It Takes Courage To Have An Authentic Relationship.

IT TAKES COURAGE TO HAVE AN AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIP.

 

I have this belief that ALL…

Yes ALL people who are in an intimate relationship with another need to go through the inquiry and inner work as well and relating work  that those who have successful open relationships do.

 

I believe that no matter how you label your relationship,

that you should explore authentic relating for what it really means.

 

Most monogamous couples “think” they know each other.

“Think” they love each other unconditionally.

“Think” they are best friends and trust each other.

“Think” they are doing it right and will have success.

 

Most people who decide to open up their relationships choose to do so at a low period in their primary relationship and “think” that opening up will fix something.

“Think” that you can just overnight shift gears and that this thing called inner work and couples work to set agreements, learn each other and communicate are not needed.

That you can go zero to 100 overnight so to speak.

 

Both cases are detrimental to the relationship.

And it’s because the number one issue in relationships is communication.

 

And I am sure you may be among the many who believes that you communicate well with your partner.

You may think that you got this fully taken care of ,

but I ask you, is this true?

 

98% of couples that I have worked with over the last 15+ years come in telling me that they are good if not great communicators,

that their partner is their bestie and they can tell them anything.

But not three sessions into coaching and the truth is discovered.

 

They suck at communication.

Because they keep it at a surface level.

There is no depth in relating.

And if they touch on depth,

it causes confrontation,

triggers old wounds and fears,

and both parties end up dancing in their ego’s and speaking from their pain bodies instead of their heart centers.

 

So they avoid it.

They shut their truth down,

they tell their partners a softer version or nothing at all,

and they hide the best they can from themselves for as long as they can as to not rock the perfect picture of a loving connected relationship that they are wanting to paint.

 

When the hard fact is that they have challenges.

 

It takes courage to speak up in a relationship.

It takes courage to be real in a relationship.

It takes courage to listen without trying to change, control or freak out about what might be being shared in a relationship.

It takes courage to remain stable inside yourself when living authentically with another.

And it takes courage to be raw and real with yourself so you can do all the above.

 

But f-ck is it worth it,

just like you are worth it and so is your relationship.

 

You see, if you are among the many who are not operating at this level of authentic relationship but desire open communication, unconditional love, acceptance, honesty and truth in the relationship and from your partner,

then how is it ever going to be possible if you live hiding from yourself and basing your feelings and actions in fear of losing your partner?

 

If you are making your partner responsible for your happiness and worthiness then how can they ever just be themselves and state their truth to you?

 

If you are holding expectations as to what they need to do, how they need to act then how can they share their truth with you about anything that may pose a difficult conversation? And how is this unconditional love?

 

If you define yourself based on your relationship,

which simply means you are not strong in WHO YOU ARE,

then how can you be truthful with another?

 

To be authentic, truthful and honest with another you first must KNOW YOURSELF and be strong at your core so you are not rocked by another.

 

Remember that humans are fickle.

We ebb and flow,

we all are live waves in our feelings, emotions, thoughts and that we get caught in our wounds as well as our desires.

 

In authentic relating we understand that

there is your business,

there is my business,

and there is God’s business,

and that we each are ONLY RESPONSIBLE for one of those.

Anything else is sticking our noses where they are not needed.

 

The most unconditional loving person is the person who knows themselves, loves themselves first, and can embrace their shadow self as well as their glorious light.

They know their worth and it is not dependent on any outside source.

 

This is a person who can love deeply and unconditionally.

This is a person who can truly be honest and real.

This is a person who is self-empowered and therefore has the ability to allow for their partner to grow, to speak, to change.

 

As it is so intended.

relationships need to evolve over time.

This means that both parties need to do the same.

 

Expecting ourselves, our partners or the relationship to remain the same,

causes stagnation to our individual growth and the evolution of our love and relationships.

This is the coward’s path.

And it typically results in two things:

*Unhappiness

*Relationship Failure

 

It takes courage to relate authentically.

It takes courage to relate in unconditional love.

It takes courage to catch our control issues in a relationship.

It takes courage to see our fear based actions, feelings and thoughts for what they are… fear of our own inadequacies, fear of our worthiness and lack of value, the lack of personal acceptance cast onto our partner, and fear of abandonment.

 

But when we stand in courage and face our truth,

love ourselves through our fears,

we open the gates to deep, penetrative love and acceptance with our partner.

 

And THIS….

THIS is what we all crave and desire.

 

You are worthy of this beauty.

You are worthy of this sort of love.

 

Offer it to yourself and your partner today,

by starting with seeing YOURSELF authentically and leaning into those difficult conversations.

 

Reach out to me if you want information on how to go about just this and more.

Learn authentic relating no matter your relationship title to create an evolved loving relationship that fits your soul’s path now.

 

And As Always,

Stop Existing & Start Living

“Coaching for Grown A*s Believers”

The last word: He said he was leaving. She ignored him.

When Laura Munson’s husband asked for a divorce, she ducked instead of fighting. He needed to learn, she says, that his unhappiness wasn’t really about her.

couplehandholding

Let’s say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s—gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros, when you were single and skinny—have for the most part come true.

Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say, “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

Here’s a visual: Child throws a temper tantrum. Tries to hit his mother. But the mother doesn’t hit back, lecture or punish. Instead, she ducks. Then she tries to go about her business as if the tantrum isn’t happening. She doesn’t “reward” the tantrum. She simply doesn’t take the tantrum personally because, after all, it’s not about her.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying my husband was throwing a child’s tantrum. No. He was in the grip of something else—a profound and far more troubling meltdown that comes not in childhood but in midlife, when we perceive that our personal trajectory is no longer arcing reliably upward as it once did. But I decided to respond the same way I’d responded to my children’s tantrums. And I kept responding to it that way. For four months.

“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”

His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, “I don’t buy it.” Because I didn’t.

He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind.

So he turned mean. “I don’t like what you’ve become.”

Gut-wrenching pause. How could he say such a thing? That’s when I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: “I don’t buy it.”

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “the End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

My husband hadn’t yet come to this understanding with himself. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along. But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family.

But I wasn’t buying it.

I said: “It’s not age-appropriate to expect children to be concerned with their parents’ happiness. Not unless you want to create co-dependents who’ll spend their lives in bad relationships and therapy. There are times in every relationship when the parties involved need a break. What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”

“Huh?” he said.

“Go trekking in Nepal. Build a yurt in the back meadow. Turn the garage studio into a man-cave. Get that drum set you’ve always wanted. Anything but hurting the children and me with a reckless move like the one you’re talking about.”

Then I repeated my line, “What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”

“Huh?”

“How can we have a responsible distance?”

“I don’t want distance,” he said. “I want to move out.”

My mind raced. Was it another woman? Drugs? Unconscionable secrets? But I stopped myself. I would not suffer.

Instead, I went to my desk, Googled “responsible separation,” and came up with a list. It included things like: Who’s allowed to use what credit cards? Who are the children allowed to see you with in town? Who’s allowed keys to what?

I looked through the list and passed it on to him.

His response: “Keys? We don’t even have keys to our house.”

I remained stoic. I could see pain in his eyes. Pain I recognized.

“Oh, I see what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re going to make me go into therapy. You’re not going to let me move out. You’re going to use the kids against me.”

“I never said that. I just asked: What can we do to give you the distance you need … ”

“Stop saying that!”

Well, he didn’t move out.

Instead, he spent the summer being unreliable. He stopped coming home at his usual 6 o’clock. He would stay out late and not call. He blew off our entire Fourth of July—the parade, the barbecue, the fireworks—to go to someone else’s party. When he was at home, he was distant. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He didn’t even wish me “Happy Birthday.”

But I didn’t play into it. I walked my line. I told the kids: “Daddy’s having a hard time, as adults often do. But we’re a family, no matter what.” I was not going to suffer. And neither were they.

My trusted friends were irate on my behalf. “How can you just stand by and accept this behavior? Kick him out! Get a lawyer!”

I walked my line with them, too. This man was hurting, yet his problem wasn’t mine to solve. In fact, I needed to get out of his way so he could solve it.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m a pushover. I’m weak and scared and would put up with anything to keep the family together. I’m probably one of those women who would endure physical abuse. But I can assure you, I’m not. I load 1,500-pound horses into trailers and gallop through the high country of Montana all summer. I went through Pitocin-induced natural childbirth. And a Caesarean section without follow-up drugs. I am handy with a chain saw.

I simply had come to understand that I was not at the root of my husband’s problem. He was. If he could turn his problem into a marital fight, he could make it about us. I needed to get out of the way so that wouldn’t happen.

Privately, I decided to give him time. Six months.

I had good days and I had bad days. On the good days, I took the high road. I ignored his lashing out, his merciless jabs. On bad days, I would fester in the August sun while the kids ran through sprinklers, raging at him in my mind. But I never wavered. Although it may sound ridiculous to say, “Don’t take it personally” when your husband tells you he no longer loves you, sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do.

Instead of issuing ultimatums, yelling, crying, or begging, I presented him with options. I created a summer of fun for our family and welcomed him to share in it, or not—it was up to him. If he chose not to come along, we would miss him, but we would be just fine, thank you very much. And we were.

And, yeah, you can bet I wanted to sit him down and persuade him to stay. To love me. To fight for what we’ve created. You can bet I wanted to.

But I didn’t.

I barbecued. Made lemonade. Set the table for four. Loved him from afar.

And one day, there he was, home from work early, mowing the lawn. A man doesn’t mow his lawn if he’s going to leave it. Not this man. Then he fixed a door that had been broken for eight years. He made a comment about our front porch needing paint. Our front porch. He mentioned needing wood for next winter. The future. Little by little, he started talking about the future.

It was Thanksgiving dinner that sealed it. My husband bowed his head humbly and said, “I’m thankful for my family.”

He was back.

And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore.

When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: It’s not a spouse, or land, or a job, or money that brings us happiness. Those achievements, those relationships, can enhance our happiness, yes, but happiness has to start from within. Relying on any other equation can be lethal.

My husband had become lost in the myth. But he found his way out. We’ve since had the hard conversations. In fact, he encouraged me to write about our ordeal. To help other couples who arrive at this juncture in life. People who feel scared and stuck. Who believe their temporary feelings are permanent. Who see an easy out and think they can escape.

My husband tried to strike a deal. Blame me for his pain. Unload his feelings of personal disgrace onto me.

But I ducked. And I waited. And it worked.

This essay originally appeared in The New York Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

This post comes from Theweek.com August 13, 2009

 

The Hidden Issues of Marriage- How Care, Respect, Interest, Play, Attention, and Power Determine Success and Failure in Our Relationships

Money, sex, in-laws, vacations, communication, children–these head the list of explicit concerns couples struggle with in their marriage. But there are deeper and more significant issues. Often these are hidden from direct discussion or awareness. Care, respect, interest, play, attention, and power are the real issues couples have. These are the themes that make for happiness or misery, that fulfill or destroy dreams. Couples who have harmony in these realms have relationships that hold together, breed vitality, and foster creativity. We are creatures driven by invisible currents, often imperceptible to the casual or the inattentive observer. A case-in-point: What may seem to be a couple’s routine argument about which movie to see may be a hidden power struggle. One partner feels that she has been capitulated too many times to her husband’s preferences, even though in a less competitive moment his first choice would also have been hers.

In this article I will define and illustrate what I consider to be six below-the-surface issues in marriage and offer observations on how we might approach consciously living-out these themes in less destructive and more positive ways.

Care

John and Sarah (All names and identifying data have been changed.) are starved for caring. John grew up in a love-deprived home without a mothering mother. His mother, in and out of mental hospitals during his childhood, looked to her elder son to take care of his three brothers. After doing his own school work, he would make sure his siblings did theirs, clean house, and make dinner for his depressed mother and his exhausted and overburdened father. His parents were so absorbed in their mental and financial survival, respectively, that they did not even thank him. His sole comfort was managing to keep a semblance of sanity in the family and save his mother some visits to the hospital. When he met Sarah, a lovely young woman with a soft voice and an appreciation for his good efforts, he was joyfully overwhelmed. Here at last was one who understood, here at last was one who wanted to create a family in which thought and feeling and aspiration could be shared and executed together. He felt cared for.

For Sarah their meeting was equally promising. She had also been brought up in a family devoid of emotion–an austere mid-western family, in which mother never hugged and father sat remotely over ceremonial occasions, but had little else to offer. Sarah suffered from diabetes and John’s sense of order promised to help her maintain a regimen for optimal health. She believed she had found the man who would warm her heart and take care of her temporal needs. They, of course, fell in love with each other–for what is “falling in love” but finding another whom we believe meets–and will continue to meet–our needs. They married and, alas, a failure of “caring” soon began.

Sarah, it turned out, notwithstanding her gentleness and eagerness to be helpful, had only a rudimentary sense of empathy for emotional nuance. She knew how to do what she believed were “caring’ behaviors, but lacked a heart that matched John’s sensibilities. In their first year of marriage John’s brother was made paraplegic in a car accident. As he lived in the same city as John, he balanced his own families needs with attending to his brother, returning to his bedside and taking on his care much as he had looked after him when he was a little boy. Sarah attempted to be supportive, but John’s absence from the home, his drives across town twice a week to fill in for the nurses, his continually being on the phone to doctors, began to sink Sarah’s heart, as she wondered what happened to the man she married. She no longer felt John’s caring.

Caring is the constant and tender ministrations that we all look for in our partners. In many couples the most fundamental question is: Does she or he care enough? How precious is the statement that “He really does care.” How poignant the transparent defensive posturing, “I really don’t care what she does.” We need for persons to intend the best for us and to have us in their minds and to carry out acts of caring. The absence of caring breeds shame and worthlessness. Explicit issues of being home for dinner when expected, taking out the garbage, driving slowly when one’s partner is anxious about speed, or speedily when one’s partner is anxious about dawdling, are not “little things” but significant carriers of caring feelings. These are as intensely important, as urgent as the deepest demands of the human heart. In fact, that’s what they are.

“I care for you.” “He doesn’t care for me.” These are among the tenderest, most sought, and most feared sentiments persons express to one another. When caring behaviors become sparse, couples are fading in their vital attachment to one another. Caring behaviors are those acts subtle or blunt by which we convey to the other that we wish his or her happiness, safety, fulfillment. It is caring to feel deeply for our partner’s most searing fears and griefs; it is also caring to listen to her talk about her high school reunion. Caring is wishing the person well and acting to back up that wish. When we care we go the proverbial extra mile. Caring also conveys, implicitly, commitment, for caring is being present to the other as long as we are needed. We “are needed” a long, long time. Few in-love couples pre-arrange their breaking-up.

Take a look at your relationship. Do your feel cared for? Do you care deeply about your mate? Talk with your partner and let him tell you how he feels. Summon the courage to hear that she may not feel nearly so cared about as your have imagined. In fact, you may have forgotten actually to care, and you may have become so used to being in an uncaring marriage that you aren’t even paying attention to the state of caring between you. Examine what has happened to your caring. Did it evaporate? Was it ever there?. How does your caring interweave with other themes of your relationship–with power and respect, for example? What do you need to do, to have your partner do, before caring can be revived? Do you need the help of a guide or therapist? Is it worth your investment of energy? Are you really serious about trying? And if so, how will you begin? How much energy will you give to realizing this possibility?

Respect

After their first idyllic months together, Ellen and Newton composed a gradual crescendo of disrespect which climaxed in a bitter divorce. What began as a story-book romance–a chance meeting in Key West where each had, uncharacteristically, taken solo vacations for introspection and R&R– she seeking refuge from an abusive marriage and he solace from a series of failed relationships. Newton was present and comforting to Ellen as she recounted the emotional and physical abuse she had suffered for years in an attempt to keep the marriage together for the sake of her children and in deference to her family’s pressure to avoid, at-all-cost, divorce.

Ellen, at first enamored of Newton’s vast intellect, and proud of his talent at engaging any person in fluent conversation, came to despise “his narrow academic interests” and his “pompous colleagues.” She deplored his long work hours and his extended field trips. She panicked about his regularly having several drinks before dinner. He showed no desire for children of their own. Fundamentally, Ellen did not respect his interests, his style, his friendships. Though she “tried” to persuade herself that she could learn to admire him, that he had a “right” to do what he did without her standing in judgment. Yet, in her soul she was negative to and threatened by many of the ways he lived.

Newton, at first attracted to Ellen because of her needfulness, after a few months of marriage began to see her less as loveably vulnerable than as one whose unhappiness was a drag on his contentment. He began to realize that he who had begun the relationship as the “white knight” for helping her escape from her unhappy and entrapped marriage had now become the oppressor. Her vulnerability became, to him, a contemptible craziness and instead of being with her in sympathy for the way the world was treating her, he became part of the world that was tormenting and abusing her.

The relationship, having made an 180 degree turn from affirmation of each other–their styles, looks, habits, values, commitments–to denigrating practically everything about one another, found itself on a steady course of decline and, eventually, divorce. To be trapped on a path where each partner judges the other as not living an admirable life is fatally demoralizing. Ellen “tried” to see Newton differently and the more she tried the more it was evident that underneath her posturing sweetness and positivity, there was repulsion. Many times Newton resolved not to attack her with “crazy-making” accusations, but when she would get upset at one of his absences or pretensions, he would forget his resolutions and “go for the gut.” Newton and Ellen had neither power, nor awareness, nor will to face straight-out that they did not admire one another. They repeatedly fought over mundane differences, ignoring the deeper angers and judgments that made them crash-bound. Hardly a marriage survives in this atmosphere; none happily. Theirs did not.

Respect means liking and affirming your partner for who he or she is in the world. Of course, being separate creatures with our own prejudices and definitions, some things about others we like, some we do not. But loving relationships that are truly satisfying are founded on mutual respect. We need to feel that others believe the attitudes we have, the professions we pursue, the charities we support, the jokes we tell are, for the most part, pleasing to them. If this is not happening, then there is a major problem brewing. People kill each other when they feel disrespected, and couples kill their marriage when disrespect prevails.

If you feel that respect in your relationship is becoming thin, take a long look at yourself and attempt to understand just how deep this disrespect goes. Have you, for some time, been feeling negative about how you partner leads her life, and have you been less than direct about it? Or perhaps you can look within yourself, at your own values. If you are failing to respect your partner, you may want to examine your behavior and see if you are emphasizing negative things to the detriment of the positive. Sometimes things are correctable, but you must address problems before the toxins of disrespect have ravaged your connection. If you want to develop respect, there is no better way to begin than frankly talking with your partner about your failings in this arena and beginning to construct a new basis for respect. If you can’t find it, then you are indeed in trouble.

Interest

A common way of describing a relationship is when persons acknowledge being “interested” in each other. “Interesting” covers a lot of territory. Though nature may have first created interest to assure replication of life, sex, recasts as interest, extends far into realms as diverse as intellectual complexity, athletic skills, winsome personality, and playing a mean game of chess. One of our strongest drives is the compulsion away from boredom. Losing interest defines depression.

Mitchell and Lori had only been married a couple of years when Mitchell lost interest. In the beginning their fascination for each other never cooled. He was strong and quiet, she, shy socially, but super-active athletically. She led him out of himself into a new world of sports and outdoors. He offered her a quiet refuge and protection from the many times she over-extended herself with activities. All went well until her job began to keep her into the evenings and weekends. He depended on her for stimulation, for keeping things going that were fun and engaging. Only a few months after Lori’s absence-making schedule began, Mitchell initiated afternoon dalliances with a coworker that quickly blossomed into a passionate affair. When Lori discovered his infidelities, the ensuing struggles, the threat of loss, and the reminder of their strong early attraction to one another reignited their desire to make a satisfying marriage.

Research indicates that affairs are seldom primarily sexually motivated. Most often they are persons’ attempts either to stimulate their life, or having lost a feeling of being desired in their relationship, discover if one can still be attractive to other partners. Nothing flattens a couples energy more than to have lost interest in one another–if the trend continues downward, persons can lose interest in being alive.

How can you make the uninteresting interesting? By paying acute attention. Anything looked at up close and personal is interesting. If something is interesting it sparks our creativity, it brings out our most primitive organismic sense of pleasure in relating to reality outside of ourselves. Interest brings us into heart and mind augmenting connection with the world. And persons are infinitely interesting for they are in continual ferment, discarding old and taking on new forms in a cacophony of novelty and growth.

Love is continually renewing interest. How many good films do you see where there is no “love interest.” (Note, “love-interest”–it’s almost a single word.) Interest is the life of relationships. Lose interest, death of the relationship. How do you retain and engender interest? By being willing to be open for it. By not expecting the other person to carry the full responsibility of being “interesting” to us. It is just as true–and perhaps a truth of more import–to say that you are responsible for your own ability to be interested. The lazy brain is the uninterested brain. Further if you are not interested you hardly accept the other as he is, for you are always looking for “something else” to carry you out of your stupor of disinterest.

Play

Play is the purest and fullest expression of joy–the most basic positive emotion. There are many forms of play. Sexuality may head the list, but not far behind is walking around the block, enjoying family rituals, laughing over the comics, watching a child grow up, matching rhythms and harmonies with one another. Play is pure; it is without pretense; it aspires to be nothing but itself. It is nature’s way of letting us know we are in the flow of experience. To play together is both to be in sync with the world and one another. We become couples, in large measure, because we play well together. Whether we are attending a lecture, going to the beach, or venturing into Eros, the compelling meeting between two persons can best be described as play. Persons are attracted to each other, not because they work well on projects together, but because they enjoy playing with one another.

When Rosemary and Spaulding met they were beautiful and talented young people who enjoyed parties, romance, and fanciful dreams of success. After their marriage they moved from a small town in the south to a large eastern city for Spaulding to attend law school. It turned out that he had talent for patent law and paternity, and before long his practice was successful and his home full. Rosemary bore five sons and gave herself to twenty years of active and consuming motherhood, along with making a home for her work-laminated husband.

Rosemary craved play. She didn’t know its name, but she knew she needed something. She tried tennis, encounter groups, therapy, religion, dancing. She discovered she liked all of them. Relieved of the demands of her large brood of children, she was ready for grown-up play. She learned to look people in the eye, talk about her feelings, claim her sexuality. She desperately wanted to engage her husband with her in her newly found playfulness. Rosemary urged, demanded that Spaulding join her, but his manner of play was to sit quietly with the newspaper, worry about the stock market, keep up with sports, and follow his sons’ progress. His games she could never play, and as for her parenting, it was time for a change of venue. She needed a playmate–i.e. a man to share with her in the new pleasure and creativity she had discovered in her life, and he hardly filled the (play)bill. For Rosemary play was the avenue to closeness and Spaulding’s inability to play with her caused a severe gap in their happiness together.

From the beginning we play. We virtually come into the world playing. Play is losing ourselves in unplanned pleasurable abandon of mind and body. Play feels good. Play expands the body, loosens the breathing, rushes the blood, releases endorphins and epinephrine and dopamine. When relationships form there’s a lot of playing. So many activities for couples are play activities. Dating, dancing, going to the movies and…sex are play. Sex is high and vital adult play; when it’s work it’s no fun. Play is an accepting activity for it exists for its own sake. This is perhaps why play often gets such a bum rap.

You and your partner probably don’t play nearly enough. As heirs of Puritanism, you may feel that everything should be “purposeful,” that present activity–even play–should be leading to something else that justifies your effort. But acceptance is not future oriented; it is receiving and enjoying with your partner what is in the present–and no activity is more “in-the-present” than play. If you can’t play, you are much too anxious about what is “not yet.” Play releases, it transcends a “not-now-consciousness” to enter an “experiencing-now-consciousness” that is pure enjoyment. Being able to share the play-moment makes you indeed partners in living life freely and for fun.

Attention

Jerry wants to be “heard.” He has countless stories about how Jennifer repeatedly paid no attention to what he told her. On the first thanksgiving visit to his uncle’s (the grand-old-man of his family) home when he implored Jennifer never to reveal that they had lived together before they were married. He knew that his bachelor uncle was notorious for his Victorian morality, which dwelt alongside a great mind and loads of money to distribute solely to his two nephews. Jennifer, after several of glasses of Chateau Rothchild, let the secret of their cohabitation slip. Uncle abruptly asked them to leave and seven years later has neither spoken to nor about them.

Jennifer’s story is of her futile attempts to have Jerry listen to her terror of his family. Again and again she had stressed to him that his family’s loud and condescending ways made her shrink with discomfort and fright. She told Jerry that the only thing that could help would be to medicate her anxiety with wine, and that she knew that she sometimes got out of control. Jerry paid little heed. Through their failure to listen attentively to each other, they lost family and inheritance… and gained anger and disappointment with each other.

From our beginnings, we must be attended to. Children not “heard,” neither mirrored not understood, whose sense-of-self is grossly handicapped by the indifference of others, literally do not survive their childhood. Did you ever speak to someone when you thought he was in the room with you, perhaps voicing a thought about a shared experience, and found he had walked out of the room leaving you talking to air. You felt disappointed, foolish, annoyed. That is what it is like not to be heard, not to be attended to. You begin to think that actually you don’t exist.

Like so many who do not feel heard, Jennifer and Jerry resort to aggressive and sometimes ruthless measures to gain attention. Jennifer demeans Jerry’s manhood, talks about old boy friends being more appealing to her than he is–“They listen”, and threatens further havoc on his family, aimed this time at his parents. Jerry scowls and yells, or alternately he takes a passive, withdrawn stance, hoping to invoke such guilt in Jennifer that she will pause and listen to his side of things. Both are so caught-up in trying to force the other to hear them, that they are like the United Sates attempting to save Vietnam by destroying it.

As a marriage therapist, I see an endless parade of persons who drag their partners to counseling with complaints about how they are not being attended to. The complaints come in many forms: not being heard or listened to, not being seen or sought out, not being thought about or remembered. All of which make the unattended-to person very insecure about whether she or he is truly valued by the other.

If you are to learn better to attend and be attended to, you must become aware that listening, indeed, is your deficiency. You need to check out your narcissism to see just how self-absorbed you are and how effectively you take in what is real about your partners. In many households, persons go weeks without ever so much as inquiring after their partners feelings or even their everyday experiences. Are you one of these? And if you feel you are rarely attended to, pay close attention to your experience, are you often wishing for more or different than your partner can give? If all else fails, ask your partner if he or she feels attended to and known. If you and she are not reassured by her response, then undertake a course of training–with friends, therapists, family, books–to see if you actually want learn and develop the courage and skill of empathy.

Power

Human beings abhor feeling “less-than.” We can’t bear for another to get the upper hand. We have many ways to even scores. The recent popularity of “First Wives Club” and “Waiting to Exhale,” gives strident witness to the “fun” and satisfaction we have in seeing others get their comeuppance when they become too powerful for the good of both partners. We fear that our partner may be ahead of (translate better than or superior to) us, or worse, that she or he may be “feeding-off” us. We attempt to correct this by conscious and unconscious balancing designed to make sure we do not end up on bottom. We work, all out, to stay on top. Case in point: Paul washes the dishes and points out to Anna that she should appreciate his efforts; he claims that what he does more than compensates for her vacuuming the house; she then agues that, not only did she vacuum but she shampooed as well and this puts her ahead….and on it goes.

There are several varieties of roles that are used in the power struggle. A couple of favorites are the victim and the saint (variations: nag and “Nice Guy,” wimp and the tyrant). The victim is always “down” and refuses to allow the other person to enjoy their “up” position. Victims blame; they invariable see the problem as the bad behavior of the other. Elizabeth is an assertive and demanding victim, as she approaches most of their talks with Brian, her husband, with a full agenda of grievances for his “failures” in treating her well. Brian is ever eager to please, but nothing he does ever seems to be enough, nothing ever seems to work. If his behaviors are “right” then his timing is “wrong.” Always, he is either agreeable or compromising, yet what he does is bumbling and only succeeds for Elizabeth half-way. If he comes home early one night, she reminds him that his job is less secure this year so he had better take no liberties; when he is late she speaks of the children feeling neglected.

Brian is the model “Nice Guy,” a sort of Sensitive Man version of a saint. He listens to Elizabeth; he “empathizes” (i.e. he insists he “understands what she means”); he smiles at her with sweetness and reassures her of his love. But there is a darker side in this hidden power struggle: he is “injured” that she does not appreciate his efforts more fully, for underneath he feels “put-upon” and “had-it-up-to-here” about her demands and pleadings. He neither lets himself or her know just how disgruntled and resistant he is. She tries to get him to admit it. She tells him “Don’t you resent my going-on all the time about wanting more from you?” He responds, “A bit, but I understand that you are really hurting, and I want to do the best I can.” But, from time to time his real upset is apparent even to him, when he says flat-out to her insistence that he interrupt his racquetball to be home “on time” for dinner–” Well, I just can’t do that.” Underneath this “Nice Guy” trait there resides the resentful mind of one who feels he is being more misunderstood than is his wife. His attitude is strength and availability, but beneath the surface there is determination not to be “used,” not to be made accountable for what he believes in his heart-of-hearts is more her “fault” than his. He is fighting her and she him. The explicit issues of their marriage, his time availability, his forgetting anniversaries, his financial instability are rendered trivial by the velvet war they are raging for dominance. Bit by bit they have lose confidence in mutual good will and caring. And without this assumed reciprocity of energy and love, a power struggle sets in.

When the dynamic themes of your relationship are suffering from failures of loving connection, developing “power-over” often becomes by default the mode of choice. Power is the booby prize for failure of respect, care, et al. If we can’t be with our partners, at least we can exercise power over them. So we become obsessed with being winners. There are so many ways to have power struggles: they can be well disguised as content discussions or battles over “important” things–when the deeper theme is showing who can win: we may feign willingness to give our partner what she wants, but our deeper intention is to dilute her justifiable anger for our inconsiderateness; we can bring up issues in public that have not been worked out in private in order to get help from one of our friends whom we know shares our opinions.

You probably did not fall in love with your partner because either of you demonstrated power over the other–relationships are rarely fueled by the winner enjoying being related to a loser. Should you find yourself lost in power trips, ask yourself just what are you feeling inferior about that you might go for the “win?” Know that your love and positive connection are out of kilter, and you have surrendered to a power trip disguised as a marriage. Are you willing to invest in the delicate and vulnerable reinvention of a balanced and reciprocal marriage?

How it all adds up….

In all of these hidden issues there is a common theme, whether care, or respect, or interest, or play, or attention, or power: acceptance. We are social creatures and the central question of all human existence is: Do you accept me? Am I OK with you? Do you embrace me, or do you push me away? What is my future with you? Are you a refuge, a safe harbor? Or do I have to worry about being alienated from you? At the core of the human psyche and soul is the yearning for the continuation and fulfillment of the unconditional love often provided for us as infants. We are born of parents whom nature, at its best, provides with instinct and wisdom that they may lovingly respond to our needs–simply because we are. Beginning within the womb and beyond, when things go the way nature intended, we experience ourselves as given-to as though we were a pure gift of joy to our human companions who are pleased with us and we with them. This is the imprint by which all our social life, and most centrally our marriage life, is measured.

The hidden themes of marriage are variations on acceptance. Unconditional acceptance is life’s first gift, and our lifetime task is to recover and amplify, in the specifics of our relationships, the infinite variations on this theme.Care is acceptance as we recapitulate the mother’s tender loving gaze and gentle ministrations for each others’ well being. Respect is acceptance as we honor the particularity of our partners in ways that they feel their life “as is” is highly esteemed. Interest is acceptance as we let our partners know that they draw our energy positively and vigorously. Play is acceptance as partners’ flowing, mindless, expressions connect with high pleasure with one another and all life. Attention is acceptance as we feel heard and known by one another, and by this experience confirm our entitled place in life. Power is the energy of acceptance fostered when one surrenders to being with one another, never dominating thus relieving fear, and gathering the synergy of true mutuality.

 

ORIGINAL POSTING HERE

Robert Caldwell, M. Div. has a private practice of individual, couple, and group psychotherapy in Bethesda. He is a Licensed and Certified Professional Counselor.