“I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and
you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
Roald Dahl’s quote survives precisely
because it is a classic from childhood.
As a child, being right is equal to being powerful and being small too
often equates to be being wrong and helpless.
The right/wrong debate is at the heart of the power struggle in most
marriages. “You’re wrong” is the weapon
of choice, prompting the one hearing those words to get defensive and strike
back. To heal conflict one needs to
understand that right and wrong are not the issue. There are no facts to be disputed. There are as many realities as there are
people in a room. In a relationship the
struggle to be right and have your partner wrong is a power play. Why do we engage in such a struggle with
the person we love? It’s what our
parents taught us is the easy answer.
From them we learned that might equals right or right equals might. The more complex answer is that we have not
been taught empathy.
A colleague of mine once said: “It’s not that people don’t know how to
communicate, they don’t know how to listen.”
I worked with a couple recently and invited each to talk about the
things that caused tension in the relationship.
The partner kept answering “Oh no, that’s not a problem,” dismissing the
speaker’s concerns. I found myself
repeating, “If it’s a problem for your partner, it’s a problem.” Holding one
another’s perspective is challenging. I
know, as I try to hold two partners’ perspectives besides my own in a therapy
We all find it difficult to view the
world from someone else’s perspective.
We don’t take the time to listen as we are busy formulating our
responses. Being only interested in what
we have to add to the conversation. It
is only when we take the right/wrong out of the equation, truly listen and
attempt to see the other’s point of view that the power struggle will cease and
love can flourish. Remove right and
wrong and conflict ceases. Honor the
other person’s perspective and instead of escalating conflict, you will have
safety. And with safety comes passion
and true intimacy.
Gone are the days when you lay on the couch and talked about the first thing that came to your mind while the analyst or god like figure infrequently gave pronouncements which were called insight. 30 years ago I went to a Jungian analyst who wrote down my dreams and told me I had a fear of success. No, I didn’t, I was in an impossible job situation and the minute I quit I felt much better.
Today’s therapy is a relationship between two people. A therapist is no longer a blank screen but a collaborator. A personal trainer for the mind. You’re doing the heavy lifting. You remain the expert on your life, your thoughts, your feelings. The therapist is only the expert on the process of therapy.
A personal trainer helps you to reach your physical peak, a therapist helps you to experience life more fully.
Isn’t your mental well-being as important as your physical health?
What are the benefits of mental well-being?
- Reduced stress and anxiety,
- a decrease in negative thoughts and self-sabotaging behaviors,
- improved relationships,
- increased capacity for intimacy and
- increased self confidence.
To accomplish these things you’re going to have to work your muscles. It will involve effort on your part and active participation in the therapy process. And just like with weight lifting, where the muscle building takes place the day after you train, the real progress in therapy happens between sessions. A client asked me “Am I supposed to be thinking about our conversation all week between sessions.” Yes! That’s when growth happens.
While you’re doing the work, it’s helpful to have a fitness expert by your side to help you set goals, show you how to achieve them, and cheer you along the way.
So if you would like to strengthen your emotional core, consider a consultation, a fitness assessment if you will, to determine if your emotional well-being is as toned and buff as you would like it to be
“Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your
own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless,
shapeless — like water…. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my
The image that comes to mind when I think of this quote
from Bruce Lee is that of a river rapid.
Of water gushing downstream, gurgling and foaming as it navigates around
the rocks. Strong and powerful but also
smooth and gentle. There was a time when
I was lost and felt as if I were rushing down a river without a paddle, without
even a boat. I bounced from rock to
rock, scraping and bruising all the way.
From the bank, people watched. I
cried for help and they answered, “We will cheer you on from the shore.” I felt alone and I was angry at the water
that hurried me along. I resented the
rocks. The tree branches on the shore
were too far to grab. Then I remembered
to sit in the rapids with my feet in front of me to push away from the
rocks. I joined with the flow of the
river and gently bounced off obstacles in my path. I was in control, not of the water of course,
but of my journey. Rocks and obstacles
remained but I was able to propel myself away from them as I touched them with
the soles of my athletic shoes. I became
one with the water as I adapted my body in order to work with it. I reached a beautiful still stretch of the
river and turned over onto my back to float.
I rested and no longer yearned for shore. I’m not sure I could ever be as powerful, as
soft, as refreshing, as useful as water.
It is enough to let it be a friend.
My favorite week of the year when I was working in the Oncology Center at UCLA was the week of Daffodil Days. Daffodils are one of the first flowers to bloom in the Spring and symbolize hope and renewal. The American Cancer Society would drop off boxes and boxes of fresh daffodils and vases to be distributed free to all cancer patients. From eight in the morning to well into the evening we had the pleasure of bringing smiles to patients' faces. Instead of telling them the doctor was running late or their disability form wasn't yet ready, we had the joy of watching the patients light up when they were given a bunch of daffodils. Not only did the flowers cheer the patients, they cheered the staff as well.
While on their website the American Cancer Society writes that daffodils are given to donors, it is the fact that they are distributed free of charge at cancer clinics that I appreciate the most. Please consider making a donation today to the American Cancer Society's Daffodil Days at www.cancer.org.
There’s infidelity, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. Great relationship wreckers. And then there are the subtler ways we move apart. Are you avoiding connecting? In the last blog I talked about internet porn as a means of cyber cheating but does it really matter whether it’s a movie on HBO or The Story of O? Are you using television as an excuse to spend less time with your mate? Working long hours at the office? Spending late nights on the web? Are you avoiding intimacy by getting up and going to bed at different times? Do you have your fun with your friends and do the chores with your spouse? Is golf on Saturday mornings keeping you from your family? Are drinks with the girls keeping you from dinner at home? None of these pastimes are wrong in and of themselves but they are exits, a term coined by the couples guru, Harville Hendrix. You’ve got to identify and close the exits before any improvement in the relationship can be made. Now, don’t get defensive but take an honest look at your exits. Only you know what pastimes are pulling your relationship apart and which are meeting basic needs for alone time. Make a list of 50 ways you leave your lover without ever breaking up. Turn towards your partner instead of away and reignite the passion.
Beginning in January, I will be offering a free workshop open to singles, couples, and families called Secrets to Relationship Success.
Call (310) 404-3929 to sign up now.
In the age of Facebook, chat rooms, and internet porn, how do we define cheating on your significant other? Lack of trust is second only to improving communication as the reason most couples come in for counseling. Internet porn may enhance your relationship if you're watching it together but all too often, you're watching porn instead of initiating sex and intimacy with your partner. Hurt feelings ensue as your real partner feels they can never measure up to the internet ideal. Emailing Facebook friends from High School can seem innocent enough until your partner finds out your emails lack an important bit of information like you're married or in a committed relationship. Did you do anything wrong if it's the old beau or girlfriend who signed their names with X's and O's? How is one to keep up with technology and the ever changing do's and don'ts? If your partner thinks it's cheating you've got a problem whether you're just hanging out with people of the opposite sex at work or on the internet. To the wounded partner, I say not every act is malicious and people do make mistakes.
Think your relationship could use a tune-up? Call (310) 404-3929 and ask about our couples group workshops.