Sooner or later differences emerge in any long term relationship.  Differences can split couples, freeze a relationship, or transform it.
What happens when you want different things?  What if you have certain ways of doing things and the person you are married (coupled, Civil Union) to, has habits that are the opposite of your own? The other person may be just as attached to doing things her/his way as you are.  What if the differences and the obstacles that get in the way, either seem, or are, enormous?
Sometimes compromise is possible.  Sometimes it is simply not a big deal to adapt to someone else’s ideas, values or behaviors.
When the big, important issues come up, it is not so easy.  How to parent is often a big one.  Religion, money, where to live, politics, sex and communication, are some of the issues that result in a couple getting stuck.
Sometimes the conflict is not just about the particular subject matter.  The stakes of the argument are higher. I often ask the members of the couple what they are really fighting for?  One person might say “I’m fighting to be recognized” and the other might say something to the effect of “I won’t let him/her overpower me”.  When you know what you are fighting for, you can speak directly to the issues instead of having the same fight over and over with different content each time.
There are times when the differences are so great that it is better to split a relationship than to stay. If you stay, what you may have to give up may be greater than what you will get.  Physical violence or Sexual Abuse perpetrated by one member of a couple towards another or a family member is one example of when it is wiser to leave than to stay.  There are other reasons to leave a relationship.
Many things can be worked out between people who want different things or are in conflict.  Sometimes people will change and sometimes the cost is just too high.  Being willing to change is more important than just wanting to change.
Sometimes couples stay “frozen” in their relationship.  They become stuck with each other and stay that way.  These people might not have the skills to communicate with each other.  There may be too much shame or dependency, on many levels, to move either toward each other or away from each other.   Maybe both members of the couple do not know how to move toward resolution.  They do not experience real intimacy emotionally or sexually.  They spend their time talking about superficial things, always distant and sometimes pretending that their relationship is really okay.  Sometimes anger spills out and they smolder with each other.  After a while they each may go back to pretending.
Remaining together may be a conscious choice.  The members of the couple may not be willing to suffer the financial consequences.  The thought of living apart from children may be unbearable.  Maybe a viable relationship is just not as much of a priority to one or both people as other things like a career or a different family connection.
In the best circumstances remaining as a couple when it is a conscious choice is a path to deepening a relationship, to making it better, and to embark on a path that can be emotionally and spiritually rich.
When the members of a couple are committed to take up the difficult issues that lie between them, the result can be transformational.  Communications skills and flexibility are essential.  Both people must be able to see through the other person’s “lens” in a new and different way.  Perhaps a cathartic event such as a birth or a death might leave both people forever changed.
It does not always have to be dramatic.  Acceptance, when it is genuine, can bring peace.  Taking a risk is sometimes wise.  Not taking a risk may also be wise.
When members of a couple, or people in other types of relationships, can change in important and skillful ways, nothing is ever again the same.
There will be other struggles at other times, but there will be greater opportunities for successful resolution.

Tell me more

One of the most valuable skills that anyone can practice in a relationship is to say to the other person, “tell me more”.

This is so when the relationship is exciting, comfortable, or if there are just easy, neutral feelings between the two of you.  It is also true when you are in a conflict with someone whom you love or really care about.

If you are willing to be curious, to listen deeply, to stay engaged and to empathize, and to try to see through the other person’s lens, you are then being skillful.   Of course, you can only meet another person half way.   You cannot make them meet you half way.  When you are in a relationship where both individuals are committed to each other, asking each other to “tell me more” will only enhance the possibilities between you.

When conflict does arise,  you will have a basis for resolution.

Emotional intensity often accompanies conflict. The temptation is to continue to fight and to blame the other person for the impasse that lies between you.

Yes, it is always important to define yourself, to make your position clear.

There does come a point when to continue to restate your position is no longer useful.  Certainly, to blame or tolerate being blamed, not only does no good, it actually is harmful.

It is not always easy to say “tell me more”.  It is so tempting to dig in and stay with just insisting that you are right.  Sometimes, if you are fighting for a just cause, that is the very thing to do.

You can fight  to resolve or fight to win. Even if you are fighting to win and want to achieve a result that will last, you will have to understand who the other person is, and how they arrive at their point of view.

There is an exception.  That is when you are in a relationship with someone who is being physically or emotionally abusive to you or anyone else.  The exception also applies if you are causing physical harm to anyone.  Then the solution is not to experience more, but rather to end the interaction as soon as possible.  If there is no real possibility of change in a dangerous situation, ending the relationship is the best solution.

All of this is true in long term committed relationships between Life Partners, Spouses or those in Civil Unions.  Also if the relationship is with parents or members of your extended family.  Or if the relationship is with your children.  The same applies in friendship, or in any relationship that matters to you.

When the goal is to deepen a relationship that is already viable, or when there is real potential of deepening a new relationship, “tell me more” is an essential skill to have in your relationship portfolio.

What does it mean to deepen a relationship?  That is the subject of another blog entry.

This Blog

This blog is my attempt to share some of what I know about relationships and how psychotherapy works.  I write as a seasoned psychotherapist and as a person.  I still have a lot to learn.

I work primarily with Couples.  I also see individuals.  I have a sub- specialty in Sex Therapy.

Depending on the way you count I have been doing my work since the end of 1969.  I received my Masters Degree in Social Work in 1973.  Throughout my two years of Graduate School I practiced psychotherapy through supervised Internships.  It has always seemed like an uninterrupted process to me.

Nothing that I will write will be truly original.  Everything has been said before.  I just prefer my way of describing things to the way others might discuss the same ideas.  Sometimes change is remembering what you already know.  The previous sentence is an example of what I read in a book a long time ago and have since heard many times.  I don’t remember the author’s name.

Whenever I write something that came from someone whom I know, or from books that I have read, or presentations that I have attended, I will do my best to give credit where it is do.  If I forget or fail to mention someone, please know that it has not been intentional.  I have no desire to plagiarize.  I have humility about the work that I do and the many ways to approach it.  I feel the same way about many of my colleagues in the field.

I believe that I have learned the difference between arrogance and affirmation.  I intend to affirm.

Since I was a child, long before I attained professional credentials, I have been a student of relationships.  I am sure that came in part from the challenges that arose in the Multi-Generational family system that I came from.  Don’t get me wrong.  Everyone comes from an imperfect family.  I feel lucky to have come from my own family.  I hope that my children and grandchildren will feel the same way.

There are not many people in the world who have the privilege of doing work that they love and work that they were “meant to do”.  I am extremely fortunate to be in that situation.  I might be making up the “meant to do” part, but that is my experience.

I try never try to lay spirituality on others.  I must say that my own spirituality informs my work and my life.  It is very personal.

I am a better talker than I am a writer.  I hope that I can lend clarity to what I write. I will attempt to share what I have learned, and am learning, about relationships and the process of psychotherapy.  I hope that what I write will be useful to readers.

The name of the Psychotherapy Practice that I co-founded in 1990 is The Art of Living.  In my view that is what psychotherapy is about.  Each person’s answer to what the art of living is to them is also very personal.  I ask questions and share thoughts.  You come up with your own answers.