Archive: April, 2012

No Regrets

When things go off in a relationship, people often feel sad and experience the complex emotion of regret. While uncomfortable to accept, this actually can be a helpful emotion. Regret allows us to take a backwards look, to evaluate, to think and to feel. It may arouse many feelings that were ignored in the past. It can be a most beneficial emotion if we remain without negative judgment–both to our self and our partner. Being without judgment opens us to possibilities and the unknown choices we could not see previously. To use the regrets that we carry from the past and bring the unused potential into the present is a valuable aspect of regret.

In addition, regret is not just hard to experience, but can signal that we might have become blinded by our own guilt, shame or self-blame. All these emotions are closely related to regret. They entail behaviors that hide us from our emotions and from being open to our partner. These feelings of guilt, shame and blame can be interpreted that we are not being honest or direct. They can also represent the hurt and upset that we do not know how to express. In other words, the emotion of regret links to other emotions and each one serves as a stepping-stone on the path into our personality. By walking this path, we expose who we are to our partner and in the process gain more intimacy. Not an easy process, but once attempted; definitely worth our time and efforts.

The perception of ourselves is altered when we examine our life with regret. And, maybe we need this alteration if anything is going to move or change. We are faced with the responsibility and truth that we have to expand our relationship beyond what it was. Some of the inhibitors to growth are shame, guilt and self-blame. And, they also are the emotions that push development. The process is two-pronged. A release from the status quo can emerge from regret. It is a powerful reminder of what we have missed and what we desire. The quality of our relationship might depend on the aspects of looking back and bringing forward which is part of regret.

The ability to re-look and use hindsight opens our world. Although it is not easy, regret makes us feel and we can no longer hide in denial or dismay. We can use the past experiences to reflect on what we now want to do, think and express in other ways than before. The feelings of regret bring attention to needs for satisfaction, pleasure, growth, learning and intimacy. We can open to our partner more easily with the benefit of hindsight. In this kind of sight from behind we are able to see ourselves and our situation from another vantage point. So, in essence, regret can be helpful; as it, like every emotion, depends on how we use it.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Couples Therapy: “…But My Problems are Different…”

At times people wonder how a stranger – i.e. a psychotherapist or a counselor – can help them with their problems as they feel they are so different from other struggling couples.

“How do they – i. e. marriage counselors and couple psychotherapists – know why we are at this point in our relationship?” they ask, and “How do they know what we need to do to get reconnected with one another again?”

While it is true that each situation is different and each couple has its own set of challenges and difficulties as well as resources and strengths, it is also true that there are fundamental similarities among couples in distress. And it is these similarities that allow professional people like counselors and psychotherapists to help. Most differences, in fact, tend to be more superficial than substantial, because fundamentally we all need and look for the same things in love, – being valued and cherished, appreciated and loved – and we all respond by feeling less at ease in situations where our needs are no longer being met – we get angry, hurt, rejected; we withdraw, criticize or disconnect.

The most important and fundamental similarity in all romantic relationships is the need for each partner to feel safe, both physically and emotionally, in the relationship. Now, this feeling of safety can be shattered in many different ways – think of your partner abandoning you at a time when you need him the most; or when she makes you feel responsible for all the problems in your relationship; or when you feel neglected by your partner because, after the birth of your baby, she is  totally absorbed in her new mother role; or when you realize that your partner has life goals and priorities that clash with yours, and the two of you no longer are on the same page…

Realizing that you and your partner no longer seem to see things the same way, and he/she no longer is the person you loved, triggers feelings of insecurity and fear, and these, in turn, create anxiety. With anxiety, there is a need to self-protect, which means you are no longer open and trusting of each other, but you become cautious and vigilant when with your partner.

Acting defensively when together and no longer having each other’s back, foster feelings of hurt, fear, disappointment and betrayal. It is what creates disconnection between partners and leads to threats of separation.

This is what astute and seasoned psychotherapists and counselors sense when they work with couples in distress. How couples got to this place is often less relevant than what they need to do to move out and beyond it. So, marriage counselors and couples psychotherapists look for ways of repairing the damage caused by feeling rejected, abandoned, or dismissed and devalued by each other, and help couples change the ways partners interact and see each other by increasing their awareness of the underlying dysfunctional dynamics that maintain conflicts and insecurity in their relationships.

So, if you find yourself in a distressed relationship and are stuck, seek professional help. Just remember a relevant piece of information: on average, couples in distress get to a psychotherapist office six years too late… Do you want to be part of these statistics?

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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Communication Through the Body

Surprisingly communication is not words alone. It is comprised of a confluence of ways of being oneself and of being together, physically and emotionally. It speaks volumes the way we approach our partner, the air we exude and whether we say anything or not, the totality of the atmosphere we create from within to the outside of ourselves.

Communication conveys a weather report of current and past emotional events. It tells how we feel beyond any words. It says where we came from, where we are and where we want to go.

Now, let us not ignore words. They also are essential in the ones we use, our tone of voice and our delivery. They are essential to make things known and to become conscious. However, we begin our lives speaking only through our body. Our basic needs for life and growth are at the start and communicating these physical and emotional needs allows us to get into life. Without them we do not survive.

But, here we focus for the moment on the non-verbal body words, the language of touch, the ways the body comments, including our silences and the physical words of our love. The non-verbal ways of communication speak volumes about our feelings, emotions, thoughts and ideas about intimacy and closeness. Non-verbally we tell our partner to be present, to listen, to treat us in a certain way. And, should we become good enough and astute enough, we can look to our partner for clues about how he or she feels. And, we can and need to look to our own body reactions for clues as well. The careful attention to body details and body signals is crucial for a viable and loving relationship based on clear communication.

We are talking here about a language that goes beyond the language of physical sex. Not to ignore sex but we also want to bring attention to the nuances of the many feelings and emotions we are able to express through our bodies. Through our physical expression we tell our partner about our love, our need to converse, our need to be close, our need to be alone for a bit, and our need to remain in contact. In fact, so many of our needs are non-verbal and non-verbally expressed that once you realize this, you will be surprised at the wealth information contained and accessible from this natural form of communication. In other words, you don’t have to do anything specific, but listen to yourself to be expressing all that you are.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Love and Money

We all know that, in a relationship, men look for beauty and women for security. We also know, however, that money tends to play an important role in love for both men and women.  So, when things go awry financially, what happens to love?

Love suffers, as most couples who are going through tough financial times can attest. The first step that begins the shift from being partners and looking up to each other to questioning each others worth comes from lack of positive feedback. And a big portion of positive feedback tends to come in the form of monetary compensation, at least in this country – a good salary; a bonus; a promotion. Because we all seek a relationship where we can feel safe and where we can trust each other, our feelings of love tend to be enhanced by success, competence, self- assurance and confidence, knowledge and social and professional recognition.

Now, what happens when this person loses some or all the traits that before contributed to develop and maintain his or her confidence and self-assurance?

Recent studies about how the current economic recession is affecting couples point to the fact that a lot of partners are struggling to maintain healthy relationships when their lives collapse all around them and, consequently, their views of themselves and their partners change in negative ways, due to these changes. It is these negative changes about how partners see each other that affect feelings of love and shake the foundations of intimate relationships.

When people lose their jobs, get demoted, or cannot find any other source of employment, at first the other partner is supportive and empathic. In fact, for a while, this situation can even lead to increased closeness and support.

However, as time goes by and the unemployed person continues to be unemployed, the other partner typically begins to question why this is happening. While at the beginning external causes were seen as responsible for this situation, after a while the previously supportive partner begins to wonder if there is something intrinsic to THIS person that accounts for his or her continuing struggles.

Gradually, the previously supportive partner begins to shift views of the unemployed partner. Faults, shortcomings, areas of confusion and lackluster are then identified in areas where before success and accomplishments were seen as predominant.

As the situation persists, these areas of weakness become more and more noticeable, and the positive traits decrease to the point of becoming unnoticeable.  At this point, can something be done?

Few things are useful to put into practice:

  • Become aware of this process as soon as you can, so you can intervene and turn it around before it is too late. If you let it grow for too long, in fact, it will totally destroy feelings of love for one another, and it will be quite difficult, if not impossible, to recapture and feel them again.

 

You can turn things around by keeping an open communication about what is going on:

  • Try to break through the barrier created by shame that the unemployed partner may try to erect around him or herself;
  • Be supportive without being intrusive;
  • Be caring without being condescending;
  • Be available without choking your partner with your constant presence
  • and, above all,
  • Be fair.

 

Work at creating situations where the old image of your partner can be recalled and the current difficulties about unemployment can temporarily be set aside. Make sure the two of you keep up with:

  • Date nights;
  • Short trips;
  • Times together that are free of stress and distractions.

 

And remember that if you address the problems as a couple, you will strengthen the bond between you two.

As you work on these challenges both TOGETHER, not SEPARATELY, you reinforce the areas of commonalities between the two of you and rekindle those feelings that provide a respite from the storm that is shaking the foundations of your relationship.

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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On Joy – An Essential for a Relationship

Joy, according to the dictionary, means a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. It seems like such a good thing and something we would want to foster.

Yet, have you ever wondered why people, even yourself perhaps, refer to the beginning of their relationship as fun, joyful, exciting and so on. But then a few months or years later, they are already complaining and feeling that the spark is going or gone. They do not know what happened or how to get the joy to return. Is this a description of you and your partner?

And, there are also couples who do things together, and enjoy even the small things like shopping, making food, reading books, watching television. They seem content to be sharing these moments. It is in the moments that build togetherness. It is the moments that are small yet significant. The expression that small is beautiful applies to every relationship. Small is incremental and becomes conscious and builds upon itself. When there is joy, moment after moment can make for love after love.

Sadly but truly, we may not know how to create joy. We look around and do not see joyful couples or individuals. This perception indicates that we have lost our center. Joy is part of what is our center and what centers us at the same time. It is an attitude of expansion and growth. Perhaps we have gotten out of the habit, thought or focus on the joy that we need so essentially for health and well-being in our body mind and soul.

We are left with the question of how to find out what makes joy for yourself and your partner. If people can pay attention to the small moments, they become increasingly aware of their precious gifts. These can be used to be able to healthily and happily give and take from each other.

Again, joy is a simple feeling that can be easily met in the small ways and yet it is also complex in that it cannot be taken for granted and wants continual notice. It is one of those emotions that keeps on being needed and continues to grow once it is watered with attention. The intent to be joyful helps make it happen. The focus on making this intent conscious to yourself and your partner furthers the possibility of it occurring. Joy requires the kind of communication that is both verbal and non-verbal. Joy creates trust and safety. It makes love deepen. It makes trust occur. It even changes our brain patterns.

See what happens when you make conscious your need for joy. See what happens if you are open to the possibility of joy. You might start the day with the intent to make joy happen for yourself and your partner.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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The Art and Science of Love

Many people have been studying and discussing the mysteries, the pains and the joys of love as long as humans learned to communicate with each other. With the discovery or reading and writing, personal experiences, as well as emotional and logical theories about love were left by earlier generations to the ones who followed them. These theories ranged from sensible and pseudo-scientific to bizarre and farfetched.

Only fairly recently, however, new discoveries of the brain have furthered the study of love by elevating it to a truly scientific level. This new field of study, called Interpersonal Neurobiology, draws its observations from brain neuroimaging studies and reflects the confluence of cross disciplinary works in the field of neurobiology, psychology and other disciplines. These studies are providing us with a glimpse of how the brain acts and changes when in a loving relationship and when in pain because of unrequited love, rejection or abuse.

Interpersonal neurobiology sees the human brain as a social organ that develops and grows through the emotional experiences provided by significant attachment relationships. The most important discovery in this area is the notion that the human brain, far from being static and genetically determined as it was once thought to be, is highly plastic and continues to be so throughout life, as it is changed by experience, and particularly by love.

While key experiences – and the experiential role of human relationships in particular – in the first years of life deeply affect a child’s brain structures either facilitating their growth or stunting it, this process of plasticity continues in adulthood and persists throughout life. So, when we experience healthy, close human connections where we feel emotionally safe, our brain has an opportunity to develop in healthy ways, expanding and changing by creating new synapses, while strengthening existing ones. Additionally, it is free to explore other areas of interest, together with a loved one or alone, because energy and attention are freed from worrying about safety in the relationship to exploration of the world.

When, on the other hand, we are exposed to interpersonal experiences that are unhealthy and excessively stressful and traumatic, our brain is negatively affected by such experiences and its growth is compromised.

The process of learning more and understanding the value and importance, as well as the power of intimate relationships is key to our wellbeing. This knowledge, in fact, allows each of us to take more power into our hands and become more aware and sensitive to how we affect and are in turn affected by the people who are the closest to us emotionally and at times physically. We can focus on being more attentive, compassionate and responsive to our love partners and, in turn, remove ourselves from relationships that are dysfunctional and traumatic, because these affect us in many negative ways that go beyond the present moment, not only at the emotional level, but at the physiological one as well.

The bottom line is: Healthy relationships allow us to grow, both emotionally and neurologically in a process that continues throughout life.

Isn’t this what you want in your life as well?

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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