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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Weary Travelers (more Hope Forward)

"When the frustration (pain) of doing nothing is worse than the frustration (pain) of doing something....that's when we are willing and readyto take a new step." ~ anonymous

So the year is winding down and I am thinking about all the pain and suffering that goes on in the world, and all the emotional pain and suffering that many folks live with in their own internal world,  and inside their homes.

I am thinking about how we get lulled into getting along however we can, just to get through a day and how we don't often believe that anything will really help or make a difference.  That we may as well suffer alone.  Why bother.

I am thinking too about President Obama's address to the community of Newtown on Sunday and how he noted the complexities of violence followed by that those complexities "can’t be an excuse for inaction.  Surely, we can do better than this." 

and then this: "Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame, or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that no matter how good our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we will experience hardships. And even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans."

It seems then, that even in the face of seemingly uncontrollable, unimaginable circumstances, that we still have to make our human effort.  There are choices, options and pathways and the only real failure is the failure to try.

So I am taking a leap here and saying that we can get so understandably caught up in the routine of daily life and we can get so caught up in the routine of our own circumstances that we forget that perhaps there really are things we can do, steps we can take, to change things. Both in our internal worlds, our homes and our larger communities.  That the smallest of steps is still a step.  That any and every step counts. That any effort in any of our worlds will most likely benefit all of our worlds.  That we do not have to see our way clear to a result in order to begin.

If we get stuck in the pain of hopelessness, even though hope can seem painful as well (lest we be disappointed and sent back into despair again), we will never have, at the very least, the knowledge that we were willing to try.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Self Centered Fear

"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."

Not a new one, but one worth repeating I think.  And maybe not can be surprising sometimes. But I have been thinking again a bit about how our feelings, especially fear, get in the way of  trying a new approach or working better with a difficult person or responding differently in order to help things get better in a difficult relationship.

This theme comes up a lot in the therapy room of course.  And when we can take a gentle and deeper look at what we are doing and why (what we are really afraid of) new ideas often come to light.

The term "self-centered" often has negative connotations, in this case, it's meant to just to be descriptive.  Meaning this:  underneath anger, hurt and frustration is often the fear that we will not get what we need, or that we are in emotional or physical danger, that somehow our "self" needs protecting.  And it does.  So in order to protect ourselves we repeat certain reactions or ways of speaking, communicating or functioning that have protected us in the past, that are familiar, safe seeming and workable for us. 

It's not always apparent, either, at first glance what some of those things are even.  But when we take a closer look at our "self-centered" fears we often can see that there are other ways of protecting ourselves that bring us good results in our relationships.  And we can then understand that others are often operating out of fear as well.  When we can get to this, we often get farther than we ever imagined possible.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Where Does Being Curious Get You? (And Barometers of Emotional Health)

So this question comes up a lot here in the office, probably because I'm a fan of curiosity.  Especially when it's a choice of being curious or being critical.  And especially when it comes to asking questions about ourselves and our motives.

There is an old saying that it's better to live in the solution than in the problem.  I think a lot of times we get stuck in the problem to such an extent that we cannot even begin to imagine that there is a solution or what that solution might be.  So that's where being curious gets you.  It gets you to start studying what's in the way of finding the way to the solution.   And it leads the way to something new, something different and hopefully something better.

People often ask me "What am I doing wrong?" Or "What's the matter with me?" Or "What's the matter with my partner that he or she can't or doesn't  (fill in the blank)?"  Or "Why me?"  Or "Why not me?"  So of course lots of the time these questions are understandable expressions of grief, sadness, frustration, anger, disappointment and more.  But sometimes they are more, or at least they can be more.  They can be the beginning of a good dialogue about what is really in the way of us finding out what we really want and how to get there, and how to heal, make progress and feel better. 

The key is that when we ask, we ask with curiosity and not self attack.  And we ask with an openness to study ourselves gently and sincerely and in a safe place where all feelings and thoughts are allowed to live and breathe and be.

A colleague of mine told me recently when I asked how she was: "If having all my feelings would be the barometer of health, then I'm doing fine." Her wisdom often resonates deeply with me, reflecting my own feelings in the most uncanny ways.  It seems to me that this self allowance and self acceptance, even when our feelings are difficult ones to bear, can be the torch light that opens us up to curiosity and helps us to just be, and of course, to grow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Out of Power

I heard the following post Hurricane story today from a friend of mine.  He was relocating his elderly mother into a local motel after she had lost power in her home.   She could not stay with him because his house has many stairs and she is not able to manage them.   While he was helping her settle in, another elderly couple pulled up to check in.  They had their belongings in garbage bags and asked for help with their "luggage."  Being a motel, there was no help offered, so my friend took their bags (literally) and carried them to their room.  He helped them with the card key lock that has long since replaced metal keys. Since they had not stayed anywhere but their own home in many decades they were not familiar with the new door lock.

He said they were so deeply grateful for his simple good deeds, sending him looks of both gratitude and pleading.  He told them they could call him if they needed any further help and gave them his contact information.  Fortunately, their house survived the storm, but they were out of power still.  And it was getting cold, especially for them, with their frail bodies and limited mobility.

There are many stories emerging from the rubble of Hurricane Sandy. This one is not especially remarkable. Like the aftermath of many disasters, there are tales of pain and loss and sorrow and there are stories of fighting over necessities, like gas for heaters or food or safe drinking water.  And there are stories of selflessness, bravery and simple acts of kindness. 

New Jersey's governor Chris Christie said, in response to people topping off their gas tanks that you "can't legislate selfishness."  He might be right, but most likely he might have been more right to say that you can't legislate fear.  Because most likely it's fear that lurks underneath most selfishness.  Fear of not being safe, or warm, or healthy.  And fear pushes us to do things we might otherwise not be so inclined to do.  Not just during disasters, but often times during daily life and within the context of our relationships.  We often act out of fear for our emotional safety, though we are not usually aware of it on the surface. 

One of the many lessons coming out of yet another disaster is that we may be out of power literally over the environment, over other people, over our feelings and desires, but we are not always out of power about how to respond.  We can shine the flashlights on what we can do. 

The unremarkable small deeds go a long way. (Not to mention that most of us feel valued and helped when someone offers to carry our "bags" once in a while). The little things count.  They count when we do them in our relationships, when we do them for someone who needs a kind word, a smile or help carrying their bags.  Even as we study our own motives and make up, and when we are hurt, deprived or angry (and those feelings count of course) or edgy about the behavior of others, we most likely will come out much more resilient and content when we shine the light on our fears, and the fears of others and power on with compassion.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Angry and Hurt and Still In

"It is possible to be angry and hurt and stay in the relationship."  ~ A colleague of mine during a discussion on marriage.

She was not referring to abuse.  And how we define abuse can vary.  Our discussion was about this common dynamic between many couples:

The woman does not feel loved or loved enough.  The man does not feel respected or trusted enough. (And this plays a part in him not being able or willing to convey the right feeling to her).

Because she does not feel loved she may act in a way that feels
angering or criticising or distancing to the man.  The man then does not step up and show
love.  (He withholds loving words or actions or is less present or is mean).  The woman then feels hurt (and fearful too, often) and she lets him know it in ways that have the effect of  making him feel more angry or hurt or like a failure so he backs up even further.

Sometimes, all she wants is some kind words or simple actions.  Some reassurance that he does love her, that she is safe with him, that he wants to take care of their relationship, and of her.  That she and their relationship is his priority. Sometimes he needs some help knowing how to do this, and she does not want to have to spell it out for him.  She gets frustrated that he does not just intuitively know.  He feels like a failure for not knowing and he either backs up further or he gets angry and then withdrawals even further, giving her even less of what she wants.  Seemingly, this confirms her fears that she does not matter to him.

Often, women want or expect their man to continue to know how and to give them the loving feeling they long for even if the woman is doing or saying things that make the man feel angry, frustrated or hurt.  As if he should ignore his feelings (or not have them) and always feel like giving her the love she needs, no matter how she acts or what she says or does.

So that's one dynamic.  There are so many others of course.  (Stay tuned).  And what's the answer?  Well, in part, it's this:  We can survive feeling angry and hurt and work it out if we are willing to look not just at what our partner has done, or is doing wrong, or that hurts us, but what the dynamic is in the couple.  And it is possible to find relief by looking at what we long for and how we help ourselves get it or not get it.
And from there, how to help our partners step up so that everyone can get more of what they want and need.

We often have the idea that if we are angry, we cannot  stay.  That we cannot live with other people's character issues, mistakes or wrongdoings, that somewhere out there is a person who will not ever make us angry or neglect us or hurt us.  But often when we work on unpacking our longings, wishes and beliefs, we may find new ways of dealing with old ideas that leave us so much more fulfilled than we ever thought possible.  And we can save and nourish our relationships in a much deeper way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Past and Present

"The past is like a school house; you go there to learn, not to live."  ~ Anonymous

I wish I could credit the person who told me this, because it's a great quote.  And here in the office the past does get visited quite a bit.  It is helpful to take a look at what has shaped us, what continues to shape us and what informs our values, character and desires.

Often, in the context of couples work, the past can be tricky territory.  We do carry with us old hurts, resentments,  feelings and experiences.  We also may be carrying with us old stuff that predates the old stuff from current relationships.  Meaning, that as relationships go, there is the stuff of the relationship itself, and its history, and the stuff of our childhood.  Sometimes, it all gets mixed together, even if it does not seem so at first.  Sorting it through can shed new light and lead to new progress both in our relationships and within ourselves.

Some brief simple examples:
Feeling repeatedly let down by one's husband might also link to feeling disappointed by one's father.
Feeling criticized by one's wife might link to feeling like one's mother was not always there for them.
Feeling suspicious of one's boyfriend may link to feelings about a parent's marriage or divorce.
Feeling out of control as a parent may link to feeling vulnerable as a child.
Feeling depressed may link to feeling ignored as a child.
Feeling anxious may link to feeling misunderstood or neglected as child.
And on and on, in so many different ways...

Knowing that our own past may influence how we respond or react and how we think and feel about our  partner, friends, bosses, children does not mean that they are not responsible for their behavior, actions, or character.  Or that our feelings are not right.  Both our current and past feelings are valid in their own right, and can often can shed light on each other and help us to learn about our deeper selves and to make our current lives better.

So when old hurts remain unexplored and unhealed, old resentments still cause us pain, fear, doubt and insecurity and anger, it's a sign that we are living somewhere in the past, either the past of our current relationship or the past of our childhood, or some combination of both.  If past pain is still present, still alive, we may have to decide to take a look and see what we need, what purpose it serves us to have the past still alive in us.  Does it help us or hinder us?  What can we learn? Will we feel better if can link things more clearly and understand more about what we need and how to get it?  I believe so.  I think the links lead to relief and release, to vitality and to better moods and better feelings and better relationships. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Minding Your Ps and Qs

Sometimes saying nothing is saying something.

People often express to me that they would like to feel more useful, more effective, more potent.  More like they really matter.  In their relationships, their jobs, their communities.  I have been thinking about this theme lately and how it translates into feeling more connected, and that when we feel more connected, we feel better about ourselves, our lives, our purpose. 

One of the most defeating experiences that people tell me about is when they try to be helpful and it does not work.   When they feel rejected, misunderstood or distanced from someone they love or want to be more connected to.

In my office when we unpack and talk about the feelings that often go along with anger or anxiety, namely fear, we sometimes find that the roots run deep.  It does help to take a look at what the roots of these feelings may be and to talk it through.  But also, in the here and now, it can also be useful to find other ways to be and to feel useful.

One of those ways is to mind your Ps and Qs.  That is, minding Peacefulness, Quiet and Questions.  By this I mean, that sometimes, when we want to feel useful and connected, we need only to take a deep breath, and listen.  And then, when the moment seems right, to ask a question.  Not one that is harsh or demanding, but one that is wrapped in peaceful curiosity and interest.  One that suggests support and study.  Sometimes offering our patience and our quiet and an occaisional good question goes a lot further than anything else we can do or say.

Ps and Qs go along way toward fostering trust and love, connection and meaning in marriages, friendships, work relationships, even and especially with folks who may seem (or are!) difficult to communicate with or be around. 

It works too, with our relationship with ourselves, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed or lost in longing, anger or angst.  Sitting quietly, coming up with the occaisional gentle question,  asking first, before assuming a motive or offering advice.  Even to our selves.

It is hard to do when we are angry, or charged or hurt or afraid, (or right) but seeking to understand, offering understanding, asking questions with the intent to understand builds trust, usefulness and effectness.  It creates closeness and helps us to make progress towards building rather than breaking.  And this leaves us feeling much more effective and purposeful.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stuck in Compulsive Worry

"There's what we do.  And then there is what we do with what we do." ~ A colleague of mine...

who has been in practice for many decades brought this idea back to me as we were discussing the nature of our work.  We were musing over such themes as mistakes, self-forgiveness, worry and sadness.  She was telling me about an awareness that she had a few years back while having lunch with her mother.  They were sitting at a very upscale Manhattan restaurant talking about the family, which her mom likes to do.   In the midst of the normal ebb and flow of the conversation her mother said easily, "Your sisters were always more accomplished than you.  I don't know why you could not be more like them."

My colleague said that at the time she just continued on with lunch and chit-chat, barely noticing the comment.  It was not until later that she sat back, quietly, in what she calls her "thinking chair" and marveled at the comment.  She, like many of us in the field of psychotherapy, had long been studying mother - daughter relationships, the deep and profound longing and linking that mothers and daughters have for each other, the spectrum of distance to connection, of approval seeking, dependence and individuating, the obvious effects that mothers and daughters have on each other, and the deep, subtle, but often powerful imprint and psychic shaping the relationship has for both, but most profoundly, a mother to a daughter.  And my colleague has spent many years studying her own relationship with her mother.

She knew that this remark was not consciously meant to hurt her.  Her mother valued law and medicine.  Her mother's own upbringing reinforced the value of these degrees as status and symbolic of success, security, safety, respect, and prestige.  So when one daughter became a doctor and one an attorney, my colleagues mother filled with pride and relief. 

What stood out to my colleague that day at lunch was this though:  Somehow in all of her own success in her own career, and her own graciousness toward her own mistakes and foibles, she still worried a lot, much of the time in fact.  And she realized in that moment that while there are many truths, many pieces to the puzzle of the human mind, psyche and feelings, that one piece for her, concerning her worrying was this message.  It was this voice that she had imbued, internalized, taken as her own that lived in her, quietly on a conscious level, but very much at work underneath the surface.

This was not a "blame your mother" moment.  Not at all.  She had long since made peace with the gifts and disappointments of her relationship with her mother.  Rather, she recognized that the worrying she did was her loyalty to that relationship.  It was a carrying on of the culture that was familiar to her.  Because underneath the feeling of worry, were thoughts and beliefs at work.  Her own mother's fear that she was not good enough, not doing enough, that there would not be enough, that things could and might at any moment go wrong.  That one should not feel secure or positive lest one be knocked off guard unprepared.  The worry, in part, was her connection to her mother, her likeness to her, complicated as that seemed at times.

Of course, there is always more to the story.  And when it comes to being stuck in compulsive worry (or sadness for that matter - more on that one day too), there are many things we can do to get relief.  There are behavior techniques, there are thought changing and meditation techniques, there is wide variety of practical things to do, and of course, talking.  But there is also the look back.  The understanding of what might be going on underneath the surface.  Sometimes along with the worry there is anger, fear, insecurity, self doubt.  And it takes a bit of talking it through and letting it out to get to a better place.  When we are stuck and the obvious is not working, or working well enough to bring relief, it helps to dig a bit deeper and stretch into understanding whose voice it really is in our head, or what combination of voices, what we may be tied to and why.  When we unpack our minds a bit, it often leads to a deeper more steady sense of self.  It makes our relationships better and helps us to move forward in ways that feel right, calm and good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Suffering in Silent Desperation

Often people tell me when they come to talk that they'd been thinking about coming in for a while.  Sometimes for a long while.  Not everyone who decides to open a dialogue about their life or their relationships or their psyche has been suffering emotionally, but it's more common then you'd think.

We have  great resiliency and often think that we can go it alone, or that it's not so bad, or it will get better.  And things do, often.  Time has a way of healing us and moving us along.  But it's not always enough.  Many times people wait for their relationships to really crumble, for the emotional distance between them to grow so deep and wide that it's almost impossible to bridge it.  Sometimes we wait for something to shake us up or wake us out of our reverie, or we act out in ways that are vengeful, self harming or overly dramatic in order to get our message across or relieve the frustration, monotony or pain.  And sometimes we wait until resentment and doubt have grown so big that we cannot really see our way back.  We might move past wanting understanding and resolution and want revenge, escape, or both.

Sometimes moods dive, anxiety heightens and we just don't feel well.  But we keep on keeping on thinking something's got to give.  We tolerate loneliness, fear, frustration and depression, thinking that to start talking about it won't change things.  Or at least not fast enough.  We agree with ourselves to suffer, feeling desperate, but feeling bad about feeling so lost, as if trying to address things is some sort of admission of defeat instead of an act of strength and rightness.

In some ways, we almost like our suffering.  Not when it gets too dark, or too frightening, but just before that.  There may even be something noble in it.  And people often tell me, "well, it's not like I don't have food or running water.  I should be grateful."  As if this means their pain should not exist or they are being selfish for feeling their feelings.  (Gratitude and perspective is essential to emotional wellness, of course, but it does not negate pain).

We do have a responsibility I think, to ourselves, to take care of our suffering when it heats up.  We have to be curious about why we ignore it if we are ignoring it, or what really we are waiting for before taking action to make things better.  There are many choices.  Therapy, of course, but also, friends, books, support groups, personal growth classes, marriage retreats, 12 step programs, motivational seminars, wellness programs.  We don't have to go it alone, and we don't have to keep suffering in silence.

Monday, August 13, 2012

All You Have to Worry About Today is Fun

A friend of mine told me the following story.  She was at the beach last week, sitting in the froth and watching her kids run in and out of the ocean.  It was a classically gorgeous day on the Jersey Shore.  She was thinking about how good it felt to just be.  She was warm and happy and in that moment, totally serene.

And then her thoughts started in on her.  Lightly at first, her mind wandered from the sail boats on the horizon to what she was going to make for dinner.  Then she was thinking about what time they should head back home, and then she started thinking about her marriage, and then her job, and slowly her mood started to dive.

And as she started slipping out of the moment, a five year old boy who was building a sand castle a few feet away from her walked over to her out of the blue.  "All you have to worry about today is fun," he said, and then he turned and went back over to his sand castle.  My friend said that for a moment or two she thought she had imagined it.  It was hot, maybe she was hallucinating.  And she began to laugh, a slow, gentle, head nodding laugh. 

She wanted to know what to make of it.  What did I think?  So I think that sometimes we get messages in the most amazing ways, when we are open to them. We could, we decided, chalk it up to silly coincidence.  But the truth is that my friend suffers from chronic worry, rumination and a longing for more serenity in her life.  And for permission to take a break from the thinking and planning and straining and to just have fun.  So we decided not to chalk it up to silly coincidence- and to chalk it up to being a gift.  That there is a time and a place to think, to study life, to plan, to be with our feelings and thoughts and to review them, but there is a time to not.

And not is just as valuable. 

Of course worry and anxiety and rumination don't just evaporate because we decide they should.  Sometimes, we do have tend to them, unpack and honor them in orde to get relief, but I do smile at the idea that some days, all we have to worry about is fun.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Into Every Life a Little Pleasure Must Fall

It's almost August and I'm thinking about being out in the country on a tire swing with some lemonade, underneath an old oak tree.  Maybe riding my old Schwinn over some bumpy country roads and sitting out under the stars listening to the crickets.  Then again, maybe the beach.  Here in New Jersey you can get to both within a few hours at most.  One of the perks of living here, amidst all the pokes that the state takes.

For some folks, the winding down days of summer can offer up a time for reflection, for slowing down and taking stock.  For finding the sun and letting in some of the quieter thoughts about life and relationships and circumstance. 

Many folks live busy.  We work, take care of others, keep up our households, and tend to our relationships.  And we have our escapes.  But as August approaches I'm thinking about pleasure, not just vegging out, but what really gives us that sweet feeling of joy and enjoyment, with or without a rev.  A good book, a roller coaster ride, a walk on the beach, a concert in the park, a trip into the city, blueberry picking, a good tennis match, a baseball game.  It's really so personal and individual.  But I'm just putting it out there that as we go through the motions of living, and especially if you are grappling with emotional pain, relationship difficulties, job stress, transition of any kind, including some pleasure into your life goes a long way toward building resiliency.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Being Ignored

If you have ever been ignored or felt dismissed, you know that it comes with a certain kind of sharp emotional pain.  And if this pain resonates, chances are that its not a new pain.  Sometimes, emotional pain that we experience in the here and now is that much more painful because it steps on and awakens pain that we have experienced in the past.
It often helps to know the origins of the pain, as well as if and how we somehow set ourselves up to be hurt in some way.  It doesn't always make sense consciously, but sometimes we seek out the familiar because it is familiar, or because we want to heal it in some way, or because it has a certain secondary benefit to us that we are not fully aware of and may not be prepared to let go of.
Attaching ourselves to people who are not available, either physically or emotionally and seeking time or attention when they do not have it to give, leaving us feeling abandoned, unimportant or rejected is one example.
Attempting to please someone who is angry, critical or harsh, and then blaming ourselves when the person remains this way is another.
There are many more.
In here, in my office, as people talk about what they are missing in their relationships, their lives, often, the feelings that they have now are not new.  In the unpacking of emotions, we often find painful memories of emotionally absent parents, competitive siblings, even teachers who were harsh or dismissive or caused humiliation.
Having a parent who never showed up at a sporting event, or was depressed, or addicted, or ignored one child and favored another are common childhood experiences that shape how we feel about ourselves, our usefulness in and to the world.
And we need to feel useful.  We need to feel that we matter, that we are noticed.  That we are not small and insignificant and invisible. 
When don't feel like we matter, or something in our current relationship has us feeling neglected, unnourished or ignored, old pains and current ones can blend together leaving us spinning and unanchored.
It is so important to get in touch with these feelings, with our emotional memories and to reestablish ourselves and fortify ourselves to lead with our resiliency and continue to take good care of ourselves and our relationships.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Some thoughts on Grief

"Anyone who has ever grieved knows that grieving carries with it a tremendous wear and tear to the body itself, never mind the soul.  Loss is an assault; a certain exhaustion, as strong as the pull of the moon on the tides, needs to be allowed for eventually." ~ Elizabeth Stout in Abide with Me

Lately I've been hearing a lot of loss and grief in my office.  Loss of loved ones, loss of relationships, loss of jobs, health.  Other losses get talked about here too, like the loss of time, of years, of dreams or opportunies. The emotional pain that comes with loss can last a long time.  Since grief is not linear, it can take many routes and affect us in many different ways.  Those who know loss know that there is no one way of grieving. Some losses are more profound than others. Some loss is necessary in order for us to live and move forward.  We grieve loss even when we ourselves have initiated it, or know that it's for the best.

I think that part of living with loss is honoring the depth and scope of our feeling.  Good self care, talking, writing, movement, enveloping yourself with nourishment help us to function when the pain is relentless.  It is hard to see past the pain sometimes, but here in my office I have found that though many losses do not simply or ever disappear, they can change shape, yield meaning and be carried with us in ways that leave us well and resilient, even if we are not sure we want to be.

The loneliness that often comes with loss can leave us feeling like we are at a strange distance from our feelings, ourselves, and everyone else.  But finding a few safe places to touch base, to be understood, and to be heard can go a long way toward easing the worst of things, and bring us to new ways to live and keep going.  New thoughts, new hope and often, a new sense of who we are can emerge. 

We can let go, get swallowed up in the honesty of it, and come back again.  Maybe again and again.  And we can grieve and live.  It's like pushing a truck uphill in the mud sometimes, but it can be done. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Connecting the Dots

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”   ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"How does he arrange (unconsciously) to have his wife disappoint him so often?" ~ Anonymous
Elizabeth Strout's Abide with Me, a moving tale of sorrow, hope and transformation reminded me of the first quote (Bonhoeffer is woven into Strout's story).  The second quote is one that I heard recently at a conference I attended on marriage counseling.  So what do they have to do with each other?  Truthfully, I don't fully know yet, but perhaps this:
In the talking that takes place here in my office, there is an attentiveness to both ideas, a coming together in the telling of one's own story that sheds a deeper light on why we are the way we are, feel the way we feel and do the things we do.  Perhaps underneath the pain that we know about is a pain that we do not yet fully know about.  And hand in hand with that are the patterns and feelings we experience that serve to protect us but somehow, in newer relationships, can deflect us from getting what we really want and need.
For example, a man who wants acceptance and support from his wife, but when she initiates sex, or tells him she loves him, in his mind, and sometimes outwardly to her, he dismisses her advances, is even annoyed by them.  His wife at some point stops initiating, and then he becomes disappointed and trouble spirals from there.  So does she have a role in this, surely,  but does he, as a colleague of mine asked at the conference, "arrange to have his wife disappointment him?" 
So on the conscious level, of course, if you reject someone often enough, they will stop trying.  But we could look a little deeper and as the man tells more of his story, we learn that he believes that his wife is only out for her own benefit.  He does not really believe she is being truthful when she seeks him out or reassures him, rather he is suspicious and doubting.  Why?  More of the story.  His experiences and emotional impressions as a child were not safe ones emotionally.  Often his mother expressed affection or interest in him only when she wanted something from him.  His father only expressed pride or claim to him ("this is my son") when he excelled at something publicly, in athletics.   Privately, his father was rarely home or attentive.  In order to protect himself from the disappointment of not feeling loved genuinely and for who he is, the man develops a skepticism and a distance from taking in love, even from a wife who is sincere.
Okay, so we all have mixed motives.  His wife most likely does want something from him, but she also most likely wants to give something to him as well.  But when he does not take in her affection and efforts, appreciate them, respond to them, he arranges in some way to discourage her, and then she backs off, and he becomes even more disappointed and unsatisfied.
There is more to the story, but it begins here, in connecting the dots between our past and our present, our unconscious, our desires and our behavior patterns.  And of course our feelings.  What do we suffer from?  What do those we love suffer from?  When we tell our stories, we can find out.  We can pepper the quest with grace and curiosity as we alter how we respond to ourselves and others, bringing new life into our narratives.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stepping Stones, Not Stumbling Blocks: Toward Feeling and Being Vibrant and Alive

"I think that one of the prime motives for transgression is trying to beat back a feeling of deadness. And the deadness isn't the fault of the other person at all. It may be a slow progression of an atrophy that has taken place inside themselves." ~ Ester Perel, from an interview on Psychotherapy.Net on modern relationships, sexual satisfaction and individual and marital vibrancy.

Couples come into my office for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes their sex lives have tanked. Sometimes someone has gone outside the marriage for sex, love, or emotional connection.  Sometimes one or both are suffering or struggling with emotional pain that they just can't pinpoint.  Other times it because communication is at standstill, or there is lots of fighting, or lots of silence.  Sometimes there is a feeling of stagnation.  Nothing is really wrong, but nothing seems really right either.  Or they feel stuck in some way.
Of course there are so many good and workable ways to improve communication, to help partners step up, communicate in new ways and better meet each other's needs.  Talking and unpacking feelings, histories, patterns, ideas and fantasies are often integral parts of the process. 
But underneath it all, I think we strive for something different, for some kind of aliveness, vibrancy, and clarity of desire. 
What do we really want? And when we know, do we behave in ways that invite those feelings and that connection or that demand them and make what we want difficult to get.  Do we think that we should be able to act, look, say and do whatever we want and still get the kind of connection we  imagine and long for?  Do we have a healthy sense of separateness and well as connectedness in our relationships?  Are we willing to?  What expectations are reasonable and which ones are beautiful soothing fantasies?
How tuned in are we to our own role in things?  Our own aliveness?  Do we have the idea that there are villains and victims in a marriage and we are one or the other? Or that we are part of a culture of two in which our own character and behavior help shape the landscape?  Are we willing to look?  And to look gently, without attacking ourselves or our partners along the way? 
You don't have to be part of a couple to consider these ideas. Aliveness and vibrancy are good topics all around, and thinking about them can help put a new spin on emotional pain, on progress and meaning in life.  When we can view our relationships and the challenges they bring us as stepping stones, not stumbling blocks to our own vibrancy and aliveness, I think we and our relationships fare so much better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Good Old Fashioned Thank You Notes

A friend of mine told me recently that she keeps a stack of note cards on her desk and that every now and again she takes pen to card and hand writes a note to someone.  Sometimes it's a thank you note, sometimes it's to say she is thinking of them or misses them.  She recently sent such a note to her boss who had taken some extra time out to help her understand a difficult new project.

She was musing to me about how she remembers how it used to be that snail mail was the only way to send a note, and even in the tech age, the still preferred way.  Then email began to gain ground, then texting, Facebook, and other tech mediums.  And now, even in many business practices, email has become not just an acceptable way to send a thank you note, but preferred. 
Her boss was amazed.  Thrilled that my friend sent a thank you note at all, but moreover, that it arrived by mail, written in my friend's messy but intentional and thoughtful scrawl.  The idea that my friend took the time to write it out, address it, stamp and mail it, not just click, - (not that click thank you's don't count) - meant a lot to her boss.  It created a good feeling, a bridge between them.  Her boss picked up the phone to tell her this.
Her story came on the heels of her telling me something very sad that was on her mind.  She had been sitting with the sad for a while, and feeling it, but needed a little breather.  The note did the trick.  It created a little distraction from her pain, was a nice gesture toward her boss and brought a better feeling in the door for a bit, which helped her bear her sadness a little better.
It brought to mind the ideas that taking the time to say "Thank you" or "I'm thinking of you," can build a bridge, that noticing someones efforts takes us out of our own pain, even if for a moment, that a little extra effort can make a big impression. 
There are not often simple solutions to our problems, emotional pain, conflicts, but while we are working out our problems, tending to our inner life, there are little things we can do along the way to bring life in and keep us moving forward.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Cauldrons of Contradictory Longings....."

"Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion.  We want it all, and we want it with one person."
~Esther Perel from Mating in Captivity

So I had the absolute fun and joy of hearing Esther Perel speak a few months ago.  (Yes, same conference as Mary Pipher).  And she too was full of interesting insights, ideas and some good humor as well. But the ideas Esther Perel was talking about are serious, the themes very relevant to all of us, whether we are in a serious committed relationship or looking for one.  They are themes that come up often in the course of therapy and tug at our deepest feelings, fears, longings, beliefs and desires.

Among them (and I will bring you more eventually) is this:  How much do we expect in our modern Western culture from marriage (from our partner)?  It used to be, many moons ago, and still is, in many cultures, that gender roles and jobs were more clearly defined.  Marriages were tilted in more task arranged ways.  Expectations were more concretely defined (providing food, shelter and companionship, sex and family building), and not necessarily as focused on emotional longings such as being deeply known and emotionally held by a partner.

I am not weighing in on what should be, but rather what seems to be so prevalent today in our culture and the effect it has on us and on our relationships, and that is this: we seem to expect (demand, burden?) relationships to have a broader purpose.  Many people look to their partners not just for love and sex, but for a more fantastical idea of love and sex.  For satisfaction of a deep romantic oneness, intuitive care giving, and focused, constant attention.  Some for fulfillment of deep and early emotional voids, self esteem and spirituality.  And often in ways that are lost on their partners.  When these ideals are not met well enough disappointment, frustration, feelings of rejection, self pity and loneliness follow in short order. 

I have seen these expectations lead to separation often in cases where it may not have been necessary.  First, because partners can (usually) be helped to step up and create more inside a relationship.  (Good dialogue itself can yield good results). And second, when partners as individuals are willing to take a look at their inner life and learn more about what is motivating them, what is reasonable, what their real notions are, where they come from and why, then love can deepen and grow in new ways that open up closeness instead of command it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Deepening the Discussion

So lately I have been thinking a bit about a few general ideas that come up in therapy that, while applicable very uniquely and individually, have general themes that are beneficial to us all in a broader sense.  I wanted to mention them on the blog as food for thought and grist for the mill.  They are in no particular order and related to each other mostly with the idea that they can help us deepen the discussion in our lives about how to live and feel well and have good satisfying relationships.

Our past influences and shapes our present.
There is a difference between being well and being happy. 
Emotional wellness does not always mean we are happy.
Being happy does not always mean we are emotionally well.
Emotional wellness feels good, even when we are sad, angry or hurt.
Being curious about our feelings, motivations and actions can help us understand more about what we need and how to get it.
Being curious about ourselves and others can help take the self attack out of the discussion so that it can move forward and go deeper and bring us closer.
This is hard to do when we are hurting, but the results are often well worth effort.
It takes two to create a culture in a relationship.
Love does not always solve the problem, make someone a mind reader, mean that words and actions of all kinds are tolerable. 
Love is not the only fact in successful satisfying relationships.
There is no age limit for discovering things about our past, our character or our desires.
When we ask a question (of ourselves, our partner, our children, colleagues, friends) before giving advice, criticism, feedback, we deepen the discussion.  We join the effort to understand, to support, to sort though, to soothe, and to find something better.

We can only go as fast as our minds and hearts can go.  But if we are at least involved in the conversation, we are well on the way.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them." ~ Isak Dinensen

I was reminded of the above quote several weeks ago when Mary Pipher included it in her talk (yes, more on Mary). And I've been wanting to share it on the blog. I think mainly because it has so many different meanings and implications, many of which Mary spoke about recently, and which are all worthy of repetition.
First, the theme of course, that talking helps. Telling our story helps us to bear the pain, to find the meaning, to continue on toward wellness and life and relief.
Second, that when we tell our story, we are less alone. New ideas, new insights, new thoughts can come to us. We can write and rewrite our narratives in ways that bring us to better places, new levels of understanding and new ways of being less alone in our pain and in our lives.
And this: a burden shared is a burden halved.
And more from Mary Pipher who talked about feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of some of life's problems, both the personal ones and the ones we all share as humans on this planet. That we do not necessarily have to know, in fact, perhaps we cannot know, that our efforts toward solving a particular problem will yield the result we want, when we even know what that is, but that there is a deep intrinsic value in being part of the solution. The effort alone counts. We cannot rest on saying that the problem is too big, seems unsolvable or will take too much effort so therefore we may as well not look, not try, not tend to it. We can take comfort in willingness to take a step, any next right step, and not sit back, ignore it, turn the other way.
It is true that for many of us, we don't get moving on certain issues in our lives until our frustration outweighs our fear. If we are functioning somehow, seemingly well enough, we often don't put forth the effort to push forward for something different or something better. But we do feel better when we are doing something, even if we are not sure where it will lead, or what exactly the goal is.
When there is sorrow to be borne, and we give it life, bring it out into our world and tell it's story, tell our story, we grow, we expand, we live better.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Facing the Problem

"We cannot solve a problem that we won't face." ~ Mary Pipher, Ph.D

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Pipher, who everyone seems to call Mary, speak this past weekend. It was a real treat. Though she focused her message on the importance of us all collectively waking up to the environmental issues that surround us, primarily the need to create and assure safe and clean air and drinking water for our whole planet, there were so many other messages in her talk. I hope to bring you some of the highlights here and there over the next couple of posts.

Of all the things that she talked about, the above quote stood out to me first. One of her messages was that conversations are so very important. I could not agree more.

We humans universally tend to get overwhelmed if we have a problem, or even a vague sense that something is just not right or right enough in our lives, in our relationships, in our immediate world. Especially when we are suffering, or we have bad feelings, but just cannot exactly pin point what the issues are. Sometimes of course we can pin point them, but often, when we cannot see our way clear to different ways of functioning, to things getting or being different and better, we shut down. We can slip into a sense or state of rote, believing that nothing really can or will change, or if it would, it would take too much time, effort, money, resources to make it happen. So we continue on doing what we are doing and vaguely thinking something will have to give someday, but there is nothing really we can do about it.

But Mary's message included this: that we cannot solve problems we won't face. That there are many ways to solve problems, and that having conversations about the problems is a beginning. That there is so much to be gained from the actions of participating in the solutions, even if we are not exactly sure what the solution is. The effort to be actively aware is a solid, countable beginning, that has much merit. There is so much hope in this message. Mary said that "after years of being a therapist and a mother, I've learned that shouting 'WAKE UP' doesn't work.' So what does? Perhaps the willingness to know that while agreeing to take a more attentive, focused look at yourself, your life, your relationships and your feelings can be frightening, that it does take courage to have faith, you can start down the right and good path of being awake. It may not be easy, or as fast as we might like, but the journey has its own merits along the way and better things will most likely follow.

btw: the picture of the sky is here because Mary said that she has never seen an ugly sky, and shared with us (all 3000 of us who were there) that one day when she was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed she went out into the tall grass near her Nebraska home and lay down and just looked up at the sky for a long peaceful while.

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Than the Pain, More than the Problem

Recently someone asked me about how it is that I can listen to the stories of people's lives, their suffering, their mistakes, their frustrations, and most of all, their emotional pain and not see things as messed up, as hopeless, useless or utterly overwhelming. I thought it was good question, packed with lots of assumptions on the part of the asker, and I've been thinking about it.

Here's what I've come up with so far, in addition, of course, to the truth of my own professional training, personal and professional experience and my love of and belief in this work. I think that sometimes, things do seem messed up beyond repair. Sometimes, lots of times, feelings are so very big, or seem that way. And we do feel hopeless, overwhelmed and messed up. Or we think that some person or situation in our life is way too difficult. But I can listen because I am a fan of talking about things, obviously, and a believer that not necessarily are things only as they appear. I am really okay being with folks no matter what or how intense their feelings are or how crazy they think their problem is, or how vague. Feelings while so important are not always facts or at least not permanent ones, so that helps. I can listen to people and hear and understand because I believe that we are not the sum total of our pain or our problem or uncertainty though it can certainly feel like it when we are in it.

I do believe also that moving forward sometimes requires looking backward. That there is relief and progress not just from the talking and listening, but from a good discussion of what is, what was and what could be because we are more than the problem, more than the pain, more than we think we are when we are in the thick of it. And because I have seen and I have experienced that there is movement. We are able to expand, to grow and to be and feel better.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Inner Door

A few weeks ago a healing colleague of mine, Dr. Roger Lope, who is both a chiropractor and holistic healer, as well as a "body reader," reminded me of the following idea: He said that when we make a commitment and a decision to know and accept who we are that we are walking through our own inner door.

Inside that door, I believe, is the place where we are at peace with who we are, what path we are on, and what choices we are making. Inside the inner door is the place within us where we find serenity in knowing that we have made, can and do make mistakes, but we are not awful because of them, but human. Inside that door, we can take a deep breath and know also that others make mistakes as well. That they are not awful, but human. We can feel our feelings, and not react impulsively, impatiently or with malice towards ourselves or others. Inside this door is where we know a lot about who we are, but are not afraid to continue to both unwrap ourselves and know more, and build ourselves to expand our world, if we'd like to.

Inside the door, it's okay to be okay. It's okay to have value. Inside the door our feelings are also guideposts to our deeper beliefs and moral standings, to what is important to us, and who is important to us. Our feelings are also both connectors to the past and pointers to the future. They do not have to be avoided or diminished or exaggerated either. They are as big or as small as they are.

Inside the door, there is a quiet calm of knowing that you are okay, that you are not only comfortable in your own skin, but in your own soul and psyche as well.

So if you are stuck on threshold of this door, or you feel like you are a million miles away from it, don't even know it exists in you, or think it's shut tight, what do you do? And what do you do if you know it's there, you sense it, or you are in and out, but want to keep walking through?

You start by allowing the idea to take hold, but committing to the possibility of the inner door, and to the possibility that exists in all of us to walk through it. Then it's about sorting through the muck, the blocks, the barriers, all the ideas and feelings that are blocking the entrance. Yes, it takes a bit of talking, writing, some meditating too maybe, but we can clear away the blocks. It's not always as fast as we might like it to be. We may have to grapple with old pain, resentment or things that used to keep us safe but now hold us back. We might have to study ourselves a bit, gently and honestly, of course, but that means we are on the path, headed toward the door. And that's worth something too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spinning Away From Each Other (Reversing the Roll)

One of the most common, but painful, dynamics that can happen in a relationship between a man and a woman is this: The woman says something to the man, could be anything really, and the man answers with some form of logic, opinion, fact, thought, idea. The woman gets angry then and says something that sounds angry, or perhaps critical or dismissive. The man then either retreats, or argues or shrugs his shoulders in defeat. For example:

Woman: My sister called. She's cancelling on us again. She's such a flake.

Man: She is so busy with that job of hers, she probably can't get away.

Woman: You always defend her! I just don't get you.

Man: Well, you know how her work life is and the pressure her boss puts on her.

Woman: Forget it. Why do I bother to talk to you.

Man: (Shrug - thinking: I can never say the right thing. Feeling: useless, frustrated).

Woman: (thinking: he never has my back; he's never on my side. Feeling: abandoned, frustrated).

So what happened? The woman wants emotion (empathy) first and help second. It may in fact be helpful to the woman to hear a bit of logic, to hear or consider that her sister does want to visit, but that she is under terrible pressure at work, and really can't get away. The man's logic may be useful and even offer some relief to the woman. But the woman wants an emotion connection with her husband first. She wants her feelings validated and accepted, joined even. Then some logic. When a man offers the logic first, it feels abandoning to many women. Often, then, when a woman feels abandoned or hurt, she sounds angry. The anger then puts off the man, leaving him feeling defeated, ineffective or stupid.

And then it usually spirals from there. Couples get further and further apart. The dynamic repeats itself in so many ways, in so many conversations.

But we can reverse the rolling away from each other and come closer to each other. We can retrain ourselves to use different words. It takes some time, but it does help, a lot. Even when there are other issues, other things to unpack, other resentments to deal with.

The better dialogue:

Woman: My sister cancelled again. She is such a flake.

Man: That's too bad. I know how much were looking forward to seeing her.

Woman: I hate when she does this to me.

Man: I know you do. It's so disappointing. I'm sorry.

Woman: Thanks. I just get so hurt when she can't come.

Man: I know. She does have that boss who's always on her case about taking off days.

Woman: You're right. I just wish she could deal with things differently so she could keep her plans.

Okay, of course there's more too it... but you get the picture. Validate. Thank. Empathize. Go for the emotional connection between you. Roll toward each other.

Happy Valentine's Day.

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.