I often hear clients expressing concern about an event or a situation of some kind for which they are experiencing something known as anticipatory anxiety. This is a heightened sense of worry and vigilance about some dreaded event or experience that the anxious individual fears might overwhelm him, sometimes known as the "what-will-happen-next" fear.
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This intriguing question – in so many variations – has been asked by many people who are struggling with both the joys and the consequences of being involved in a serious romantic partnership. For some, being single is a most desirable state and valued for the many freedoms and opportunities it affords. There are many who choose to be single and resist serious romantic involvements because they do not wish to complicate their independent and autonomous lives. For others, being single is a time of waiting; waiting to be partnered so that they can, as one client remarked, "feel whole again." For them, being single is just unacceptable; or, worse, a possible indication that they are 'undesirable', as in "nobody wants me."
When most couples call me for a couples therapy consultation, they have reached a point where the severity of their ongoing conflict has reached the danger zone. Some couples seek help when the early signs of trouble begin to develop. Others wait…and wait, either hoping that their difficulties will resolve themselves or that they will find a way to address their problems independent of professional help. Some couples, it seems, have chosen to consult a therapist as the "option of last resort" prior to initiating divorce proceedings.
Many clients have spoken to me about their experiences with people in their lives wishing that they would – or, worse – telling them that they must "get over" some emotional condition or disorder from which they are suffering. This could be a state of depression, a grief reaction to the loss of a loved one, or something else that requires time – and maybe professional help – in order to overcome.
Some people, it seems, need to be 'right' more than they need almost anything else. I am frequently struck by the verbal lengths a person will go when they are very sure of themselves and someone challenges their belief, their memory, or their knowledge about something. This need takes many forms and is an interpersonal transaction often observed in the context of my work with couples.
It is distressing when a client tells me that they have never observed – or themselves, experienced – what they would define as a successful romantic relationship.
Many people are under the impression that in order to forgive someone for some offense, like a betrayal, for example, they must somehow forget what happened in order to forgive the offender. These people will sometimes argue that it is impossible to forgive a person for some wrongdoing unless the offending act is somehow exorcised from their system, "deleted from my hard drive," as one client stated it, or forgotten by some other means.
In my ongoing work with couples, I have often listened to stories from clients about unfortunate developments in their relationship. They sound something like this: "we just don't have fun anymore," or "this marriage has been in a rut since our firstborn came along," or "there's no romance left," or "we're like a pair of comfortable old shoes…don't wear 'em much, but don't wanna throw 'em out, either," or "intimacy? are you kidding? what's that?!"
My work with Rachel was in the context of couples therapy with her and her husband, Ira. With Lila, an individual client, the work took place by using our relationship to help her work things out.
As you can probably guess, the gist of the presentation was that marriage is an 'action' word…an action experience; or, should be if it already is not.