CALIFORNIA PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC RESOURCES, INC.
PATRICIA MCTAGUE-LOFT, MS, LMFT, FAPA, SAP
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Posted on: April 29, 2019
Marriage Counseling insights brought to you by Westlake Village-based California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
Emotionally committed relationships bring excitement and passion into our lives, especially when they are new. Over time, however, we come across roadblocks, for example, our personal issues or family experiences, that can distance us from our partners. When we first enter into a committed relationship, we may think that we have found the answer to life’s problems, that we have a partner to share in the turmoil of daily life, that we will never be alone again, that it will be smooth sailing from here on out. If we base relationships on these assumptions, however, we may be sorely disappointed when our partner fails to live up to these expectations. There is a strong probability that if we look to another person to provide fulfillment, we will begin to focus on the failings of that person as the cause of our own disappointments in life. This pattern is the reason for a great deal of discord in committed relationships. Many people who come in for relationship therapy actually hope that the therapy will change their partner because they are convinced that the partner is the source of the problem.
Over time many relationships enter a stage where the partners feel distanced from each other. The initial passion, sexual freedom, intimacy, and feelings of connectedness with the partner fade. Either person may begin to feel that, although they love their partner, they are no longer “in love.” At the same time, both partners may feel that they have lost themselves in the relationship. They have given so much to the relationship in terms of their time, their energies, and their emotions, that they have lost what made them feel unique as individuals. They have abandoned old friendships, hobbies, and activities that brought interest and excitement to their own lives in order to devote time and energy to the relationship. When a feeling of distance comes to define the relationship, resentment toward the partner may emerge.
How does a relationship, which may have once shown such promise, end up in a place where the two partners feel distant and may not even like each other very much (even though they feel that the love is still there)? The answer lies within. Two people who come together in an emotional commitment carry with them a legacy of their own fears, anxieties, and unresolved problems. It is sometimes uncomfortable for us to come to terms with our own baggage. It is, in fact, so troublesome that we are unable to look within ourselves. When that happens, we tend to attribute the problem to our partner , a process called projection. Rather than accepting the fact that our partners are just being themselves and probably have the best of intentions, we define the source of our own anxiety as lying within the other person. When we feel uncomfortable about something our partners say or do, we may not realize that our discomfort may derive from a source that we have not examined within ourselves – like our own control issues, our jealousy, our insecurity, or our fear of dependence or independence. Our partners may simply be triggering our own unresolved difficulties. The clue is to search within our own lives to see why we have difficulty with these issues. And this is no small task. To become acquainted with oneself is indeed a terrible shock.
The Course of a Relationship
Relationships mature over time. The initial attraction may be physical, and this may carry the relationship for some time to the point of making an emotional commitment. Then the excitement and promise of sharing our life with another person can lead to a stage of heightened expectations where we ignore or minimize the discomfort that we may feel from time to time in the relationship. But this stage comes to an end and we finally express our frustration. “Why are you always telling me what to do?” “Can’t you give me any time to myself?” “Don’t you know who I am?” “Why don’t you shower me with love like you used to?” Notice in these examples that blame is cast on the other person. The one hurling the blame does not look within (for example, “I have difficulty because of my own issues when someone tells me what to do.”). This is a particularly vulnerable stage in the course of an emotionally committed relationship, and can serve as a make or break challenge. It is at this stage that an equilibrium – or, more accurately, a standoff – is reached by the two partners. “I won’t challenge you and you won’t challenge me, and we’ll just accept the fact that we will be distant from each other.” In contrast, healthier relationships move into a different and more mature stage – where both partners look within to find the source of their own anxiety, find ways to soothe themselves without trying to change the other person, and learn to accept and love the other person despite their frustrating quirks. When this occurs, and when the distance between the partners has been resolved, the genuine excitement and passion of the relationship can continue to flourish – this time in a mature, accepting, and integrated manner.
David Schnarch, Ph.D., the author of Passionate Marriage, suggests that in order to grow within an emotionally committed relationship, we must experience the process of “differentiation.” This means holding onto yourself within a relationship, staying true to what you want out of life while sharing your life with a partner. Differentiation allows us to break free from the negative processes that happen between partners in any relationship. It allows us to take a time out from arguments in order to comfort ourselves. It leads to self-control, which means that we can stop trying to control our partners. The differentiated partner is able to soothe him- or herself rather than pressuring the other person to change in order to make the first one feel better. Paradoxically, when partners differentiate, they actually have the ability to achieve more intimacy, while undifferentiated partners can stay locked in their emotional standoff. And when one partner differentiates, it upsets the old equilibrium that had developed so that the other partner is prompted to make changes as well. In short, a healthy relationship is one in which two people, each of whom has a firm sense of self, come together and celebrate both their differences and their similarities.
Schnarch identifies several
activities that happen when a person differentiates.
Learning to Self-Soothe in the Face of Conflict
We blame our partners when we feel discomfort, and
this tends to create distance within an emotionally committed relationship. The
distance, then, creates a feeling of further discomfort. The clue to dealing
with this dilemma is to learn how to soothe your own emotional pain. This can
open the way to more passion and closeness in your relationship. Schnarch
offers several suggestions for helping people to learn the art of
Schnarch, David. Passionate Marriage – Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011, 448 pages, $16.00. ISBN: 978-0825305672. This well-written book combines principles of relationship therapy and sex therapy into a useful hands-on approach for couples who want to work together to overcome the sexual and emotional barriers that prevent them from finding a satisfying life with each other.
The newsletter from which this blog is drawn is intended to offer general information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from these broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problems. ©2019 Simmonds Publications: 5580 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037. Website: www.emotionalwellness.com
Posted in: Marriage Counseling