and respectful manner to foster understanding and mutual respect in your relationships.

By navigating these steps with intention and support, individuals can break free from the cycle of repetitive patterns and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships. It’s about moving beyond our past conditioning to create a present and future that reflect our true selves and deepest values. The journey toward overcoming schema-driven relationship problems is not only transformative for our relationships but also for our overall sense of self and well-being.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides you with the tools you need to improve well-being and create the life you desire. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Frequently Asked Questions

Evidence-based therapy involves interventions that are scientifically proven to be effective for particular issues. In this approach, a strong partnership based on trust and collaboration is formed between you and your therapist. Within this supportive and unbiased environment, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment. Over a series of sessions, you and your therapist will work together to address obstacles and set goals aimed at personal growth and fulfillment. This method ensures that the techniques and strategies used are not only supportive but also empirically validated to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

The Bay Area CBT Center provides therapy services for everyone, from children to adults, and welcomes individuals, couples, and groups. We help with various concerns like anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and behavior challenges. We value diversity and cultural differences, offering personalized and culturally sensitive care to each client.

Studies show that the bond between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key factor in treatment success. This alliance is characterized by the strength of your relationship and how well you both agree on treatment goals. Research indicates that individuals with a solid therapeutic alliance experience better treatment outcomes including greater productivity at work, more satisfying relationships, improved stress management, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors.

You can expect a 15-30 minute phone call with our care coordinator, who is extensively trained in ensuring the perfect match for you. During this conversation, our matching expert will collaborate with you to understand your therapy needs, preferences, and scheduling availability. This discussion builds upon the information you provided during sign-up and offers an opportunity for you to address any personal questions or concerns you may have about therapy or our services at The Bay Area CBT Center. Following your conversation, we’ll pair you with the therapist who best aligns with your needs, goals, and preferences.

At your matching appointment, we will match you with a therapist specifically chosen for you and schedule your first session. Depending on your availability, you can expect to meet your therapist anywhere from one day to a week after this appointment.

Our approach to therapy includes a flexible hybrid model, blending both online and face-to-face sessions. This option is perfect for clients situated close to our clinics in the Bay Area who prefer the flexibility of choosing between virtual consultations or meeting their therapist in person. Our aim with hybrid care is to ensure every client is matched with the ideal therapist and therapy environment, be it from the convenience of your own home or in one of our clinics.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we accept PPO insurance plans that allow you to use out-of-network providers. This means if your insurance plan is a PPO and it includes mental health benefits, you could get back some or all of the money you pay for our services, depending on what your insurance company allows. When you see one of our therapists, they’ll give you a superbill. You can send this superbill to your insurance company to ask for reimbursement. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers services from providers not in their network, it’s a good idea to give them a call and check.

You may be eligible to have 60-80% of your costs covered by out-of-network benefits.

Also, if you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you can usually use it to pay for individual counseling sessions. It’s wise to double-check with your FSA provider or talk to your accountant to make sure that counseling sessions are considered an allowed expense.


Services we Offer

Helping You Align Mind, Body, and Actions.

cbt therapists cbt therapy SF bay area california

Service 2

Individual Therapy

cbt online therapy and online counseling in SF bay area california

Service 2

Online Therapy

couple doing couples therapy and couples counseling in sf bay area california

Service 2

Couples Therapy

people doing CBT group therapy and workshops in san francisco california

Service 2

Groups & Workshops

coworkers doing CBT executive coaching in SF bay area california

Service 2

Executive Coaching

a man getting treatment with a counselor in san francisco ca

Service 2

Conditions We Treat

Check Out Our Books

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Bay Area. You could say we wrote the books on it.

Check Out Our CBT Quizzes

cbt therapy treatment services therapy

Procrastination Quiz

grief and loss

Relationship Schemas Quiz

Self-Compassion Quiz

workplace schemas questionnaire

Workplace Schemas Quiz

relationship satisfaction

Relationship Satisfaction Quiz

person struggling with a trauma bond

Complex Trauma Quiz