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.
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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.
Jack, a 43 year old insurance executive, was referred to me by his family doctor for help with his "severe panic attacks" that had a sudden onset for reasons that were completely unclear to both of them. Jack's symptoms were disabling and resulted in his missing work for several days before his initial appointment with me.
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.
On several occasions, I have observed clients who seem to be listening when I am talking to them, but leave me doubtful about just how much they actually heard of what I said. When my doubt is high, I might ask for a response in order to test my impression, since this is obviously important to address.
There is a strong tendency on the part of many people to confuse fears, feelings, and facts. In therapy sessions, I often hear statements like the following: "I am definitely not going to get that promotion (raise, award, scholarship, etc.)" or "she is not going to want to go out with me again!" or "there is no way I will get that mortgage I applied for." Certainly, there may be validity to some of these assertions or beliefs, but I wonder why the optimism or hopefulness is missing when these individuals express themselves. Why are they not saying "I hope I get that promotion," or "I would like to think she'll go out with me again," etc.?
There are people for whom losing anything at all is a major negative event with all kinds of troubling consequences. Others seem to be able to take a loss in stride and file it away as a minor disappointment that has little overall impact on their lives.