Archive: February, 2012

Why We Argue

In the midst of an argument with your partner there is no time to step back and ponder why this is happening, or to evaluate what about this disagreement is upsetting you so much.

You can rely on the fact that when any of us are reactive in a variety of ways it shows we have some old issues, we are unconscious of the real problem, we have some emotional reaction in the present that has roots in the past and of course, we are exposing our vulnerable side. An argument brings up the ways we participate in relationships. This includes the old ideas and images that may need to be broken in order for new different growth to occur.

When things get heated we tend to forget that we have been there before. Maybe as a child, in our first love break-up, and in some other losses which represent a rift in the area of relationship. We are not just having an argument with our partner at this moment, but with who this person represents to us. This brings up the idea we might have about our partner than may be not who that person really is. It is very complex because we are bringing all our conscious and unconscious personality parts into the fray.

This brings us to the fact that we are not simple beings, but are made up of many complex aspects. We argue out of frustration, desire for love, lack of connection, misunderstanding, and needs for being heard, listened to and accepted. The reasons we argue are often the very reasons we want to repair the problem – we want to be closer, we want to be understood; and we need love and support.

By listening to ourselves and our partners, we learn something beyond merely who is right and who is wrong. Instead, the argument becomes a means to expand the relationship from its crossroads into even more intimacy. We learn to respect viewpoints other than our own. We learn that we have needs and that we must learn how to communicate our emotions. Unless we do, our partner will just not get us.

Therefore, the disagreements become not wreckages, but are places from which we can emerge stronger than before. Our interactions have meaning. When they are openly explored and with each other, they take on a different form. It is not that arguments will automatically forever cease, but that they occur because something within each of us and within the relationship wants understanding and growth. These can be seen as the mini-crossroads that makes our lives stronger; having weathered a bit of the storm. Therefore, we do not have to be perfect, or never argue to have a viable relationship.

We can use these times of separation and frustration to take a step back and then move forward into each other; and fully comprehend how and why we continue relating together. We can sharpen our skills for listening to each other. And, we can hear into the emotional needs so that the next time, the essence of our relationship becomes the focus and the argument the signal to come closer and explore more; rather than back off.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Who am I With?

Why do we find it so upsetting when we realize we have partnered with a family member – a person just like the one we loved, hated, adored, fought with and have ended up doing exactly what swore we would never do?

There are many conscious and unconscious reasons for this very common and usual behavior. We hold within us many memories of what was familiar. Our brain stores this material, as does our body. We associate in the present to what we want and need now as well as previously. We search and we find that which will help us grow and develop. And, this may be with a person who forces us to face those very issues we consider problematic. A partner does not save us from ourselves, but helps us get closer to ourselves; whether we consciously set out to do so or not.

In fact, we usually hear people rebel against the idea of being with someone like their family member. Yet, why not? This is a way to learn about old habits and patterns and reactions that may have gone under ground. By being examined consciously, they can now work for us rather than hurting and then can be helpful to our personality development in conscious ways. After all, we want to know what works and what does not.

And, we also have to add that in every myth and fairy tale we find princes and princesses not just attaining a partner, but having to take a journey of self-knowledge in order to do so. This journey is usually convoluted and intricate. It often means leaving home either physically or psychologically or emotionally in one form or another.

The union with the opposite is what occurs over and over again in all these stories. One may be passive and one active, one blond or another dark-haired, one with prowess and the other seemingly not. Who we end up with is an opposite from what we thought is the result. Who we are might be different than what we think. We will discover all this by being in a relationship of intimacy. We will be surprised and we will be challenged.  Because who we are with is partially unknown, we will grow, and our relationship will grow. No doubt, we will have started at one point and have moved and been developed by the journey and the crossroads that are part of it. Again, the surprise is that the opposite is there somewhere, whether on the conscious or unconscious level, but it is there. It is the glue that ensures viability and flexibility. If we can remain open to the mystery of our relationship, we can make it through the challenges of the crossroads to increased love and intimacy.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Are you at the crossroads in your love relationship?

Find out with this checklist 

How do you know if you are at the crossroads in your love relationship? How do you know what you should do?

Please read the questions in the following questionnaire and answer them:

1. You feel dissatisfied, bored, unexcited or angry most of the time when you and your partner are together;

2. You don’t seem to be able to rekindle the loving feelings you had for your partner in the past, even when the two of you are not fighting;

3. You don’t recognize your partner as the person you fell in love with in the past;

4. You believe your partner has changed, but you have not;

5. You don’t seem to be eye to eye with your partner on a lot of subjects anymore;

6. There seems to be little or no serenity when together, as the two of you are caught in a chronic disagreement that goes on and on with no resolution, so

7. No subject seems to be safe from disagreements and arguments;

8. Arguments escalate suddenly and intensely, no matter what the initial trigger is.

9. You don’t know how to improve the situation, as you believe your partner is unwilling to do the work.

10. At times you are beginning to think that you would be better off without your partner.

If you have answered yes to more than half of these questions, you have most probably reached a point, in your intimate relationship, where you are seriously questioning the tenets that got you and your partner together at the beginning.

You are at the crossroads: what can you do?

You need to shift from believing you are at the end of the road in your relationship to seeing yourself and your partner as beginning a new chapter in your love. You need not only to accept these changes as being part and parcel of being in all intimate relationships, but also, and more importantly, as opportunities to address the underlying problems that caused them. In this way you and your partner can reach a healthy resolution, and thus new, healthier ways of being together.

But how can you do it?

Relationship/marital counseling and psychotherapy are another way in which you and your partner can learn what the underlying issues that create and maintain tension and dissent between the two of you are. Don’t be like a lot of couples who, on average, seek professional help three years too late! By then, it may indeed be too late to repair the damage caused by the crossroads. If not caught on time, in fact, these underlying unresolved issues will continue to prevent you and your partner from getting out of the crossroads and feel emotionally safe with one another again.

Our book, “Couples at the Crossroads” is totally dedicated to these difficult times in love. As its sub-title suggests, “Five Steps to Finding Your Way Back to Love,” there are steps that readers like you can learn to follow, so you can understand what needs to be done to get out of this painful and disappointing place, and re-establish a healthy connection with your partner again.

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Emerging into the Chrysalis of Change

A person describes feeling in shreds with their partner. The interaction goes like this:

One comments. The other criticizes. The one defends. The other attacks. The one is angry. The other continues criticizing and on it goes. Each is stuck in their roles and like clockwork set off the other. They know how to disconnect but not how to connect.

They lack love, expressions of tenderness, kindness and in general lack the trust and peace with each other. Emotional barbs are the things that take over every interaction. So much so that their connection is marked by slings and arrows.

This signifies that they have come to a crossroads. And, obviously both must be miserable. How could either stand what is going on?

We can imagine that each holiday is not a celebration. Valentine’s Day comes and goes. Love is absent and things feel overwhelmingly lonely and bleak. All this couple shares is the space of frustration, absence of love and all-consuming anger. The relationship neither grows nor changes and the status quo of distress and stress reigns supreme.

So, how can these people learn to make it through? How to proceed when they do not know where to turn? How to find a place that is calmer and has some room for development out of the misery and non-movement?

Believe it or not, this impasse is not impossible. It means a huge personal and couple shift. The metaphorical butterfly could emerge from this very prickly cocoon. The issue is not merely learning coping tricks or methods but how to find a new way of being themselves with each other. The point is not to return to “how it was” but to emerge into an entirely other way of living with each other.

Answers lie in going beneath the surface to discover areas of their relationship that were remaining submerged and suppressed. These places filled with defensiveness, anger, sorrow and frustration. All that was created was emotional distance. Now each person in the couple needs to learn to reinforce the growth and development of something they most probably had but have long since lost. Perhaps this is why they argue. And yet, rather than arguing, each could be open to listen and hear in order to hew forth another path. The basic matrix of their dynamics, a healthier matrix, wants to move into consciousness. It will mean the widening of personality for both people in the couple as they recover and re-create connection to themselves and each other.

Some of the problems noted in this metaphorical couple are those we all deal with. Some are not so extreme. Whatever we are struggling with can find a resolution. We believe in the resiliency of the personality and the recovery of love. This is why we wrote the newly released book, Couples at the Crossroads: Five Steps to Finding Your Way Back to Love.

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Meeting an old friend: Divorce later in Life

I had not seen Joyce in many years. We were friends for a long time, but then life separated us, like it often happens, when she moved to a different neighborhood and I later moved to a different state.

I would think about her from time to time, and wonder how she was doing. I would make a commitment to look her up and contact her, but there always was one reason or another for not doing it right there and then. And I would forget and more time would go by.

Then one day, out of the blue, she called me,. She also had been thinking about me and was determined to find a way of contacting me to catch up. How long had it been? Ten years? No, actually it had been more like fifteen since we last spoke.

Joyce’s life had undergone a lot of major changes during the time we were not in touch. The major one was her divorce from her husband of nearly thirty years. She choked up when she was recounting what she went through, even though it had been almost five years since the divorce was final. She felt alone, isolated, unmotivated to pull herself up and build a new life for herself.

Joyce is part of a legion of baby boomers who are getting divorced after a lifetime of being married, often after having raised a family together. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green University in Ohio, the rate of divorce among people in their fifties and sixties has doubled between the years 1990 and 2009, reflecting the higher divorce rates baby boomers had in earlier years.

Is this trend healthy, as people can finally do what they want, rather than be forced to stay in unhappy arrangements due to obligations, responsibilities and duties, or is irresponsible and ungrateful to walk away from a marriage of many years?

I don’t think there is one answer that is right for everybody, as each situation is different and requires different solutions. However, it is the way in which couples decide to get divorced, not only later in life but at all times, that makes a difference between what is healthy, appropriate and considerate, and what is none of these.

My friend Joyce, fir instance, was caught totally unprepared when her husband told her he was going to divorce her; she had not seen it coming and at first she felt she had no way of dealing with it. She became depressed and despondent. She shut herself in the house and avoided responding to friends and family calling her to check how she was doing. “I never fully recovered from this blow, she told me, even though now I get out more and have more of a life. But I never want to date or be close to another man again for the rest of my life!”

“Did you go to marriage counseling?” I inquired. “No, she said, my husband said that it was too late because he was done. He said he had already made up his mind and nothing or nobody could change that. And this is what hurts me the most: he never gave me a chance to discuss why he was so unhappy, so that we could work at improving the problem areas. I loved and trusted him. He let me down.”

So, whether a couple decides to stay together and work on their problems or get divorced, it is important to reach this decision after giving each other a chance to be aware of each other’s intentions and feelings, and work on the problems. At times thoughts about divorce may stem from disappointments and frustrations, feelings of being ignored, taken for granted, unappreciated. They may come from being bored with each other; from lack or decrease of sex, common in this age group. Just walking away thinking the grass to be greener on the other side of the fence could be the greatest fallacy. Room needs to be made to bring things up, hear each other out, and negotiate the differences, whenever possible.

Whatever the final decision is – divorce or reconciliation – psychotherapy and marriage counseling can offer a safe space where issues, feelings, expectations and desires can be verbalized and explored. After all, don’t you think that many years of life together deserve some work together before calling it quit?

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Making New Beginnings

New beginnings may seem strange when one is in the midst of relationship problems. In fact, each day is a new beginning. Yes, that may sound trite but it is also true. And, new beginnings are not for the faint of heart. They take work, effort and love.

As we begin the day, we can hold a grudge, or go over and over the last interaction that felt bad. We can drum up a storm of internal protest against beginning. We then stay stuck in the old. Our habits are reinforced and we are lost in the unconscious, repeating an old and often unsatisfying routine. That may be a definition of what it is to be unconscious and what keeps you in an unending rut.

The new beginnings sound appealing, but actually in the midst of these sorts of difficulties seem daunting. So, how can you be open? One way is to do just that. Why listen to the negative rant in your head? Why not sit down with yourself first and then your partner and hear, really hear the point of the discussion? Do you really want this relationship to move forward? Do you have the wherewithal to persevere into your own problems and open them and your heart with your partner? New beginnings involve taking a look at what happened and examining the patterns while trying to understand what went off. What old complexes, or cluster of emotional reactions and expectations, are rules your life now? This is the energy that has you acting in ways you do not realize.

One way to realize what is going on is to trace your dreams. How do you appear in them? At what age are you? What are you wearing? And, how does your relationship partner appear? Is she or he different than in person? And, again, how does this person look the same or different in dreams from in waking life? This will show what parts of you your partner represents and help answer the question of who are you really fighting with? What is holding up the new beginnings? And, how you can begin to cope differently than the rut you are currently involved in?

Then share this information with your partner. The sharing of inner feelings and thoughts, dreams and impressions helps people get close. Intimacy is about not repeating the old but creating anew. It has energy and satisfaction built in. So, you can imagine how you are depriving yourself to remain in old habits that block the surfacing of the new. It is not that you must do anything at all, but aren’t you bored with the same old words, the same old result and the lack of the spontaneous that comes with being unconscious. Being conscious, although difficult, leads to far more excitement. The opportunity and choice is yours.

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Over Time

The book Couples at the crossroads: Five steps to Finding Your Way back to Love has taken much time, years in fact, and many iterations of working together. We went through numerous discussions and writings and of course re-writings over and over, week after week. We changed and altered our ideas and our focus. One week we were certain about one way and the next week it had morphed into another. Towards the end of our work together there was even more work to be done–editing and changing. Going over and over what we said, how it was phrased and how we felt about the information as it was being finalized is all a part of the process.

And, we marveled over and over about how this paralleled our book and the process it depicts. The discovery of self and other on the road to satisfying love relationships is as tedious and rewarding as re-writing. One changes one’s mind. One week we desire this and the next that. All are significant and part of how we come to find ourselves and our fulfillment.

We used to dream about how it would be at the end of the book and now we are arrived at the point where the book now is in print. It exits in actuality. We are done with conceiving and writing this book, Couples at the Crossroads-Five Steps to Finding Your Way Back to Love. It is in print. We have copies. You can buy them. We are pleased, and the fact is also that we are not really done.

We keep being at the crossroads. Before it was how we communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings about relationships from our similar and divergent positions. This communication had to be clear to each other and in our words to you, our audience. We have both grown and altered how we felt, thought and conceptualized this work. We kept coming up against obstacles, learning to build bridges and from the process being supportive of each other. This entailed creating direction, changing direction and remaining open enough to let go and also to let in. In this work we substantiated that we had the energy for staying the course, creating together and producing this book. It turned out to be fascinating that our crossroads we exactly what we were writing about. This made the information live and breathe and also gave life to our work.

Suddenly, or not so suddenly, we found that we had to keep learning more. We are done with the book writing but we are currently on the learning curve to learning about getting it out into the world. This is a challenge. Our world has changed. Publishing is more personal and individually driven now. We are able to put our stamp on it as we have done on the book. We have more say in how we want to produce and how we want to publicize. And, we keep being on the path of change and growth as they do coincide with the crossroads that are at every turn in life.

Are we excited? Yes.

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