Archive: October, 2012

The Fear of Being Real

How often people say they are afraid to be themselves in their intimate relationship. They anticipate rejection. They remember that the last fight was too hurtful. The physical and emotional turn away following it felt devastating. There remains little energy to try again. And, they remember the pain of earlier experiences, maybe even before this relationship began that were fraught with anticipated rejection, no room for self-expression and no place for repair.

Yet the feeling persists of wanting to reach out. But so does the fear. Back and forth goes the pendulum. The spontaneous action used to be there. It was wrapped in kindness and concern and a certain trust of being received. Now it is cautious, fear based and sad. There is a cloud of loss and abandonment. It is just too much and one and then the other stops moving forward. This stop is not a regular stop but becomes a wall and then a way of life predicated on distance and emotional upset that bothers both partners.

How do partners learn to follow the natural movement that used to be there? How to take the step towards rather than back off?

There are many opportunities to break into this dance that is not a dance at all but rather an enactment of old fears and rejections that have since gone underground. Now they are up again as the issues from previous times were obviously not fully addressed.

What happens when one person changes and the other is left seemingly in the same old space? This is not an unusual occurrence. Both no doubt need the change and yet one is the overt agent. The other has to catch up. Their world is unsteady and what was formerly secured is no longer. The old ways of being went by the wayside. The energy and attention has shifted. The question in both partners is how to shift it back–not to the same way but to something that is now differently shared.

And, this brings up how to communicate now. You see, there has been a rift. Both are hurt by each other. Each has needs that are the same and intense but also altered from before.

Basically, they each need to sit down and listen, talk, not interrupt and be as clear as possible in telling their stories to each other. These are the old but new stories that reveal where each one is at this point, what each partner needs, and how they can verify and support each other. No assumptions. No accusations. But being present in the moment and to the pain with each other.

Yes, it will take something to get through this. It is not easy. It will require new parameters. The old places, even for going out together, may now not fit. No way to take each other and the relationship for granted. It will not work. In other words, playing it easy is not possible.

What can occur are a sharpening and a re-focus on self and other. As each partner makes even a small move they can perceive themselves and each other through wider and deeper lenses.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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After All the Years…

There is a common cartoon, with many variations, showing a woman making a pie. The man is commenting that she made the pie for years thinking all the time that he liked this kind of pie. And now, after 30 years he was hardly going to tell her the truth which was no, he did not like the pie.

We might ponder the myriad of reasons why he never told her before. Or, why she did not check it out to see if he still liked it. Or, why did she still do it? What else did this mutual lie cover up? And, could it be a metaphor for the rest of their relationship?

From this example, we can see that long-term relationships acquire different challenges as they go along. People get into ruts and routines that can be damaging. People might forget kindness and consideration. Perhaps they talk to each other like they would never talk to anyone else. They are like the proverbial old shoes and do not change into the ones needing care and carefulness. Their interactions are old and boring. They are both unconscious and maybe unable to get out of the golden handcuffs they rely upon. They are trapped by their mutual construction. The relationship no longer can hobble along. What seemed like security is choking both out. Creativity halts. Mutual dreams are on hold. Sex has long gone by the wayside.

Obviously they could leave. But equally and obviously they could stay. They could do the growth and development path that will lead to greater personal and relationship. They could share dreams, set aside time to talk daily, focus on emotions not merely on events, create a surprise, do the spontaneous and unexpected and help each other.  And, intentionally re-engage in affection and sexual attention.

When a relationship retains its viability partners are able to switch roles, on both outer and inner levels. The one who was not overtly emotional may become more so. The partner, who did the books, may not want to continue on and prefers to plan the trip or make a new garden. In other words, through life we come to use and develop those characteristics we loved in our partner that also lays within ourselves. We become more whole by using these parts and this becomes a means to access the development of our personality. Why else are we in relationships? Love quite necessarily includes the expansion of who we are.

We can keep a relationship full of life by treating each day as if it was the beginning that it actually is. The challenge to this is that you approach your partner with new eyes. This means the preconceived notions and emotions of how that person will react or respond are tabled and we begin to listen with open ears. You and your partner have a chance to participate with each other in a cleaner fashion. And, the change in actions and attitudes brings with it focus and attention, closely and carefully and lovingly.

It is through the problems that we come to see how things can be bettered. As we attend to places within ourselves that need growth we become closer to our partner. Our reliance on each other becomes the kind of dependence that is mutual and mutually rewarding. This makes a relationship of many years a renewed one that holds mutual support to keep on growing.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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On the Making of Love

Sometimes we might look at a couple and wonder how they found each other. No matter how they outwardly seem, act, appear, we see that they can express love, care and affection. How do they do this? What keeps their glue going? How can we find a similar feeling with our partner?

We think we found it at the beginning. We think we knew it. We live on hope and desire for it. But, too often we discover that love is elusive. Where did it go? It escapes us about how, why and when. What is the timing for love as it begins? Will it last? How can we learn together to make it work? What are the ingredients?

So many questions and where are the answers?

We know everyone has an opinion about this. We know there are experts who tell us how to do it. Even there are those who call love a game and go about it like that. There are those who describe love in song, video, literature and movies. But, each one seems to have another interpretation. We are left with the reality of needing to find and shape it ourselves.

What we address here is the serious, quiet, exciting and validating development of love over time. The support and care that a loving story holds. This is a place where we can develop the beauty of our personality from being in the metaphoric arms of a loved and loving partner. The security we can have grows over time. It allows us to fight and repair, to be honest and true in order to work out the life struggles in partnership.

This partnership is both fragile and durable. It can hold the more revealing aspects of the difficult spaces of our nature. The more we trust and share—not just the facts, but the feelings that we experience each day, the more we develop places to express this convoluted nature we all have. Initially we learn how awkward this partnership is, and then view it with more prowess, then to experience what it is to expose in bold relief the needs, wants and desires of fulfilling love.

Love is basic. A need? An instinct? A life force? Yes, it is all of these and more. Our lives involve us in a series of images that we carry individually and collectively about love. These images are also found in art, literature, videos, movies, dreams, tales, myths and stories. They afford us a myriad of pathways for integrating the unconscious material in service of an interrelationship with our conscious life. We are led to find the ‘we’ and this is such a compellingly attractive force that we cannot stand against it. We must accept it and go with it. We learn to trust in the wisdom of our nature that leads us into a love story for many reasons, some known, some unknown and hopefully all filled with the challenge and realization of growth and development beyond what we ever imagined.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Marriage a la Tom Cruise?

Today in the paper there was an article about Tom Cruise and Kate Holmes getting divorced. This news, in and by itself, wouldn’t have been very surprising, given the high rate of divorce in Hollywood. What was unusual about it, however, were its circumstances. The reporter speculated that the reason for this divorce was possibly a wedding contract Kate Holmes and Tom Cruise had signed at the beginning, stipulating that they would be married to one another for a period of five years. Apparently now the five years are up, so the contract becomes null and void.

What do you think? Do you think it is a good idea to protect against nasty divorces later on by setting a time frame for the length of a marriage? Or do you think this time limited agreement chips away at the very structure of a marriage?

Of course we all know that about 50% of marriages today end in divorce (first marriages, that is, because subsequent marriages have a higher chance still of ending in divorce.)

It is also quite true that, with the widespread use of birth control, couples can now choose when to have children and how many. This is a drastic departure from the past, when most married couples spent most of their lives together having and raising children and, sadly, seeing some of them die, due to the high infant and child mortality rates prevalent in those times.

It is also true that we live much longer than in the past and have much healthier lives, so a marriage today can easily last twice as long as the average marriage of past times.

Let me remind you that marriage was seen as a contract for most of our recorded history. It was typically arranged by the bride and groom’s parents and it was meant to provide a statement for the community in which it occurred. At times it was two powerful families who intermarried, in order to join their powers and become even more powerful. At times it was a way of cementing shaky relationships between members of the community who needed to get along; or it was a way of strengthening one’s ethnic background, or creating loyalties and alliances, and so on.

The concept of romantic love had very little to do with marriage. If couples eventually grew fond of one another and came to love one another, well, that was the icing on the cake, but not the real reason for the union.

The concept of romantic love as being the key reason for a legal union is quite recent, and is still evolving. There is now more equality between spouses. There are more expectations of openness, honesty on both sides, and better communication between spouses than in the past. In this country women yield close to as much power as men now, and they continue to get stronger. At times they are the main breadwinners, particularly during the current economic crisis, but this is a different subject about which I will write in another blog in the future. For here, suffice it to say that the traditional balance of men being in charge and women being dependent and powerless has been disappearing for the past forty years or so.

Having said all that, let’s go back to the notion of time-limited marital contracts.

While it is no wonder that couples are trying to figure out ways of avoiding disappointment and acrimonious breakups down the road, we question what does signing a time contract say about their union? And, what are the psychological implications of signing a contract with a time frame in mind?

I think to set a time for the duration of a marriage SHAKES THE VERY FOUNDATIONS OF THIS INSTITUTION. This is so, in my opinion, because a marriage is a commitment to engage with another person in a very intimate, intense and continuous way until and unless problems of such magnitude arise that make it impossible to continue to stay together.

While I don’t advocate staying together no matter what because I am quite mindful of the dysfunctional state of some relationships, I encourage newlyweds to enter this contract fully aware of the fact that staying in a healthy relationship is one of the most difficult things each of us will ever have to do. I also tell them, as statistics indicate, that the rewards, if we are successful, are immense. It is indeed difficult to go through life with someone who may be at our side at times, and at others he or she may see things quite differently than we do; someone who may want to make decisions that are antithetical to ours, and with whom at times there seems to be no way of negotiating a middle ground.

These are some of the challenges we find, and some of these challenges can break us by creating such deep rifts that cannot be repaired. However, WORKING AT A RELATIONSHIP FORCES US TO GROW UP. It makes us accept that life is not as stress-free as we would like it to be. The problems we encounter are not as superficial and easy to resolve. The commitment to marriage forces us to stay in a painful situation and attempt to resolve it, when all we want to do is to bolt out and turn our back on it. Marriage makes us face the problems, feel the hurt and the pain, rather than running away. And all of this helps us take on the challenges in front of us; stretch ourselves in order to find a solution and, when we achieve it, what a victory that is!

If we need to set a fixed time frame and plan to get out of such a commitment, on the other hand, how can we ever develop the determination and the fortitude to work as hard as we can? And, will we ever know how much we can do?

Daniela Roher, PhD

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