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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: January 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Me?

I know I've touched on this before.... but I think it's worth repeating. 

One of the most amazing and simple options (though definitely not easy) we have - especially when we are hurting, angry, frustrated, hopeless - is to ask questions.  To get interested and curious.

Questions are a good relationship tool, as well as a good trick for helping us to understand ourselves better.

Often, we ask all the right questions, but we ask them without really stopping to ask them for real.
For example, "Why me?"  "What's wrong with you?"  "What's the matter with me?"  "Why doesn't s/he pay better attention to me?"  "Why did this happen to me?"  "Why does this keep happening to me?"  "What do you want from me?"  "Why can't you just do what I need you to do?"

I could go on and on with examples.  But the point is this. Usually when we ask these questions of our partners or of ourselves, we ask with a tone of fury or attack.  Self attack or attack of our partners.  The same is true when others ask it of us.  And tone usually reflects lots of hot feelings that are important and need to get aired and sorted out. 

But it's sad in a way, because when we ask them with an attack tone, things get can get much worse. And when we stop there, and just ask the questions as if they are only expressions of our pain, we miss out on the best and most promising part.  These questions, when asked with gentleness, sincerity and openness and a willingness to really understand our underlying fears and motivations and defenses and needs, and those of our partners, lead to much better everything.  Better communication, better love, better grace all around.

Just the pause and the right kind of tone and question can give our partner and our own self a feeling of being heard, validated, listened to, joined, loved.  We don't have to agree; we just have to be willing to be curious before being explaining or arguing.  We have to be willing to pause long enough for the muck to get sorted through and more layers revealed. 

It's hard when we feel wronged or deprived.  And we don't really do it so naturally.  We have to practice.  To help ourselves to want to be open and curious about different levels of understanding our psyches and our partner's psyches.  To not be tied always to our worst beliefs about them or about ourselves.  But if we don't allow for a new way of approaching things, where else is there to go?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Building or Breaking

"It seems like you are offering me everything yet giving me nothing."  ~  anonymous....

But when I heard this sentiment, it resonated with me because it is the emotional experience of many of the men and women I work with who are in relationships that feel unsatisfying, difficult or frustrating.  It reflects the  sensation that comes along with feeling minimized, compartmentalized, or unappreciated.  And disconnected emotionally.

Many people experience this feeling in many of their relationships.  Others, only in their primary one.  Men will often tell me that they feel that their wife is capable of tuning into their partnership needs - for a well run home, good feelings, support, sex, food, companionship - but that they don't feel she shows up really, that she gets caught up in her own feelings and needs and does not deliver for him.  That while she takes care of the kids or the house in some ways, she does not really give him the idea that he is successful, useful and appreciated and that she wants to partner with him.

Women say the same thing, but in a different way.  That they believe their husbands could call more, talk more, pitch in more, care more, love more, pay attention better but that they don't really step up.  Somehow they think they are showing up by earning money (and they are), or pitching in now and then, or what seems like now and then only.  But it does feel like enough, and that they are focused more on their own needs for an uninterrupted work life, some guy time, or down time, not on her need for emotional connection.

The pain picks up when the focus becomes what we don't get, what we don't have and when the feelings of being unappreciated, over burdened and misunderstood get maximized and the feelings of what we do have, what we do get become minimized.

We can most always benefit by studying how our own histories in our own earlier lives have shaped our emotional receptors, and we can most always benefit from tuning into the idea that when we get further and further into the feeling of being offered everything but being given nothing that we can begin to break our relationships and our partner instead of building them.

When the feelings get too big, too hot, too painful, it's hard to refocus on how to build.  We forget that it's even possible.  That there are positives, and that most likely we do get, and sometimes more that we think we do, more than we feel it.  And that it is possible to have and feel more and better if we take a good serious look at how react to what we feel, and what we believe and why.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is This the New Definition of Marriage?

Last May a favorite Aunt of mine passed away, just after her 60th wedding anniversary.  I had the opportunity to spend some time with her before she died.  I asked her what she thought the secret was to such a long and resilient marriage.   Of course many have answered this question in many different ways, (and for some New Year's comic relief, check this out).  But my Auntie told me that if she had to narrow it down to one or two things, it would be that she and her husband were never mean to each other even when they felt like being mean to each other, and that when they had a big disagreement (which they often did) they would get into the car and drive to the parking lot of the local library and talk until they came to some compromise.

It can't (and most often is not) be that simple.  I have been asking around a bit lately to learn what people believe is the new or current (if there is one) definition of what marriage is (not what it should be, or what you'd like it to be, though that certainly counts) but what does it seem to be these days.

One answer I got was this:  "Marriage today in America is two people who reside together without much or any sex, very little emotional connection and a lot of unexpressed or badly expressed frustrations and disappointments, who go through the motions because some part of them does not want to be totally alone, leave the kids, have to rework the finances or the living arrangements and cannot really fathom how something different would come to be.  At least after awhile that's what it becomes."

How sad is that, I was thinking.  And yet I know it to be true for a lot of folks, in varying degrees.  But I would like to think that we have not accepted that definition as a given.  I would like to think, and I do, that we can have something different, something enduring and meaningful and connective.  True and satisfying love and partnership.

We do not have to accept the above definition of what of marriage is.  And while I think that many folks have, perhaps, unrealistic expectations of marriage at times, I think we can have better inner lives, better marriages and some real syncranicity between the two.  We do have to keep tending to our emotional health, because if we don't, then we may very well be defining our inner lives poorly as well.

I'm not necessarily a New Year's Resolution kind of person, but it is a time for reflection and perhaps redefinition of our selves and I think, yet another opportunity to expand our choices and move forward.