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
“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
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.
This story is about love. It comes out of my realizing
how I am changing. It comes out of my desire for a new world. It is about my
belief that we are all beings of love and healing includes a journey into the
darker parts of ourselves to exhume, tend and ultimately to heal and transform
How did your family of origin
influence your ability to love?
In my family, love was hidden
under other agendas. It just wasn’t the focus. My father was obsessed with his
artistic vision. He struggled with depression and rage. My mother was
emotionally cut off. Her focus was on the practical. Had we cleaned our rooms?
Were our chores completed? Affirmation was rare. Although my father could be
playful, both parents were often stressed and were critical of others. Between
these two people, there were four children. I was one of those children, and my
childhood impacted my ability to love.
Learning how to truly love
(both self and others) has been a life path for me. I survived my childhood
because I found love with the animals that surrounded me. They accepted me.
They had time for me. I felt safe with them. They expressed love towards me and
I towards them. I also knew there were realities other than the one I felt
trapped in because I read. I read voraciously. I read to escape my life and be
in another place. I read to find comfort. I read to find a place in which I
Over the years, living from the
guidelines my parents indoctrinated in me, I learned that my focus on
productivity often shortchanged my ability to love, to be loving, to honor my
partner. Luckily, life created some relational disasters for me and caused me
to begin to look at myself, to start the task of sorting through the aspects of
myself that simply did not work for all of me.
Untangling as a growth choice
I have been on a growth path
for many years, I am slowly correcting my deficits and growing my positive
qualities. Real love is one of the true joys of this world. If we do not learn
to create it, we shall have robbed ourselves and those we are blessed to share
our lives with. Each moment is precious. In each moment there is always a
choice. The choice is usually between what is life-affirming and what is not.
Sometimes we choose the less life-affirming path. That is important because we
get to experience what does not work, what does not fill us with joy. And in
the next moment, we again have another choice. At any point, our choices may
change. What and how we choose becomes our path. Sometimes we are caught. We
don’t know which way to go, what to choose, or even how to choose. That is when
working on ‘untangling’ becomes the most productive choice. This has been my
destiny and my path, and doing so has become a massive force in my life.
I want a world of beauty, where
people are not afraid of their emotions, or of connecting. Where we don’t have
to put others down to feel okay about ourselves. Where we don’t have to deny
others because we only feel okay if we have more or because we are scared that
there isn’t enough. Because of the kind of world that I want, I must look at
every part of myself that is not that. For those parts need support and love if
they are to transform.
We innately resonate with that which is beautiful
by Jennifer Lehr
I believe that we are more than the material realm, more
than matter. We are more than the horrors we see on the news and in our lives.
We are more than the greed that impacts us every day. We resonate with
qualities that are beautiful. We resonate with the experience of truth and
love. We resonate with peace and appreciation.
I once worked with a young teenager
who came from a family of gang members and was part of that gang culture
himself. As a child, he had seen his father murder a member of another gang.
His brother was in jail. That was what he knew. But one day walking to the
therapy office with me, he stopped in front of a poster of trees. He said that
he liked how it made him feel. He said he wished he could be there, in those
trees, in that sense of peace.
Looking more deeply
I believe that we are all part
of the divine, on a journey to allow that which is divine to fully manifest,
for ourselves and for all others with whom we relate — and if we are all free and
honored, with whom we can dance. Our journey into the light is equally a
journey down into the depths. If you position yourself as a being of love,
meaning a part of the divine spark of life, then you have to look at the
components of yourself that are not about love. This cannot be done by pushing
away the dark parts of yourself.
I refuse to allow myself to not
be a part of the flow of consciousness that is about increasing love and
decreasing suffering on this planet. I refuse to accept that suffering that is
created by ignorance or heartlessness is okay.
For me, the journey starts
inside myself. It starts with learning how to honor myself and others. And it
includes trusting that I can work with what I have been given and make it
meaningful and purposeful.
As we open into painful
feelings, we begin a process of remembering ourselves. It is as if we live out
of one part of ourselves, and have put the others, the parts that hold
complicated feelings, away. These aspects sometimes jump out unbidden, but we
do not really know them. We live out of a fragment of ourselves instead of a
cohesive whole. We are a segregated being. And as the microcosm, so is the
macrocosm. We contribute to a world where certain things are not accepted or
are pushed away, whether it is a feeling or somebody else’s rights.
I have an advantage here. I am
naturally a digger and a burrower. I instinctively root out and explore the
dark parts of myself. I cannot imagine doing otherwise. I am grateful for this
ability. I am thankful for the gifts this talent has given me. For those of you
who avoid stepping into and looking at your more tormented parts, you may find
this idea uncomfortable. And yet, if you can stick with it, you will learn that
these feelings are temporary and transformable.
How does one do this without
overwhelm? Or being repulsed and pushing away? I think of a couple who I had
worked with. As the male partner began to allow himself more vulnerability
(which was necessary), the female partner began to feel disgusted. Although she
wanted him more attuned to her, to feelings, to connection, she could not
tolerate the very ingredient that would get him there. Her work would be to
look at her fear of a ‘soft’ man. She would need to unpack many experiences she
had around her father and around her ideas of being protected by the masculine
element and let down by softness. Deep issues will not heal on their own. But
beginning the journey of looking more deeply at ourselves can be overwhelming
and confusing. We often don’t know where to start.
Help is available
The task of looking at and
sorting through our profound and often overwhelming issues can be helped by
looking at the myth of Psyche and Eros and Psyche’s interactions with
Aphrodite. Psyche was a beautiful woman. The Goddess Aphrodite was jealous of
Psyche and gave her many impossible tasks. The first was for Psyche to sort
through a vast granary filled with many different kinds of seeds. Psyche was
instructed to sort through them by sundown. Psyche was beside herself, crying
and completely overwhelmed. As she cries, an army of ants arrives, and they
began to sort the seeds. By nightfall, the task was complete. Psyche was not
able to sort the seeds herself. She needed assistance, and because she had a
clear intention with integrity, help arrived.
There is help for relationships and personal development. One only need to pick a path to follow or several. Some include:
12-step programs Therapy A relational, educational process like WeConcile® Workshops Youtubes by various teachers, gurus, and healers
As we become more integrated and step more fully into the process of reclaiming our whole selves, we begin to be lighter. We begin to be more whole. What is dead comes to life and has an opportunity to engage consciously. A dialogue ensues. We become happier. We begin to love all of ourselves. The quality of our connections become filled with more love. Our life and life itself becomes fuller.
I remember as a kid being upset and walking away from our
home. Thoughts swirled around in my head. Never get married, never have kids.
Never get married, never have kids. Over
and over like a mantra. I don’t remember
the incident, but ours was a violent household where fighting was frequent, and
empathy rare. I was a sad and depressed child.
When I eventually grew up, I began to realize I didn’t know
how to have a functioning relationship. A pattern developed. Fall in love. Have
a great six months. Problems emerged. Struggle for a while. A new love interest
arose. Break up the old relationship and start over. Falling in love was easy but working through
the difficulties that emerged in all those relationships were not.
I did get married in my mid 30’s, after a series of
relationships. It was a difficult marriage. Fortunately, we never had children.
After years of both individual and couples therapy, it ended in a divorce.
In the meantime, I became a psychotherapist. I had to unravel so much of my trauma, meaning making and psyche. I came to understand emotionally the imprints left on me by my parents. No longer was I in an unconscious relationship with them, compensating for their deficits. No longer was the imprint of being a caretaker to an angry father deforming my ability to speak up for myself. I reformed and reclaimed myself. The wrinkles of my life smoothed out. I studied psychology and relationships and participated in training after training. I lived and breathed self-understanding and therapeutic process. I found I loved sitting with a person or a couple and seeing the patterns of their lives. I loved seeing the images of how they interacted. I loved helping them untangle the knots of their lives.
For me, there has been a long journey between those two
places – beginning with despair and hopelessness, evolving to appreciation,
wonder, and joy.
I’m in a fantastic marriage now. One I could never have
envisioned in my youth. I found ‘the one,’ my soulmate. A concept I never
believed in, and certainly never thought would happen in my life. Today, I am
married to a man I adore. Sure, we get into arguments sometimes. But 10 minutes
later, we’ve figured out what triggered us and moved back into our safe
connection. Gone are days of long-lasting hurt and a confused distance between
Part of that journey is my creating WeConcile® – an online,
DIY, experiential learning program for couples. I started writing WeConcile in
2009. And while I was writing it, my now husband and I lived it. It seeped into
our flesh, migrated into the very cells of our bones. The spaces within both
our psyches that had been filled with trauma, doubt, and misunderstandings,
slowly became infused with understanding, healing, and trust. We became
different people. We became humans capable of listening to each other. We
changed our behaviors. We reacted less.
I didn’t know that as over the years I created this program,
I would also be living it. I only knew it became my life’s mission – to help
others escape what I had escaped; the pain of the past, the pain of wounded
relationships and broken dreams.
We all have our unique abilities and talents. Mine has been living at the interface of unwinding trauma and healing, of crossing the bridge of unrelating to relating, of being a writer and a healer, a student and a teacher. If you had asked me as a kid, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would never have said, help people understand themselves, help people relate in healthy happy ways. In my youth I would have said, I want to save the planet, help the animals (and I still do). But life had other ideas for me on how I would contribute to this world. I have been guided. The fertile roots of my life have reached downward and anchored me in this particular journey of teaching others how they can better relate, how they can make their relationships beautiful.
Check out my more detailed article on my relational journey here:
How does having a significant illness relate to being in a relationship that doesn’t work? How do we take that understanding and apply it to improve our relationships?
In 2016, when I was struggling with Lyme disease, in desperation, I went to an alternative treatment center. The treatments included shots, IV’s and fevers which could get out of control, body temperatures moving to unsafe levels. The needles pushing through tender skin, hurting despite the icing of the area previously. The weight of the IV needle in the vein hindering easy movement. There was no way to escape the discomfort of the treatments that went on from morning into the night for several months or the exhaustion from both the illness and the remedy. I found the treatment to be stressful, traumatic and at times painful. But I knew I needed to get better and I was willing to suffer to find my health again.
You might ask how this situation relates to being in a relationship that isn’t as good as it could be, or where a couple is struggling. These two journeys are somewhat different, but parallels exist. In both cases, we are in a state of dis-ease and we are looking for healing or wholeness.
When I was at that clinic, I created a mantra, which I used to focus my intentions and attitudes.
Please help me find
Please help me be
Please help me have
Please help me hear the
guidance of my higher self.
I silently repeated this mantra over and over. When I was getting a painful shot or sitting in a bathtub full of ice and ice water in an attempt to keep my fever from getting dangerously high, I would say this mantra to myself. I used it to ground myself. I used it to keep my focus clear. I used it to reassure and soothe myself.
A person in a failing relationship can easily get
overwhelmed with distress, with feeling unsafe emotionally, with not knowing if
they can get through the difficulties, with lacking clarity and not knowing
which way to turn or how to navigate through the disruptions between themselves
and their partner. Like my Lyme journey, a relational journey also requires
courage, reassurance, guidance, safety and the desire for the relationship to
return to health or wholeness.
I was lucky to have mostly kind staff and nurses, and the
patients were silly and playful with each other. We created the support we
needed amongst ourselves. Connection is another part of what gets us through
difficult times. In a relationship that works, we have connection that supports
us through life’s challenges. But in a relationship that doesn’t work, often we
do not have that safe connection with our partner.
It is painful when we fight, when we don’t know if our
relationship will survive. It is painful to feel confused and not know which
way to turn, or how to get an argument to turn into a more productive
Yet our desires for a better relationship are achievable. We can learn how to create healthy emotional and relational selves. We can create safety in our relationship. We can find our courage if we have guidance. And we can learn to ‘hear’ the right way to go.
But without new information coming into our ‘system’ we
often don’t know how to proceed.
WeConcile is a do-it-yourself online relationship course designed to teach you how to change your relationship, how to make it safe and healthy. You can find your courage and become a full team with your partner. You will learn new ways of being that will open up new connections in your relationship. And unlike dealing with a major illness, you can enjoy the process of gaining more contact with, and understanding of your partner.
Recovering from Lyme disease is a long journey. Some of the people I went to that clinic with have passed. They were not able to defeat the disease. Others are still struggling. Some, like myself, are more or less, better. I never gave up. I sought to recover, to find new knowledge, new tools. It took many treatments, a clear focus on what I wanted, and continued courage and persistence. I was one of the lucky ones who found what I needed.
You are on your own journey. But a journey is just that –
moving through terrain, from one location to another. Your journey can lead you
to a place where you have the love you have always desired. Don’t give up on
your dreams. It is completely doable to create a nourishing and peaceful
relationship and the process of doing so is no longer a mystery. A science of
love exists with the tools you need. You only need to choose to begin the
journey of healing your 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?
One of the things I enjoy doing is reading a book with new perspectives and then applying those ideas to my own field. I just finished reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s one of those books that allow us to see the world differently. Of the many ideas it describes, one is that as humans, we are creative and seek autonomy, mastery and purpose among other things. We don’t need to be controlled, managed or manipulated. The use of the carrot and the stick as motivators actually reduce our productivity. If we have our basic requirements met (food, shelter, adequate money) we will seek to fulfill ourselves through meaning making activities. The old model of motivation, that we need to be managed, works with simple logical tasks, but our world is changing and these repetitive tasks are being outsourced or taken over by computers. This model doesn’t work with the duties of our current day, which tend to be the more creative and right-brained, rather than the more routine and left brained. Another striking idea is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. To be intrinsically motivated is to care about mastery, agency and purpose. A focus on external success actual hinders motivation and ultimately success because you get caught up in the goal (making money, becoming famous etc), rather than the process of developing mastery, giving back to the world, or having a purpose. People who tend to be external focused (Type X) can learn to become more intrinsically focused (Type I). This is all very good news. Not only is our understanding of our world and ourselves changing, but our world itself and we as part of it are also evolving and developing.
Can these ideas be applied to self-growth? Can they be applied to relationships? You bet! The last thing a therapist wants is to work with someone who isn’t self-motivated or interested in exploring who they are and creating purpose for themselves. Or someone who thinks the world (and their self and life) is static and that it cannot, or isn’t going to change. That would be akin to dragging a bag of rocks up a hill. There are people (mostly not on the west coast, thankfully) who find therapy shameful or stupid. This has always bothered me. How can you possibly understand yourself, develop new parts of yourself and work towards mastery of your life, if you aren’t willing to look at yourself? What is going on in our culture that this occurs? Somehow feelings have gotten a bad rap, both experiencing them and developing our ability to “language” them and be aware of them. But, back to the task at hand: as someone interested in helping people in this process of self-understanding and the development of self-mastery, these ideas are exciting. They mean that we want to grow, gain autonomy and mastery and that given half a chance, we will. And yet we have many “failures” in the creation of our lives: trauma, depression, anxiety, broken relationships. How can we use these ideas to create more success in our lives? How do we apply these ideas to therapy, both the practice of and also the client’s ability to metabolize it?
First, I think it is important to recognize that the human race is not static but growing and evolving. Our relationships are one of those things that are bearing the brunt of this evolution, for we have not yet caught up to who we are becoming. As we evolve, we need to develop new capacities. As we develop new capacities, we need to learn to give them significance. One of these capacities is in the area of relating. Relating involves many things including accessing and sharing feelings, understanding needs, and gaining control of destructive behaviors. Lets look at couple therapy, which is a pretty complex process. As a client in couples therapy, we must learn enough about ourselves (among other things) that we can untangle a bunch of behavior that simply does not get us what we want: an accessible and responsive relationship. We supply the courage and tenacity on the road to mastery of this challenge, but we need more than motivation, creativity and desire for this purpose. We also need a map. This is new and for us, uncharted territory. We will need assistance in this undertaking as well as an understanding how a specific and possibly uncomfortable challenge relates to this goal.
Our symptoms (relationship dysfunction) are like the tip of an iceberg. It is the part we see. In the cold icy water below this symptom we have a number of tasks, which include:
1 Understand the intricacies of the negative cycle
2 Experience (not just understand) the deeper (not surface) feelings that feed our ‘cycle’.
3 Become aware of the needs that fuel the feelings and how
4 Understand the interrelationship between all of this
This could translate to: I have to experience some pretty painful feelings that I am not usually in contact with so that I can access parts of myself that I don’t really know and expand who I am to a more feeling based being, as well as understand how these parts are influencing my behavior, what it is that I really need, and (eventually) use that to be vulnerable and connect.
Here’s a short sample story of a couple fabricated from a number of people:
When you get mad, I feel unsafe, I feel as if I am completely alone, caught in a trap, whatever I do will be wrong and I am scared. I hate that feeling and I will do anything not to experience it, including not tell you the whole truth, cut off parts of myself, blame you, push you away, try to control you…. And I get mad at you for being mad and seeming mean…. It reminds me of when I was little and my neighbor was a bully. I decided then that being mean wasn’t okay, so now I take care of other people’s feelings and it embarrasses me when you don’t. I get confused. I love you, but you have this side of you that is so hard and I cannot stand it and I am afraid of it and so we end up in a fight over how I behave… and because you feel like I don’t respect your feelings and don’t support you and underneath you feel abandoned too…. Because you never had anybody put you first or stand up for you…. I want you to not be mean so that you are somebody I can love all the time and so that you feel safe to me…. You want me to stop standing up for other people; because it that means that I can’t stand up for you or myself…. I need to feel like you are safe and responsive and loving to me and when you act ‘hard’ you don’t feel safe to me …and then you need to feel like I am safe and responsive and loving for you, but when this cycle occurs you don’t feel as if I am there for you either. So we get stuck and we don’t have a good way to talk about it, because we don’t even see this yet. It’s all underneath and it just happens and takes over our relationship. Our relationship is held hostage to this pattern and this is an area where it cannot breath.
This is how we get trapped in the cycle. What’s the solution? The only way out is to understand ourselves: emotions, needs, behavior, the way a surgeon understand how the muscles and bones and ligaments and blood vessels interconnect and populate a section of the body. We must have that level of self-understanding. And we have to be able to experience our feelings the way a poet experiences the world expressed through language. Our curiosity about ourselves has to come to the forefront, as well as our ability to tolerate pain, to step deep into our feelings, to make our own development and growth, our own attainment of mastery paramount. As we continue to evolve and to develop ways to support our evolution, we find new ways to think, experience and be in our lives and relationships. As we do this, who we are changes in ways we cannot even imagine.
Almost everyone wants love in his or her life. It is a vital ingredient of our humanness. We are born through the bodies of our mothers, most likely have nursed on her breasts, were held, touched and attended to. We develop in connection to others. Our survival depends on our relationships. We are not designed to be without relationship. We cannot exist without them.
When relationships stop working, there is often a wound that needs to be attended to. Many of us grew up in homes with various kinds of disconnection occurring. Whether our caretakers were preoccupied, angry, needy or impatient, we may at times have felt uncared about. We may have lost someone we loved, or have been completely disregarded or abused. As children, we had to survive this pain. We may have learned to push our feelings out of our awareness. Ultimately, we developed ways to tolerate and survive these disconnects. These are the survival techniques that we have brought into our current relationships. And they often don’t work.
Connection and safety are intricately bound. Our relationships trigger primal survival needs and feelings, and when threatened, the primal fears of an infant emerge. Survival is at the root of our relationships. It is difficult to play or be vulnerable when you do not feel safe. When our relationships are threatened or we are insecure, we become afraid of abandonment or of being overwhelmed or trapped. Those feelings emerge as rage, fear, longing and grief, and cause us to react rather than respond reasonably. We often do not see where these feelings are coming from. We have no way to link them to an actual past events. All we know is that something feels awful and we are in a struggle to be seen, heard, and understood. The emotional dance that emerges is not logical, but born of deep longings for safety and connection. Feeling safe, asking for what we need and being responsive to the other is paramount to our health and happiness. Safety must exist for both intimacy and play to be present in a committed relationship. While we do not necessarily have to delve into the past to change things, it usually helps. And we do have to start looking at and improving our current relational skills.
Do you accept too little in a relationship ? – If you accept too little, it is time to decide that you deserve more and figure out what is stopping you.
Are you too demanding? – If it always has to be your way, you will need to trust you can get enough of what you need without misusing your power. The cost of powering your way through a relationship is too high.
Can you ask for what you need? – Do you believe that you have impact, that you are worth listening to and being responded to? Why not?
What are the ways that you disconnect? – Are you willing to re-engage?
Do you feel safe and loved in your relationship, safe enough to both be vulnerable and to play? – What do you need to help you feel safer and more connected?
Are you responsive to your partner? – This will help your partner feel safe with you.
We are imperfect beings, who love and are loved by other imperfect beings. While disagreements and differences are part of life and growth, conflict can make us feel vulnerable and react to these differences. Deep down, we are afraid of losing or not getting what we need, of not being loved. Are you secure enough to have your feelings, yet also listen to your partner’s feelings, without making them wrong? Sustaining a connected relationship (with the right person) requires a number of skills. Mostly, we have to be solid enough to tolerate differences and still stay in responsive and loving contact even when we are uncomfortable.
Originally published here, also published on GoodTherapy.org
George had been very upset about the actions of an ex friend. Susan could feel his pain and asked him if there was anything that she could do to make him feel better. George replied, “I could think of something”. Susan retorted, “I wasn’t talking about sex”. George responded, “So what’s new?” Susan feeling criticized, said, “you don’t care about me, all you care about is sex”. George responded back, “well you asked, next time don’t ask if you don’t care”. “Don’t worry, I won’t, Susan snarled. She walked away and they didn’t talk till the next day.
The interaction that Susan and George had was a familiar and repetitive one. They had started out okay, but somehow both misunderstood the other and ended up in a fight.
Lets replay this, except George and Susan are more conscious about their wounds. Instead of fighting, they are going to get closer and build more trust between them.
George had been very upset about the actions of an ex friend. Susan could feel his pain and asked him if there was anything that she could do to make him feel better. George replied, “I could think of something,” He was thinking about sex. Susan immediately thought to herself of “He’s upset and angry, I don’t want to have sex with somebody who is angry”. She was silent for a minute, trying to figure out what to do. A few minutes later, George said, “that would have been the perfect opportunity for you to have initiated sex, which you never do. ” He was frustrated and disappointed. Susan could feel his anger. She felt hurt and she felt like he was taking the anger that he was feeling about his ex-friends and dumping it on her. They were looking at each other, as it was clear something serious was occurring between them. Susan mustered up her courage and responded, “I just initiated last night”. George got still for a moment and realized that she had. He responded by saying, “yes you are right, you did. They continued to talk. Susan “remembered” and recounted that she had grown up in a family where she had to take care of other’s needs at her own expense. “Nobody was really interested in what I needed,” she said. ,”And when you wanted to make me to make you feel without considering how I felt, I got hurt. I am afraid to be vulnerable when somebody is angry and for me, having sex is being vulnerable. George responded, “when you didn’t move forward and make it all okay, my disappointment about always being let down came up. So many times in my childhood and other relationships, I’ve been let down. I just wanted you to make me feel better and it felt like you were failing me too.
Both George and Susan had been feeling unloved and not understood. But as they talked, they began to piece together the old stories feeding their reactions. They were able to talk it out and avoided a fight. They helped the other heal by listening and empathizing. And they both became more conscious of who they were and were gaining the ability to not allow the past to haunt them.
But how do we do this?
When we get reactive or triggered, it means we’ve opened an old can of worms. Think of each worm as an old story that is a wound around which we have unhappy feelings. These feelings lurk below the surface, ready to come up under the right circumstances. Rather than being in touch with our present reality, we relive old stories. Some of those stories make us angry, some make us sad. These stories can be like gasoline on a fire. They are lenses through which we view our lives and they distort our perceptions. We disproportionately and quickly escalate our emotional responses to what appear to be very inconsequential events. These stories need to be recognized as old wounds and told, both to each other and to ourselves, if we are going to be able to stop these repetitive patterns.
There are several tools to help us remember that we are caught up in a wound and repair it:
* The 90/10 rule. If we are upset, often it is 10% about the present situation and 90% about the past.
* Telling our story to our partner is building a relational bridge. Reacting as if we are right is blowing up the relational bridge. Remember, your partner is your friend. Treat him or her as if he or she is, and talk, don’t react or accuse.
* Find the sadness, loss or grief that is under the anger. It is hard to build a bridge when you are yelling and screaming, or withdrawing.
* To have a successful relationship, you have to be a person who can have a successful relationship. Become a person who is communicative and open. This is more important than trying to get your partner to change. If they don’t change, the relationship may end, but your power lies in you, not them.
* Accept that what is happening in the present moment demands your love and attention. The present moment is your friend. It is an opportunity to discover your emotional wounds and the wounds of your partner. It is an opportunity to start unraveling the old stories and stepping out of being driven by old wounds.
* Remember, we all have wounds. A relationship is an opportunity to repair these wounds. A relationship is a journey that allows us to create “home” both within ourselves and with another.
Making love last is a concern for anybody with a relationship history that has included disappointment, pain and loss. How do we do it differently the next time around?
What starts for so many as a blissful connected loving state often turns into sadness riddled with problematic behavior and seemingly un-resolvable conflicts. How can we learn to have lasting, productive and satisfying relationships? While innate chemistry and compatibility are important, creating fulfilling relationships that last, is far more complex than that. Is it possible to learn to create connections in which love can flourish? Not only is it possible, it is necessary.
It is necessary to look at successful relationships as a developmental milestone and life skill. Just as other tasks in life require knowledge and practice, learning to create the context for a successful relationship also requires the development of specific abilities, awarenesses and skills. (Assuming that you have a committed partner you can work with.)
How we know somebody else is related to how we know ourselves; how we construct our own reality. We live in stories; we carry our unconscious stories as roadmaps that most of us are not fully aware of. We live not just in current “reality” but also through acts of imagination and meaning making. When we experience the unweaving and understanding of our own stories and how we identify ourselves, we become capable of re-envisioning ourselves and allowing for new stories to emerge. For example, if someone were always attracted to “sad” women, because he was re-enacting (unaware) the story that his “sad” mother needed his help, as he becomes aware (often through therapy) of that story and its impact on his romantic choices, he can change his story to one that serves him better. The importance of self-reflection becomes clear. It allows us to understand our role in repetitive self-defeating choice patterns in our romantic relationships.
Relationship patterns also are influenced by our fears around connection and safety. We live in bodily and emotional connection to others. We are born through wombs and are nourished at breasts as infants. We experience love through emotional connection and touch. When our attachment needs are threatened, we move into fear and behaviors which attempt to help us to maintain safety and connection. Many of these behaviors however, sabotage the very connection we seek.
Instead of responding out of fear, we can look at our actions. Are we building bridges, or burning them? Are we caught in loops of behavior that we cannot control? Love cannot flourish when we behave in ways that break connection. Being disappointed with our partner is not the problem; it is the dialogue we have, both with our partner and ourselves that matters. The choices of behaving and thinking that we learn to make in the context of our pain and disappointment can allow us to create a satisfying love.
Making love last also requires curiosity, both about our own reactions and the reactions of our partner. Love cannot flourish if we blame, criticize, or do not take responsibility for our own responses. Love cannot flourish when we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable or behave in a way that the other cannot be vulnerable with us. Because of this, habitual patterns of behavior that create safety and routine, but reduce risk and openness, while necessary for aspects of our lives and our relationships, can diminish connection.
A relationship is a living breathing entity created by two individuals. Creating a relationship is a commitment to the process of that relationship, thus it must continually be nourished. Nourishing a relationship requires the courage to take risks, to be vulnerable and curious rather than defensive. It includes the ability to tolerate and share uncomfortable feelings and experience ambiguity. Making love last includes a willingness to witness oneself and one’s partner with both compassion and openness.
How do we change the direction of our lives? Despite our histories, why do some people create fulfilling lives for themselves while others do not? As a therapist, and as a person who has made her life about self-transformation and then later, the transformation of others, this is easy to see. But for many people, especially those who do not know much about “therapy,” and the process it entails, this is more of a mystery.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I will do whatever it takes to reach my full potential in this lifetime – no matter what”? This statement to ourselves, to our god, to the universe, is powerful and can open us up to change. There are several main ingredients in change: a desire to improve one’s sense of well-being, and a willingness to do whatever it takes. These qualities could be put together and called emotional courage.
Emotional courage means we are willing to connect to all aspects of ourselves, including old, scary and painful experiences, and feel whatever comes up, rather than cutting ourselves off to avoid pain, shame, grief, and sadness. Emotional courage means we will leave our comfort zone if it enlarges our lives, rather than live in a smaller but seemingly safer world. It means that we can have the courage to suffer if it enables us to grow and live a bigger life.
While there is much to be said for being kind to ourselves, to not always be pushing, when we avoid that which is challenging or enlarging, we keep ourselves from growing new muscle, developing new talents and abilities. Doing what is easiest is often a way of avoiding what is hard.
In therapy, we often have to remember old experiences that hurt us. We often have to sit in those re-activated feelings of shame or pain. We are taught to allow ourselves to let go of control and be disoriented. We come to know that we can survive this process and that in doing so we are opening bridges between different parts of ourselves. We have to trust that ultimately this is courageous and allows us to become stronger. We can be in contact with all we have lived with. We can look back and say, “gee that was really hard”, rather than dismiss it and say, “I had a great childhood”, or “I don’t want to wallow in the past”. Nobody had a perfect childhood, and we all have created ways of surviving. Some of those ways no longer work.
For example, Jane often attacked her partner George angrily when she felt uncared for. She wanted to stop this pattern and began to look at why she got so upset by things he would do that felt neglectful. As this pattern was explored, it became clear that as a child, her parents did not consider Jane’s needs and desires. Now, whenever George didn’t specifically consider her, she went into a rage. As Jane began to delve into her reactions (which were always much bigger than the situation at hand), she began to experience the pain that she lived through as a child, the feelings of unworthiness, the hurt, the loneliness, and the anger. She was able to start to communicate what was getting triggered in her, instead of attacking, and due to her courage both in delving into the pain of the past, and communicating her vulnerability openly, Jane began to rebuild her relationship.
Do you find yourself avoiding situations that trigger uncomfortable feelings? How is this holding you back? What might happen if you take the leap and trust that facing your fears will ultimately empower you? Will you speak up honestly? Will you stand in your vulnerability rather than be self-protective? Will you trust that you can survive feelings of shame or embarrassment? These choices become skills and abilities that allow us to create healthier lives and relationships.