Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Listening To Our Gut

Loss of faith in our ability to discern is one of the many areas we must grieve as we recover from the trauma of the ending of a relationship.

Yes, we can initially believe that we were deceived... but eventually we will recognize that we also played a part in the deception. We stopped practicing self care. We neglected our own gut reactions for so long that we lost touch with that inner voice... the one that tells us when something isn't quite right... long before the relationship with the partner began.

We learned our habit of ignoring the elephant in the room when we were kids in our family of origin. Then, when we went out looking for a mate, we took our dysfunctional self on the road. We may very well have been deceived... but we picked the deceiver because we learned to turn off our early warning system as kids.

When we begin to practice self care and discernment... learning to trust those who are actually trustworthy... we will restore our broken picker a little at a time. We didn't become broken overnight... we won't heal overnight.

Patience... it takes a long time to rebuild trust in ourselves... in our ability to discern when we are being fooled. We have to learn to trust our gut again... to get back in touch with our body and listen to it's signals. Most of life's communication (over 80%) is non verbal... our gut reads that language fluently.

Listen to it!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Scars, Life and Lessons

Life offers us the opportunity to learn through lessons.

When we experience loss... whether through divorce or the ending of a committed relationship... we have two choices. We can waste our time... blaming our partner for their failures... or we can invest our time... examining ourselves to make the most of the lessons presented to us from the experience.

If we choose to invest our time in bettering ourselves it doesn't excuse our partner's failures but instead gives us the chance to acquire wisdom. We open ourselves to the possibility that we played some part in the failure of our relationship. If we seek knowledge with an open mind and spirit we will be shown the area in which change is necessary. Rarely do relationships fail because of the actions of only one in the partnership. Unhealthy interactions can become habitual.

Wisdom and acceptance bring us to a place of peace... a place where we become comfortable in our own skin. Acceptance allows us to incorporate our experiences... whether positive or negative... into our sense of self.

We become more as a result of all that has happened to us in life. The whole being greater than the sum of it's parts. We may even be able to share some of our wisdom with others to help them through their pain.

When we understand why we selected our partner in the first place we give ourselves the greatest of all gifts... understanding.

Scars remind us of where we've been... they don't have to dictate where we're going.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Claw Marks

One of the most respected authors in the recovery field, Melody Beattie, said... Everything I have ever let go of has had claw marks on it.

Learning to let go is a lifelong process. The earliest lessons in our lives occur within our family of origin. These lessons teach us basic skills... what love feels like... how to relate to others... survival. When our family of origin is dysfunctional in some way we still learn lessons... but those lessons may be skewed. Instead of learning that love is positive and pleasurable we may learn that love equals pain. We may learn that interpersonal interaction include habits that no longer work... sending mixed messages... inability to communicate... fear of intimacy. These defense mechanisms probably served us well in the past... kept us safe... allowed us to survive in a dysfunctional environment. But these same defenses may be responsible for sabotaging our relationships in the present.

Letting go of outdated habits and defense mechanisms is hard work... but something we must strive to accomplish if we wish to succeed in our personal lives. We struggle to let go and get past the fears that keep us in emotional bondage. Lessons present themselves throughout our lives. If we pay attention and seek to learn we will grow and overcome. The lessons may be difficult but what we learn is worth the trials. Eventually we feel gratefulness for the guidance and wisdom the lessons provide. These lessons prepare us for the eventuality of letting go of this life.

Practicing self care... learning to pay attention to the lessons when we suffer losses... learning to let go... becoming grateful for the wisdom imparted via life's lessons... these are the goals of recovery.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Rules

Disagreements in relationships are normal. Life would be boring if we were all the same and agreed on everything. There would be no growth... no challenges... we would learn nothing from our interactions with one another.

Fighting... when partners follow the rules... can be productive when it's used to clear the air and settle a disagreement that is highly charged. It isn't the best way to communicate, but happens even in the best of relationships and at times is a necessary form of settling disputes... so long as partners follow the rules.


No name calling
Stick to the subject
No bringing up past mistakes
No screaming or yelling
No disparaging remarks
No involving other parties (so and so said this or that...)
If tempers flare, take a time out and return when both parties are cool headed and centered, ready to talk

This may sound impossible...or at the very least incredibly difficult to do but it's not. It's a decision to treat your partner with the same dignity and grace... even when you're angry... that you would offer to a stranger you met in church. When partners agree to follow these rules and make it a habit... many things that should never be said... aren't. And that saves both parties a whole lot of hurt feelings and resentments.

Remember... it only gets hard to follow these rules when we are overwhelmed and out of control. If we practice self care and don't take on responsibilities that aren't ours to begin with, we will feel balanced and centered rather than used and unappreciated.

If we are feeling a great deal of resentment and anger toward our partner we may need to first do some journaling and clarify exactly what is bothering us. We then sit down with our partner when we are calm and share our feelings in a non-threatening way using "I" statements (ie: I feel ___ when you ___) instead of "you" statements (You always... you never) which communicate blame rather than feelings and put our partner on the defensive.

Learning appropriate communication isn't easy... it's a habit that needs to be repeated over and over to become a part of us... but it's so worth it. Our relationships improve dramatically when we learn to communicate in a non-threatening way. We invite our partner to share with us when we listen twice as much as we talk... thereby giving our partner a chance to share their feelings with us as well. These small changes communicate that we value our partner as equal human beings and that they are important to us.

Some of us may have learned that total honesty in a relationship included saying whatever came into our heads when we are angry or upset. This couldn't be farther from the truth. We must learn to use discernment to evaluate whether what we are feeling is accurate or not... whether what we are upset about is important in the grand scheme of things... or not... and choose our words wisely. We must remember that we are talking to someone who is our most valued and trusted friend... our best friend... and our words and actions should reflect that fact.

Always keep your words soft and sweet in case you have to eat them later.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Help... I Have Made A Terrible Mistake

What happens if we leave our partner during mid life crisis only to find we made a terrible mistake?

There have been many of us who leave a long standing relationship (not always for another partner, some just for space) during mid life only to regret the decision when we realize the impact on our lives. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have sought counseling and been able to repair the rift before divorce became the only answer. Others have not been so lucky.

Looking outside ourselves for answers doesn't work. Happy isn't out there somewhere... happy is an inside job. If we aren't happy with our lives when we hit midlife it's time to reassess... not immediately look for an escape route. The level of maturity we have when midlife arrives determines how we handle it. Immature, coddled, self centered adults act out. Mature grown ups communicate.

It may be difficult or frightening to share our disappointments with our partner... but if we think clearly we will realize that they must have their own lost dreams to deal with as well. We are not the only one in the relationship. Acknowledging our limitations... becoming vulnerable... allowing ourselves to re-experience emotional intimacy... these are all paths back to wholeness.

We may have spent many years building walls instead of bridges. Our expectations must be realistic. We cannot undo what has taken years to create in a short time. Patience... hard work... honest self exploration and gentle sharing all work together to create the environment necessary to reinvent our relationship.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Confessions, Betrayal and Intimacy

What do I do? My partner has had an affair which ended... has come to me to confess the betrayal... and wants to work through it in counseling to better our relationship.
We get maybe an hour to an hour and a half once a week with the counselor... let us use that time to find out what was missing in our relationship (probably emotional intimacy) that caused our partner to look elsewhere to fulfill unmet emotional needs (btw - emotional intimacy doesn't equal sex).

A fair guess is that either or both of us felt emotionally abandoned at some level long before the affair happened. If that's the case, the way to salvage the relationship and rebuild trust is to begin to give each other what was missing in the first place. People in emotionally satisfying relationships don't get involved in extramarital avenues because they aren't looking. Period. In order to avoid the trap of a repeat of the same problem later on down the line we need to create an emotionally satisfying relationship. Getting tools to accomplish that should be the focus of our counseling sessions.

We may feel that getting our questions answered will lead to figuring out why our partner looked elsewhere... to discover what was missing. But the truth is that unless each of us begins to be vulnerable to one another and risk being known with all our lumps and bumps... emotional intimacy won't be possible. The way to find out what was missing isn't by questioning... it's by being emotionally available and letting the walls down. When we do that our partner feels safe enough to finally be honest and tell us the truth.
That's a scary thing to do after all the hurt and betrayal that has happened... but if we really are serious about wanting to improve our relationship... that is the recipe my friend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Donuts and the Truth

If you don't want the truth... don't ask me. If you want something sugarcoated... go eat a donut.

Today while surfing online I read a post that struck me. It really got me thinking... do we want to hear the truth when we come to a counselor looking for support? Or are we just there to have someone reinforce our own point of view? Are we looking for truth or validation?

Personally, I think we attend counseling to allow another to tell us the truth. It may be the awful truth... it may be something we'd rather not hear... but in the end what we really desire is for someone... anyone... to finally be 100% honest with us.

Why do I think that is the case? Because for many of us we have been deceived and manipulated by others for so long that we doubt our ability to discern the truth. We have lost our innate trust in our own gut.

It may have happened when we were kids and our parents refused to discuss the elephant in the room... an alcoholic or abusive parent or sibling for example... and we began to believe that somehow we were wrong. We saw that elephant... didn't they? Why wouldn't they talk to us about it? Why did they insist it wasn't there? Were we unable to properly distinguish reality? They are big... we are small... they know what's real... we don't. We are scared by this difference in perception. In order to feel safe we decide to believe they are right.

Here we are... many years later. We try to select a partner with whom to create a life. We pick someone who "feels right". All goes well at first... we then discover we have chosen a person who mirrors some of the same dysfunction we experienced in our childhoods. It "felt right" because as dysfunctional as our childhoods may have been... it's comfortable... familiar.

Years pass and we and our partner drift apart. We come to counseling and we vent... we cry... we allow ourselves to be seen in all our pain. We want answers. We want someone... anyone... to finally tell us why this happened in our relationship.

Finally we begin to see the truth. We are told something in counseling that infuriates us and realize we are still reacting to the same old pain. Sometimes we read a book and see ourselves in a new light. Sometimes others situations are similar and we learn from their wisdom. However it happens... we learn more about ourselves through the process.

In the end we come through the experience with new wisdom... an inner strength we never knew existed... and discover serenity and acceptance.