How might a person, married to someone they love and with whom they are happy, be unhappy being married? And how can they successfully address it?
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Sometimes Condolences Can Hurt, More Than Help.
Perhaps surprisingly, unsolicited advice can actually harm a relationship rather than strengthen it.
In the course of one's life, many positive and negative things will occur that are unexpected and may be unexplained. We are, of course, delighted when the positive event comes our way that contributes something to our welfare, e.g. the unexpected raise or promotion at work, or a personal success like a new romantic partnership. The negative events or developments, not surprisingly, are more difficult to process and for some, require considerable effort to accept.
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.
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.
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.
Many people are quite clear about their desire for a romantic partnership that has a future. For some, it is a great need that represents an all-consuming endeavor that occupies a good deal of their time and energy. Some others are more casual about it and would like a romantic partner, but treat the matter as a desirable life option that may or may not occur. Still others are clearly not interested in a single partnership that might lead to permanence. They prefer their single status and live life accordingly.
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.?
Many people who see me in order to explore the possibility of doing ongoing psychotherapeutic work together, are seeing a psychotherapist for the first time and have little or no understanding about how therapy works, what exactly it is they might expect from the experience, and how to actually get involved in the process. Others, have been in therapy before, perhaps many times before, and are, therefore, (as one client described it) "therapy veterans." Some "veterans" are seeking help again because of some new development in their lives that warrants additional treatment; or, perhaps because previous therapeutic ventures, while helpful, did not feel sufficiently completed and they hope to find help with a new clinician.