Like all living things, our marriages are entities that require attention, love, and compassion in order to survive and thrive. Not only does the marriage itself often require healing, but intimate relationships will undoubtedly propel each individual’s unresolved psychic or emotional issues to the fore. Like nothing else in the world, the state of our partnerships provide a barometer as to the emotional health of each person.
If we’re willing and courageous, we can use the relationship as an agent of change and healing for both partners. That requires becoming conscious, learning to identify our egos, and opening ones heart to compassion for ones partner and for oneself. If being emotionally healthy as an individual is college-level work, one could say that intimate relationships are graduate-level work.
Effective communication is key. But one can’t communicate what one is not aware of feeling. So I help couples learn the language of feelings – something we are not taught in school.
Two significant challenges are to:
a) recognize the ways in which our parents or early caretakers may have modeled and imprinted us with patterns that were less than unconditionally loving and
b) resolve to learn and activate new pathways of experience and behavior to healthy loving. In this regard, I teach “Active Listening” to help couples learn good communication skills, often for the first time.
It is crucial not to dwell unnecessarily on the past and certainly not to shirk our present responsibility for the quality of our lives by blaming figures in our pasts. However, to the extent that unresolved past issues are still being played out in the present, they are, in truth, present issues.
We receive templates or maps of the world early on that color our belief systems and our experiences. Those templates are projected out and reflected back to us in our perceptions of the world. We can identify those belief systems and allow the feelings, thoughts and perceptions that arise to teach us what we need to know to allow us to heal.
In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck said that love is a choice, that it is work, and that it is not a feeling. This flies in the face of the western world’s constant portrayal of love or being “in-love” as a continuously effortless and blissful experience with the “perfect” partner who does not change or age, provides for our needs consistently and makes no demands. This is a vast untruth and will almost always lead to disillusionment and oftentimes despair. Dr. Peck also provides one of the most beautiful and resonant definitions of love to date, as:
“The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
For intimate relationships to thrive, significant unresolved issues must be identified and worked through. If this doesn’t happen, our “inner child” will often be found at the helm of our adult ship, making many poor choices along the way, and sometimes even running the ship aground.
In my work with couples, I also rely heavily on Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), one of the best documented, most substantive, and well-researched approaches to couple counseling in the world today, and one in which I completed an externship. Indeed, EFT, developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, stands as one of the best validated couples interventions in North America. Whereas other forms of couples counseling have been shown in studies to be only about 35 percent effective in healing relationships, EFT has achieved an astounding 75 percent success rate with couples. A full 86 percent of couples report feeling happier in their relationships as a result of EFT. And the results have been shown to be long-lasting. EFT is an experiential, emotion-based, now-oriented process of helping couples become closer. It provides a road map, based largely on attachment theory, of helping couples who are lost in a painful and often lonely cycle to learn and indeed experience a new and healthier dance — or pattern — of interaction.
I created a brief video entitled “Peeling the Onion and Mending Your Marriage” to help couples — married or not — untangle themselves from the seemingly endless web of arguing to get to the “core” of the emotional truths and issues that often lie underneath the bickering and the human ego’s preference to be “right” versus happy. Learn how to go beneath the symptom level to the core, or causal, level of conflict. This is where your healing is waiting.