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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: August 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Would You Marry You?

It may seem like a silly question, but it does have a serious purpose. That and, would you stay married to you? And then, why and why not? I ask this very gently because it is rarely (if ever) a good idea to question yourself harshly - though many of us do. But here in the office, as folks very diligently sort through the ups and downs of marriage, the disappointments, frustrations, angers, and desires, it does help sometimes to take a look at how you view yourself, as well as how things look from your partner's spot.

Most of us do find ourselves assessing the virtues and flaws of our partners, both as individuals and as partners. And this definately has a place. Yet, so does taking a look at how we are as marriage partners. Again, with curiosity, not with criticism, I think it helps us to take a look at what it's like to be married to us.

In studying ourselves in our role as marriage partner, we can reaffirm our good qualities and contributions. We we can also take a look at where we could grow, or how we could shift. Of course, this brings up lots of feelings and often, lots of philosophy and many good questions.

What do we expect from our partner? What do we expect from ourselves? Where do our expectations come from? What do we understand about male/female differences in expectations and needs? What kind of effect do we want to have on our partner? What are our fears? How do we express anger, loneliness, disappointment and fear? How much of our emotional and physical satisfaction should come from our partner? How much should we give? How equal do we expect things to be, and how often?

And how do we express gratitude, appreciation, joy and love? How often? How affectionate are we? How do we receive love, thanks and affection? Do we invite it, encourage it, ask directly for it, openly appreciate it? How important do we think small acts of kindness are? What about contact during the day? Phone calls, text messages?

And usually we do have to take a look at how we were treated as children, and if and how that shows up in our marriages. So many couples fair so much better when they unpack things a bit, study them, and talk about things. When couples are in crisis or when one partner is feeling angry, deprived, lonely, or out of sync, it becomes necessary to open things up for discussion.

I think that among our choices, when we are in emotional pain in our marriages, we can decide to take a deep breath and step into the willingness to talk in productive ways, to see ourselves more deeply, and to go forward towards better.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Search of Emotional Intimacy

So I am taking a detour from talking about anger. Lately, folks who have been here with me in the office, on the couch, talking, are talking a lot about emotional intimacy in its many forms. Seems we humans are constantly seeking it - in our marriages, families, friendships, work relationships even. We need deep connections on a feeling level. Some of us need a lot of emotional contact, others less so, but we do seek it out. And when we do not have enough of it, we suffer.

We need to be and feel close to others. We need to feel understood, supported, appreciated and connected. Of course we know that we cannot have all those feelings all the time, but we have to have enough to keep us, to sustain through the ups and downs of life. We especially need to have enough emotional intimacy to hold us through difficult times. And if things are going south, or seem to be in one relationship, or part of life, we need to have a strong dose of emotional intimacy in other parts of our life, in other relationships, to carry us through.

Emotional loneliness is only tolerable for limited periods of time. And we can turn to all kinds of ways of coping when we are suffering. For some it's drugs, or alcohol, or food, shopping, gambling. Others get into relationships that may seem like they will provide relief, but turn out to cause more trouble. And some dive into work, or a hobby. There is of course, a broad range of ways to cope.

Some of us are more readily able to experience emotional intimacy, or to build it, be open to it and cultivate it. Some of us are more afraid, more frustrated, more confused. It's not like anyone gives us lessons. And we are, after all, all a mixture of our own biology, culture and experiences.

The search for emotional intimacy is so universal; it never ceases to amaze me though, how difficult the search can be, not just to find or create it, but to maintain it, especially in our primary relationships, where we often hope it will just maintain itself. So much of the day to day stuff of life gets in the way, as do our histories, our feelings, our assumptions. I see here, though, in the process of therapy, that things can get worked out. We can get much more of the sometimes elusive feeling we need. It takes time; it may take a bit of talking, a bit of exploring, a bit of unpacking what's blocking us, but it pays off. We don't have to be deprived. We just have to be willing to search.

Monday, August 1, 2011

10 Questions to Ask Yourself About Anger

By no means am I suggesting that the answers to the following questions are easy, readily available to you, or in any way obvious, though some may be. I think, rather, that they may serve as guide posts toward progress, relief, and insight. While anger is not always the culprit, it does often lurk underneath depression, anxiety, restlessness, discontent, or irritability. While certain angers are clear and apparent, others are more subtle. I think it pays to pay attention to them. Having anger does not mean that you are an angry person, that you have a temper; it just means that you have real feelings, some old, some new, and that tending to them may improve your life in many ways. How we feel anger, what we do with it, is usually based on a mix of genetic, hormonal, biochemical and socialcultural factors. Given that, we can ask ourselves the following questions in our quest to feel better.

1) How was anger expressed or suppressed in my family?

2) What are my earliest memories of feeling angry? With whom? For what? What other feelings do these memories bring up?

3) What are my earliest memories of someone feeling angry with me? Who? For what? What other feelings do these memories bring up?

4) What are my views or ideas about anger?

5) What is the connection between my sense of self and anger?

6) What am I willing to learn about someone elses point of view, character traits, personality?

7) What are my views about forgiveness? Do I forgive myself for mistakes, oversights or missteps?

8) What are my views about compromise, sacrifice and tolerance in relationships?

9) What does anger do for me? To me? To those around me?

10) What would I like from myself when I am angry? What would I like for myself?

Here in the office, each question can be a path to more insight, to relief and to better feelings. Sometimes, it's the talking itself that moves things along, not necessarily the answers. Anger is such a dense topic I think. I see a lot of folks who shy away from it because it can be so painful. Or because of what they think anger may say about them. Many folks find that studying things helps. We don't always or only have to focus on "anger management." We can focus on"anger curiosity," and see where it leads us.