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.
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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.
I have noticed a curious phenomenon that often creates confusion in relationships. Sometimes, when people are successful in getting something they want or need from another, they feel conflicted, perhaps guilty, and they attempt to relieve the other person of whatever it is they agreed to give. Let me illustrate with the following examples.
Neal was very excited about his entering the training program to become an emergency medical technician (EMT); something he had been looking forward to ever since he decided to switch careers and finally do "what I always really wanted." Three months into the program, his enthusiasm had "tanked," he was "half in and half out" and began to look for other career possibilities that might "really interest me this time."