working it out is the real relationship

The Real Relationship: Working it Out

Originally published July 17th, 2019 in A Few Words. https://medium.com/afwp/the-real-relationship-working-it-out-39916079dba5

The real relationship happened last night. I had been struggling, feeling stuck, pushing myself in ways that were leaving me frustrated, angry, and sad. My husband was mad at me for this. He pulled away and let me struggle. Finally, I said, “Why aren’t you helping me? Why have you left me alone in this?”

“I cannot help you with the project you are working on,” he said. “I don’t mean that,” I said. “Why aren’t you helping me emotionally — don’t you see I am stuck? I am confused. I don’t know how to get out of this state of being.” We talked. We argued. We hashed it out. He said, “You remind me of my mother when she was stuck, and it hurts too much. I feel helpless and upset, and I don’t know how to help you. So, I get angry and pull away.”

Why couldn’t you have just said that? I think to myself. But I know the answer. He doesn’t know how. He doesn’t even know what he is feeling until we talk it out.

I get caught in my struggle — fighting myself, fighting my life, instead of knowing how to be, how to let go, how to flow. He sees me, and he gets caught in his battle of what to do with someone who is momentarily lost. “I need support,” I insist. “I need someone to help me break through my panic, my frustration, confusion — my craziness. I need you to help me.” “Okay,” he says. “Okay. I didn’t know.”

We have connected again. We feel close again. I don’t feel abandoned, and my husband doesn’t feel helpless. But there is no way to learn to reach towards each other, without the ‘fall’ from grace into the hell of conflict and hurt feelings, followed by the hashing it out and then the move back into connection. That is the only way. Learning to reconnect is iterative. We do it over and over again. This process is part of building a connected relationship.

The real relationship isn’t necessarily happening when we are on cruise control, but when the events of our lives force us to tackle something. It happens when we struggle; when we are forced to look at ourselves and the emotional issues that we need to address to bridge the gap between us.

This process is how we learn about ourselves and each other and how to be there for each other. This is how we repair old wounds, heal, and grow.

One more knot has been smoothed in each of us, and between us. This is how it is. This is how we learn to love. Working it out is the real relationship.

For some relationship inspirational quotes – https://www.instagram.com/weconcile/

If you want to learn more about courage – https://blog.weconcile.com/2019/07/12/what-stops-you-from-your-courage/

I Feel Lonely in My Marriage. What Can I Do?

I Feel Lonely in My Marriage. What Can I Do?

If you feel lonely in your marriage, often it is because you and your partner are not connecting emotionally.

Ask yourself:

  • Have you and your partner moved into a distant relationship to avoid fighting or is something else going on?
  • What am I avoiding talking about?
  • What am I avoiding asking for?
  • Do I acknowledge my need for emotional connection or just try to make do with what is?
  • Where have each of you put your attention and energy instead of towards each other?
  • Does one of you have a problem with vulnerable emotions?
  • Did something happen that caused you to pull away from your partner?
  • Have you avoided asking for your needs to be met in the past, and been disappointed by your partner not knowing what you needed?

Once you explore what you think is occurring, then you can take an action:

  • Set up a time to talk with your partner and bring up the hard stuff, your desire for more emotional connection, or events that have caused you or your partner to pull away from each other.
  • Tell your partner that you are feeling lonely (unhappy, etc.)
  • Be vulnerable, not accusing

Sometimes a partner will not be able to have this conversation or is not able to tolerate the emotions of sadness or grief. If this happens:

  • Make an appointment with a therapist
  • Take a relationship building course or workshop

As you tackle your relational issues, instead of feeling lonely in your relationship, it can become connected and alive.

Remember, if there is abuse occurring, get professional help. Do not try to talk it out without the help of a therapist.

Another post that might interest you is Learning To Reconnect. https://blog.weconcile.com/2013/04/01/learning-to-reconnect/

In addition to the WeConcile blog, You can also read more posts on relationships here: jenniferlehrmft.com and https://medium.com/search?q=jennifer%20lehr

Finding Our Rainbow: A Great Relationship

Finding Our Rainbow: A Great Relationship

I have an image of a rainbow arching across the horizon. Like the Star card in a tarot deck, it indicates to me, grace, blessings, and fulfillment. This can include having a great relationship.

How do we find the rainbow in our lives?

Maybe you already have?

We find our rainbow by focusing on beauty and truth. We find it by desiring it. We find it by keeping ourselves out of negative and dark thought habits. Often this means we have to tackle something in our lives. Like a job or relationship that isn’t nourishing. Sometimes we have to bridge two worlds, staying in something that is uncomfortable, as we learn to work with it and make it better – like molding a lump of clay into something with form, function and beauty. Other times we have to find a different attitude, like looking for what does work and what this situation does offer us. And still other times we have to leave that situation, job or relationship.

Often, we have to decide that finding our rainbow is more important than anything else. That means we make the journey to our rainbow our priority. That could mean any number of things including starting a meditation practice, reading books on relationships, getting into therapy, gaining a new skill, joining a gym, or beginning a hobby that nourishes us.

The experience of the rainbow comes from an internal place. So, we choose to grow. We choose to connect with our souls and own our stories. We choose to step into our courage and leave our fears behind. Finding our rainbow comes from having the courage to look at and love ourselves. It comes from making choices that show self-support.  It means we look for support and solutions.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be difficult times. Sometimes we may feel as if we are a small tree in the middle of the forest reaching upward, trying to get to the light. But even though the sky is far above, we keep our eyes on the light.

Being human isn’t easy for anyone. Being in a relationship also isn’t always easy. But being in a relationship should be a source of support in your life. It can be part of your rainbow experience.

What do you have to do in your life to find your rainbow? 

You can see the image of and read about the Star card here: https://labyrinthos.co/blogs/tarot-card-meanings-list/the-star-meaning-major-arcana-tarot-card-meanings

For another article on improving your relationship, check out “Toughing it Out” here: https://blog.weconcile.com/2014/02/03/toughing-it-out/

Embrace the Suck

Embrace the Suck

I’m writing and will be presenting a Continuing Education course for therapists called Clinician Use of WeConcile® to Facilitate Couples Work. (You can find the course here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/clinician-use-weconcile-facilitate-couples-work-web-conference.html). Doing this work is making me think about what it takes to make a change in a relationship, and about the couples who choose to stay stuck instead of tackling this significant part of their lives. And it is making me again look at what actually happens in a person to allow the kind of change that transforms a relationship to something amazing. Yet, so many people are scared of this.

Precisely what is scary for them?  I think it is simply having to experience painful feelings and begin to sort through them. An example of a problematic feeling could be feeling awkward or gross in front of someone else hence feeling a sense of shame. Of course, we have difficult feelings, regardless, but we aren’t consciously choosing to look at them. They just leap out and grab us when we get triggered. We react, and then those feelings subside, or we put them away. We create an outside reason – she made me mad. We aren’t looking deep at why we were triggered. How what she said made us feel unseen or less than. How what she said, triggered an echo of our feelings about how our father made us feel.

This is a quote from Sue Johnson, founder of EFT for couples. “Awareness of emotion is central to healthy functioning …. Since emotional responses orient the individual to his or her own needs and longings and prime the struggle to get those needs met.”

So, for example, suppose Joe had a very successful father, and nothing Joe does makes him feel as if he can match what his father did. So, underneath Joe is going to have some feelings of not being worthy, or not being good enough. Joe’s deep longing is to feel worthy. What does Joe do about this feeling? He pushes it away. He doesn’t feel it. He’s not even aware of this feeling. Instead, he puts his wife down. He takes his yucky feelings and gives them to her – and he’s not even aware of it. She is too controlling, too annoying, too this or that. And she, of course, has her own dynamics that interlock with his. So, they bicker a lot. Sure, they love each other, but they are both in their individual defensive places much of the time. Neither Joe nor his wife has that sense of leaning back into the soft cushion of their relationship because emotionally, they don’t feel fully safe. Who knows when a harsh word will come, or one will criticize the other.

And yet, the process of changing this dynamic is known. Opening up each partner’s inner emotional experience, with a focus on emotional engagement and corrective experiences will allow new ways of relating and new self-structure to emerge.  We just don’t know how to do this. That is why therapy, workshops, and experiential educational systems can help.

What if Joe became able to realize and talk about how being raised by his very successful father impacted his feelings about himself. What if he realized that he was continually reacting to issues that triggered a deep shame he had around feeling as if he was not good enough. What if, as he talked about these feelings, his wife began to understand him better, and he began to understand himself better. What if she began to see how what she did triggered him, and she developed more empathy for him. What if he also came to see how he triggered her and what if in this process of exploration and reconnection Joe began to see her value, and he began to want to connect, rather than push her away. And what if in this process, he found his own worth. And because of all of these shifts, he no longer put his wife down. Because they are now connecting on a deeper level.

Each person has the enormous opportunity to expand and reorganize their inner experience, transforming their relationship.

This quote from Brene Brown encapsulates the way to change, “I believe that you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage, therefore . . . embrace the suck. I try to be grateful every day, and my motto right now is ‘Courage over comfort.’”

Courage over comfort. That is the key. The primary vehicle for change in a relationship really is developing a better relationship with our own feelings and unpacking why we feel what we feel when we are having that feeling.

To learn how WeConcile protects your privacy go here: https://www.weconcile.com/privacy.html

How to talk about what we can’t talk about, but need to talk about

Sometimes our wounds collide in such a way that we hit a roadblock.  One of us has an intense need to talk about something.The other can’t bear hearing about it.  For example:  Jane was worried about how her partner took care of everyone in the world except himself, including his health.  He seemed weak to her in this area and it bothered her. She felt a burning desire to talk to him about this. She couldn’t stand being silent.  One night she brought it up, but Steve only heard what was wrong with him, how he wasn’t good enough.  He felt ashamed, upset, angry, abandoned and sad.  “Get me out of here,” his brain screamed. Jane realized it was going all-wrong and she felt frantic and bad. This isn’t what she wanted.She wanted him to understand what she was saying, to see what was wrong and change.  Instead, he left saying he needed to be by himself to think.  “Oh God,” she thought, “What did I do? How do I deal with this?”

Jane and Steve have hit a roadblock.  In this case, one of the party feels that they MUST express their feelings and what they see, and the other party feels that they MUST get away because they feel so hurt or trapped as a result. There is no space to talk. Both parties are caught in intense feelings and fears.  Neither can move in any direction without a reaction, without bumping into a ghost from their past, or their partner’s.When a couple finds themselves in this dynamic, stuffing feelings doesn’t work and isn’t the answer, nor does pushing the agenda.There is only one way out that works. The answer is this:

Jane says to Steve (or vice versa), “We are really struggling talking about this.  Lets talk about why this discussion is so hard for us and what it is bringing up for us.”  Jane and Steve are no longer talking about the issue itself.  Now they are talking about the minefield within which the issue resides.  Jane says further, “I grew up watching my parents behave in ways that was really painful for me.  My mom never confronted my dad on how he ignored me. She babied him instead. She took care of him instead of me. I couldn’t stand it.  There was nothing I could do.  I felt helpless and it hurt. So when I watch you behave in certain ways, taking care of others instead of yourself (and therefore us), I am terrified. I feel turned off.  I don’t know what to do.  I am afraid you aren’t taking care of your health and I will lose you eventually. Then when I can’t talk to you about what I see, I feel stuck. It also scares me because I want to be with you, but what if I get trapped?  Trapped the way I felt as a kid with my parents. I don’t know how to talk to you and get you to understand me in a way that feels safe to you and I really want to.  I don’t know how to be there for you and myself at the same time in this area.”  Steve thinks about this for a minute. He replies, “I need to know that you are not trying to change me, that you care about me the way I am.  I have plenty of history around not being accepted, being put down, and being controlled so when we get into this area, I feel so hurt that I just want to run away.  I feel unloved. I feel not good enough for you, or even for myself.  It is such an awful feeling.  How can I talk when it feels like you are criticizing me and I feel so horrible about myself?”

Steve and Jane are not talking about the issue of “You don’t take care of yourself.”  Instead, they are talking about the issue of, “It is really hard to talk to you when I love you, but what I have to say will hurt you. I am scared of you reacting and being hurt and leaving.” And they are talking about, “It’s really hard to talk when I love you and am scared of losing you but I feel criticized,  not good enough, and think I am disgusting to you.”  Steve and Jane need to talk about how difficult it is to talk about this, rather than the issue itself of Steve’s caretaking of others.  That is how they will eventually get to that issue.

The conversation continues.  Jane says, “When I try to talk about this with you, you get hurt and I get really scared.  I don’t want to hurt you. I want you to know how much I care about you and how much I want us to be able to talk.”  Steve says, “When you try to talk about this with me, I feel hurt and want to leave and I don’t want to leave you.” They talk more about their fear of both losing each other and of being trapped in something that is not good for them.  They talk about how this issue is so “hot” for both of them that they cannot talk about it. They talk about their histories and where these intense feelings are coming from. As Steve and Jane talk, they are opening up space around their wounds and fears.  They are bringing in some fresh air and getting to know and understand each other better.  They are learning new things about each other and themselves.  Steve doesn’t take care of himself because he doesn’t fully value himself.  He’s learned to value his ability to give to others instead.  Jane pushes to be seen, because she was so unseen as a child.

Steve and Jane discover that they have a way to talk that they did not use to have. They both understand why they are reacting so strongly to the other.  They understand what they are afraid of.  This is what they need to talk about first, before they can ever get to the actual “issue,” because the issue is embedded in their wounds. Both come to understand and have empathy for the other.  Both become more able to see themselves and talk about who they are and how they impact each other.