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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: January 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Do You Really Want to Know?

Sometimes here's what happens when couples talk to each other.

Woman: Why do you love me?
Man: I don't know. I just do.
Woman: No really, I want to know. Why do you love me?
Man: You're a good mother.
Woman: Seriously? Really? You love me because I am good mother?
Man: Yeah, why?
Woman: That's not an answer. Why do you love me?
Man: Well, because you're you.
Woman: What about me?
Man: I like being with you.
Woman: That's not even about me. It's about you. And you don't even sound sure. You can't even tell me why you love me.

Or it goes like this:
Woman: Why don't you come home for lunch more often? You have time to go out with the guys but won't come home to have lunch with me.
Man: We just go grab a quick bite, and we talk shop.
Woman: Well, you could come home for a quick bite and talk to me.
Man: (silence)
Woman: Tell me, really. Why don't you come home for lunch more?
Man: Do you really want to know?
Woman: I am asking you aren't I? You won't even be straight with me about a simple question. Man: Okay, well...


Man: You look so down all the time.
Woman: What are you talking about?
Man: You never want to do anything or go anywhere. Is something wrong?
Woman: Well, since you asked. I don't like going out with you when you drink.
Man: I don't drink that much...

So the answers vary of course. And the conversations can go either way. They can take a turn for the good, the connective, the loving. Or they can take a turn for the worse and lead to a disconnect, a distance, an argument. Usually when a woman starts asking her man about why he loves her, or why he does not come home more, or why he is with her, she is looking for an emotional connection. She is looking for some kind of real affirmation of their love, their commitment, their feeling for each other. Sometimes, it means she is angry with him for some reason and does not know how to, or want to, or is afraid to come out and say it outright. Men too are looking to keep things connected, though sometimes with slightly different goals.

The thing is, there usually are good answers and good outcomes to the above conversations but sometimes partners don't really know, on the spot, how to answer, or what their partner is actually looking for or needs. Or how to cultivate a good dialogue. Also, sometimes the answer is not exactly what the asker wants to hear. Sometimes men will say, "well, I don't come home for lunch because when I do, you talk to me about all the things I do wrong, or give me your list of things I need to fix in the house." Or a wife (or husband) will say "well, when you do drink when we go out, it takes away something from the evening. " Sometimes when we ask, we may hear something we may not want to hear, may not like, or may not agree with. Even if perhaps, our partner is saying something true, or is telling us what is in the way of closeness or problem resolution. How we respond can make all the difference in finding out what our partner's perception is.

Sometimes we hesitate to say the truth because we are afraid that if we do, we will hurt our partner's feelings, or trigger rage, or criticism, or defensiveness. It's not always clear what the best answer is, or what answer will be the most conducive to creating closeness or working out real issues.. Sometimes couples have to help each find the right words, uncover our motives and be willing to hear the answers, even if they see it differently or want a different result. If we really want to know the answers to our questions, we have to be willing to hear the answers with respect and curiosity, even when feelings and wishes run high, even when we may not agree, and even when we may have to take a look at our own role in things.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Is Being Understood Overrated?

It depends.

It is so basically human to need to be understood. And so connective to be understood. But sometimes in seeking to be understood, we may do ourselves a disservice. I think this happens when the quest for understanding hinders our relationships or becomes the foundation on which we believe our self worth rests.

If we are excessively seeking understanding from others, why? And what are the origins of such a search? What are our motives? What are the outcomes? Do we think that if someone, particularly someone who has hurt us, or on whom we depend or love understands us better, that they will change? Perhaps if they just understood, they would do what we need, or stop doing what hurts us. (Sometimes they do!)

It's not always a given though. In here, in the therapy room, being understood, understanding yourself and others is certainly on the agenda. It does help bring relief, new ideas and a better way of living and being. But excessive understanding seeking can also be detrimental. Not everyone can understand us, and even if they do, this may not be enough for them to change. And understanding does not always mean agreeing. Sometimes, we may have to learn to live with someone even when they don't understand. Doing so might even bring a relief of its own, freeing us from pursuing something that we think will give us relief, when in fact, the relief can come from our own willingness to not have to be understood.

One woman I know had a life pattern of pursuing understanding from people. She desperately wanted people to understand her feelings and intentions as well as their own behavior and how it effected her. If they didn't, she felt deep despair, frustration and helplessness. Sometimes she persued being understood to the point where people around her often felt criticized, bothered, or pressured. In fact she herself recognized that she was often insistent with a tendency to over explain herself, argue her point or demand time to be heard. This was often was off-putting to those around her.

In talking about it for a while, she recalled a memory of being yelled at as a child by her parents for an invasion of ants in her bedroom. She told me that she was often yelled at as a child for things that she did not do or cause. Ants were common where she lived and they often invaded houses. She did not leave food or put signs up inviting them in. If only her parents understood this, she reasoned, they would not yell at her or blame her. Once we understood how she had been effected by not being understood as a child, we had some new light on her intense pursuit of being understood as an adult. In this way, being understood and understanding herself, did bring relief. She also came to understand the effect her pursuit of being understood had on others. It did not often have the desired effect.

She is less insistent with others now and somehow, has an easier time in her relationships. She has come to believe that others do not have to always understand her in order for her to feel good about herself or for her to know she is worthy, okay and correct.

It's an easier life she tells me now. And interestingly enough, she feels more understood.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top Five Starting Places

So people often ask me if it's possible to save their marriage or renew it. Or to feel better, to find love, to advance or start a career. When things seem broken or dark, hope hides. Sometimes people walk in the door hurt, angry, frustrated, in despair. Not everyone. Folks come in for all sorts of reasons. There is no shortage of good topics when it comes to the self. But people want to know if there is hope. They want to know if marriages can be repaired, if trust can be restored, if love can be dug out from under anger, hurt, betrayal. They want to know if they even want that. They want to know if emotional gaps can be bridged, if sex lives can be reinvented, if old angers can be let go of, and old relationships can be healed.

I can't profess to know of course. But I can tell you that I've seen it. I can tell you that I have experienced it. I can tell you that yes, many things are possible. How it happens that things can go from bad to better, from pain to pleasure, from old to renewed, I'm not sure exactly (though there are many good theories and practices that apply). But if I had to name my top five starting points for bringing about healing, relief and renewal, I'd say they are these, in no particular order and without the theory for now:

~Willingness to talk: about yourself, your wishes, your feelings, your thoughts. Even if you don't know exactly what they are or where they will lead. Even if you are scared, skeptical, annoyed or angry.

~Willingness to look at yourself, your history, your patterns, your reactions. Gently and at whatever pace seems to work best. This too can be discovered over time.

~Understanding that the above does not always come as fast or as easily as we might like but it's worth a continued effort to keep at it. And sometimes slower is better.

~Understanding that you don't have to know exactly what you want or need before you begin.

~Understanding that most of what we do, conscious or unconscious is usually how we survive, and in that context our defenses that no longer serve us well - or that do still - are not comments on our self worth but just our humanity.