Anyone who is married for any length of time knows that the relationship undergoes many transformations in the course of living together. Most of these transformations are unconscious, outside awareness, and often felt as subtle–or not so subtle–tensions between the couple. One of the most profound transformations occurs with the birth of the first child, that magic transition from a two-person to a three-person family. The unconscious contract of the relationship, that subtle “agreement” which binds the couple , undergoes one of the most important stress-tests in the life of the couple. Almost nothing tests the elasticity, the creativity, and the commitment of a couple like the act of becoming parents. Here is a case which shows how painful this test can be.
Parenting advice often describes ways to “manage” a child’s temper tantrums. But temper tantrums, or defiant behavior in kids contain important messages for the parents. Often, without meaning to, kids are responding to underlying tensions in the family. They react in the only way they know how: through their behavior. The message: HELP!
We talk a lot about how couples “create” each other as a result of ongoing, intimate patterns in the course of a relationship.These patterns are mostly unconscious, meaning outside awareness. And it’s interesting how change happens in a marriage. Mostly it’s the result of some indirect shift in the undercurrents of the relationship, either in the course of life, or sometimes with the help of therapy. It can feel mysterious, and hard to grasp. Sometimes, when one person changes, it can make all the difference. Here is such a case:
Tensions in marriage are normal, and unavoidable. They’re part of the price of intimacy. Problems only occur when these underlying tensions are ongoing, and not acknowledged. They are semi-buried. Children are geniuses at feeling these latent tensions; they often help magnify what hasn’t been addressed. In fact, in their own way, they may be trying to help.
Therapist Avi Klein wrote about the shame many men feel about their emotions, particularly feelings that expose a sense of vulnerability. We see men like that often in therapy with couples. Here’s a case of how one man allowed himself to be un-masked, and how it transformed the couple’s relationship.
In contemporary culture, as portrayed in commercials for pharmaceuticals, family members are portrayed as bystanders to suffering, having to “manage” the symptoms of their bi-polar loved one, or “suffer” the effects of the depressed person’s symptoms or behavior. But families, couples, all of us, can unwittingly get stuck in patterns, sometimes destructive patterns, of which we are unaware. Those patterns can cause distress in ourselves and others, which can show up as a “symptom” in one person. This is rarely intentional, more a product of the tricky, powerful and subtle nature of relationship dynamics.
Eating disorders are no exceptions. Most of the clinical writing and popular assumptions about anorexia and other eating disorders note that these conditions are characterized by the need for individual “control”. There’s truth to this. But if you expand the lens to include the family, you learn a lot about what this “control” can look like.
An extra-marital affair is one of the most profound “Stress Tests” of a marriage. Many couples who use this crisis as an opportunity to examine the state of their marriage end up with a more alive, more genuine connection. But others fail this test. What’s the difference between these couples? Here’s what one couple who didn’t make it looks like.
Women who feel depressed often see this as a purely personal struggle, believing they have a “chemical imbalance”. They may feel burdened and alone, and responsible and/or guilty for their depression.
In fact, depression is rarely a simple personal affair. Most often, the roots of depression can be found in that person’s intimate relationship sphere, where important parts of our happiness/unhappiness live. Here’s one woman’s story of how she moved from depression to owning her own power.
The psychological defense mechanism of projection can distort a parent’s judgement about their kids, or it can create a wedge between a couple, since projection interferes with the ability to see one’s partner as she truly is. The (unconscious) grip from the past gets in the way. Here’s a therapy session that looks at how this projection process played out in one family, and how it was–for the moment-transformed.
Most people believe that they can’t change their partner. “My husband is the way he is,” or “My wife is that way with everyone.” They imagine their partner to be a fixed entity. They see themselves as primarily responding TO their partner, a one-way street filled with frustration. People fail to understand the most fundamental Law of Intimate Relationship Physics: Each partner changes and helps to create the other. The only question is how.
Probably the most painful aspect of an affair is the breaking of trust. Most of those who’ve been betrayed wonder if restoring trust is possible. That’s understandable. And it’s impossible to have a lasting relationship without trust. In the case of affairs, regaining trust is absolutely possible, but it comes with a price. See if you think it’s worth it.
Extramarital affairs, that most painful of betrayals, can actually be a catalyst for a couple’s re-birth. But it’s a tricky process, and needs to be handled with care. Here are some tips on how to make it work.
We have become a nation of fixers. We want to fix stuff as soon as its broken, including our moods. We don’t have much tolerance for ambiguity, or lack of resolution. Or emotional pain. What’s the problem with that, you might ask? Because often our attempt to “fix” our moods, or our pain, ends up making the problem worse, or more long-lasting. Here’s another way to do it.
The ability and willingness to trust in one’s parter seems to be a precondition for a healthy and stable connection. But lack of trust can be made of many things. You often have to look beneath the surface to uncover what’s behind this potentially corrosive force. It often began before the couple even met.
An X-ray, or CAT scan, is designed to show what’s invisible to the naked eye. An X-Ray of a couple, in the therapeutic setting, exposes the anatomy of the couple, revealing what’s beneath the surface in the relationship. Sometimes the patient doesn’t like the results.
Surgeon Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, has a lot to say about the unintended consequences of doctors’ failure to acknowledge the dying process. Here’s a case of a young woman whose complicated grief over her mother’s death reflects this failure.