In continuing to read some of the works of David Schnarch I can easily recommend them to you (previously I commented from Passionate Marriage and am currently reading Intimacy and Desire). He says a lot of important things about marriage, couples, sex, intimacy, and a lot of other issues that effect relationships. Previously, I had written about the couple as a crucible from reading Passionate Marriage, but as I read more it seemed clear that he was talking about each of us having our own crucible (which could be defined as a severe trial leading to change) to go through and when we do that together we are building the relationship. (I had thought he was writing about the couple as the crucible.) With further reading, it makes even more sense: change is within, and we have to go through our own crucible process for the couple to change.
In couples therapy, when a couple comes in to work on their relationship, they often spend significant time pointing the finger at their partner for something that is a real problem. And it is almost always the case that the partner has an equal pointing back, and an equally strong issue, too, that counters the first’s complaint. But it is also true that couples get locked into that pattern and don’t know how to get out of it. Sometimes they come to relationship therapy to help, and that is often a good thing to do because they have, quite possibly, tried everything they can think of to fix their problem. It often takes a couples therapist to get them to move beyond their entanglement. (Dr. Schnarch would say this entanglement is a natural path in a couple’s relationship which he calls “gridlock.”)
Couples counseling is about, when it is good, helping a couple unravel their way of doing what they are doing, and changing a pattern that is locking them up. A key is often to help each partner look inside and say more clearly what they are needing to say. Another key is to help each partner see what he or she needs to take on for change to happen. So bring in your entanglements, bring in your concerns about your spouse, that is what couples do, that is what needs to be worked on and gotten through. Couples therapy will address that. And realize that couples therapy may also make you, besides looking at your significant other, look at who you are.
“Crucible” is a term that is not used so much currently. It means (from a search on line) either “a container where substances are melted together to form a new substance” or “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.” Sounds powerful. But so are relationships with even a bit of commitment and any intimacy.
As a therapist that works with relationships, that was an interesting definition. A definition that could be used for what marriage or a committed is, a definition for what couples counseling is or hopes to be.
So often couples come to therapy and see the problem as being in the other person (their spouse, their significant other). And it seems like all of the time, if the couple is to change and grow, each of the two has to move to see what they are doing and to change what they need to change to make the couple grow. “Differentiate” is the term David Schnarch uses for this aspect of growth. He says, in Passionate Marriage, “Spouses’ interlocking crucibles are an inherent part of the system that is marriage” (page 150, italacs are his). I read that to mean the their ways of interacting lock into a new system that we call marriage. He also talks about how couples often head into a gridlock that is usually seen as a bad thing, but really is the way that they will be pushed by the relationship to grow individually so the relationship can grow. I call that, “to become a couple.” A lot of couples are rather independent of one another rather than go through the “severe trial” of really becoming something new, something different that what was before the relationship began.
It is difficult, the severe trial of really building a marriage. But it leads to emotional and relational riches, growth, and love.
Sometimes I struggle with what it means to be an experienced marriage counselor or an expreienced relationship counselor. I will go out on the internet and see who is saying what about him or herself. Anyone can say that they are a marriage counselor or a relationship counselor, but that doesn’t mean that they have a license from the state to practice counseling of any kind. Being licensed is a good idea, showing that you have appropriate training and have to act appropriately or you lose that license. And most therapists have had training to deal with relationship issues, but how much?
But I always wonder about the quantity of time therapists or counselors have put into actually doing marital and/or relationship counseling with individuals and couples. And I wonder how much training many of the folks on the internet have in the marital, couples, sex, relationship counseling. And I wonder if they have any sense, if they are insightful, if they are caring.
This is who I am: I have been working with couples and helping couples and individuals with relationships for over forty years, as a psychologist for over thirty years. I have attended numerous workshops, dozens of seminars, was trained with experts on a year long intership that focused on many issues but also focused on marital, relationship, and sex therapy. I have had a great deal of experience because hundreds of couples have come to see me and work with me. I have had days when I have seen eight couples in a row. I have days where I work with couples two or three hours in a row, and sometimes more than once in a day. I know that there are a lot of therapists and counselors out there that can be helpful, and I know that many of them have only seen couples for one or two sessions each week.
Marital, couples, relationship therapy and counseling is my focus, my passion.
My belief is that you want and need a therapist that his highly trained, highly experienced, caring, motivated, insightful. There is a much smaller percent of the couples counselors in the area that meet all those criteria.
I believe I meet all those criteria and that I can help you.
The exact name of the article that ran in the Omaha World Herald was, “Opposites may attract, but the happily-ever-after takes work”. It talks about a couple that had love at first sight, and how the couple had some differences in their personalities as well as their backgrounds. And they began to “bump heads.” An important line in the article: “the more important a value is to someone, the more it is that his or her partner shares that value.” And I also agree with the statement: “They need to discuss their differences to find a solution that works…” (The article ran on 2/7/2017.)
So how important is it that couples be alike? That is a difficult question to answer, and the best answer probably is something like, “It depends on the couple.” There are many couples that are very different in some ways, yet they work it out. And there are couples who are alike who don’t. Perhaps what is most important is how they make room for the other’s ideas and values, and how they are able to maintain their own sense of values while working through issues that come up for each other.
I felt that I personally learned that being alike or different may not be the most important factor in making a relationship work when I was in graduate school and was in a testing course. We looked at a couple who were the same on an inventory, and who also were divorcing. As I recall it, the instructor mentioned that he and his spouse were opposites on the same inventory, and they, too, were divorcing. You need to be careful about generalizing from one example (two in this case), but throughout my career it has seemed that the issue of how alike a couple is to one another is not the crucial factor when working on the relationship, or when working in couples therapy. It is how much they can work out their issues in ways that works for both of them, and how much they are able to work to become a couple (a system that works for both of them).
In summary, accepting of self and other is crucial, as is the ability to work to becoming a mutually satisfying couple. Accepting self, accepting other, and changing to become a mutually satisfying couple are the keys to a lasting relationship.
Best I can tell, lying has been around a long time. And its many forms have been around for a long time as well. The many forms I am referring to include covering up, making up, omitting, white lies, etc. Realize that experts (see Pamela Meyer at a TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/pamela_meyer_how_to_spot_a_liar) will let you know that we all lie. Many times the lying is not so very bad in nature, but there are also many times when it causes significant problems. When a person asks his or her spouse how they look, the response on some occassions has embellishments. We don’t always know how truthful we should be when answering a question about how someone looks. Realize that there are lies that are intentional, when you say something that is not true (lies of commission) and lies that are also intentional, but when you don’t say something that might cause you a problem (lies of omission).
With couples, they all have to work out the truth/lies issue with each other and they all do it in their own ways. Sometimes we don’t want to know the truth and so we ignore aspects of another’s behavior. And at other times we want to know the truth and we go after it. Couples will bring to therapy how they have suspected an affair for years but never talked about it until they saw a text proving it—in a way, they may not have wanted to know the truth. There are also the cases the come to counseling where once the secret is out, the offended party looks everywhere and wants to know everything about the lie.
What does this mean for you, your other half, and lying? You two have your relationship at stake and how you choose to live your life and how you choose to lie and tell the truth will determine the fate of your relationship. One of the most difficult issues that comes up in couples counseling is not just an affair, but the lying and feelings of betrayal that are felt when the secret(s) come out. It is worth your time to work on, as a couple, how truthful you are being with each other.
I continue to learn about how to work with relationships as I do it. I hope this shows that I am progressing, getting better at the craft of helping a couple change. I learned a lesson in “arguing simply” today as I got in the middle of a couple’s argument and took it apart. I really did this by doing a few different things that might instruct you on how you could change your arguing and get better at it. First, I made them stop the activity they were doing, that is, arguing in their old way (which included talking at the same time, pushing too hard with their thoughts, giving all kinds of reasons that they were right–these were just a few of the patterns they were caught in), their same old pattern.
Stop doing the same thing that doesn’t work.
Next I took one piece of what they were talking about and got them to focus on that. I used yes/no questions, I kept stopping them from telling me why their side of the argument was so right and got each partner to answer the yes or no question, building a resolution to their problem.
Stick to one piece at a time. Get down to the basics of what makes up that piece.
Then I moved toward how close together or far apart they were from each other on the issue. In this case, it was amazing (but not that uncommon) that they actually agreed on the issue (the number of times they could each take a short vacation each year), but they still wanted to argue about it. But they were much less argumentative as things got narrowed down. And when I showed them that they actually agreed, they stopped arguing.
If you agree, stop arguing about it; if you don’t realize that you agree, make sure you don’t agree by clarifying each side.
If they had not agreed, I would have worked towards a compromise, learning about them in the process. Almost all the time there is a disagreement, couples can get to agreement (sometimes that is a compromise, sometimes it is not) if I keep them working on one idea at a time. But we also often, at this point, move to how one or the other feels about the issue or a solution or agreement. This (feelings about it) also is crucial to getting a couple to work together about an issue. If one or the other agrees, but with resentment, we have to address the resentment if we are goint to make things work.
If there is resentment, then you don’t have a very good agreement that will probably fail (unless the couple have a power differential, which brings up different issues).
In this particular case, I kept working the other pieces of their perceived differences about the topic (travel, in this case). After getting the first agreement, it was much easier to complete the other aspects of the topic (longer vacations, overnights, travel together). They felt that we had accomplished something, and they had–they had resolved something that they had fought about for a long time. And that is a skill worth improving in any relationship.
Over the course of time and working with couples, I have seen statements being made that are often misunderstood by the spouse or significant other. Given that I am sitting back a bit from the argument, I can see it more easily. I have named this particular kind of statement a feeling statement. Feeling statements are ones that are made, often in an argument, and they are often strong, generalizing, and, most importantly, are true in some ways but not others. “You always put me down,” would be a good example. As a fact, it is probably never completely true. As a feeling expressing the pain of feeling the put down coming from a significant other, it is accurate. When one person of a couple makes a feeling statement, the other often denies it, argues it, gives examples of how it is not true, which usually makes the first person even more upset because he/she is not being heard. But the first person, the person making the feeling statement, also is communicating in a way that can be taken the wrong way and often is. How to deal with feeling statements?
The person is wanting to be heard about an important issue. Can you do that? Can you just listen to what the person is feeling strongly? Second, as alluded to above, it is best not to counter it in any way, at least not in the moment. Can you just hear her/him out? Even if you feel what is being said is wrong or incorrect?
I find that the second person, the one receiving the feeling statement often feels a burning desire to correct the (perceived) misstatement, but the first person is believing (and feeling) it when such a statement is made. It is not a misstatement and it certainly feels like the truth. I push for the couple to let the feeling statements to be made, and the receiver take it an hear it for what it is—a strong statement of feelings. This can be a crucial part of moving communication forward.
Most couples are not very aware of a powerful and deep way of interacting that happens between them. I often see it in the office. One person has feelings, usually anger or frustration (though it can be other feelings) and the other individual responds, often matching the feeling intensity of the first. There are many times that the second one to respond has an even stronger response. There is nothing wrong with this pattern in and of itself, but there are many times that couples head into increasing emotions, changes of topic, and a loss of any chance at resolution about the original topic. In the typical pattern just presented, there are many places a therapist can intervene. For example, helping the couple to get back to the original issue can help to resolve the original issue, keeping the couple focused on that issue. One person feeling emotion almost always causes emotions to occur in the others who are present. And because couples can have a pattern of wanting the other person to change, the second person in the scenario may well be feeling defensive and/or attacked as well as just have feelings in response. The brain is faster (some say three times as fast) at this kind of perceiving and feeling than at many kinds of thinking, so your emotional response will be significantly faster than your thinking. It is important for you to be aware that you are having feelings when others are feeling “towards” you or even with you.
So for couples, they often don’t see that they are responding strongly to the others feelings. Just being aware of this fact can help you to work to be a little more objective, to sit back when you are in an emotional conversation and not just respond because you have been “activated.”
Brene Brown gave a TED Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en) on “The Power of Vulnerability” in 2010. That TED Talk has been watched over 26 million times. Perhaps there is something she is saying that resonates with many people, eh? In that TED Talk, she says a number of important statements, and a couple will be repeated here. She says that you cannot selectively numb and as she explains it, she means that if you work to numb down one emotion, then all of your feelings are effected. And she also says that we pretend what we do doesn’t effect others. Both of these statements were relevant to what couples sometimes bring to couples therapy. One of the two begins to do something and he or she pretends that it doesn’t effect the other. The other may well be hurt by the action or words and after enough encounters, the other begins to numb. In couples work, there is a strong dictum that the therapist has to go after both parts of the problem, has to work with what both sides are doing to make things work, has to go after getting both of the parties to change problematic behaviors. Interestingly, both of the actions mentioned here are not about being more vulnerable with the spouse, and they may even be the opposite, that is, they may work to decrease vulnerability. Every couple gets to decide how vulnerable they are going to be with each other, it is their relationship. In couples therapy, there is often a need to get the couple back to being at a comfortable level of vulnerability, rather than, from the example above, from the situation where one is living in a way that he or she believes problematic behavior is not really a problem and the other is numbing emotions to a better state of increased vulnerability and openness where they are both realizing that what we do and say matters and neither a numbing feelings and shutting their system down.
Watch the talk. See if you can increase your vulnerability in your relationship, if you want to.
I have written about “the edge” before, the place where each person in a duo rubs against one another in a way that doesn’t work well, is irritating, causes problems, and usually makes both really mad (whether he/she shows it or not). Every couple that I have encountered in my office that comes for more than a brief time gets to their edge. Most couples that only come once or twice without much relief were entrenched in their edge and so lost in it that they really didn’t want to change and couldn’t come back to therapy because they were quiting something (their relationship, trying, therapy). It often happens, with many couples (of any kind): when you are together enough, the edge(s) comes out.
The hard part is moving away from the focus on what he/she has to change and to what I have to change. Any change in either of the parties begins to get things going in a new direction, opens up new possibilities, begins to circumvent the old ways of doing things (read that as: changes the old ways of useless arguing). It is always easier to want someone else to change. It is hard to change your edge, a weak part in you that you hardly know. It is very often the answer to how to get significant change for the couple.
So, looking at what was so upsetting for you, then moving to what you need to change is a way to walk up to your edge, a way that you are weak and causes problems for your significant other(s). See if you can shine a light on yourself, into the shadow, at your own edge, then see if you can work to change that. Results will follow.