As a couples’ therapist I am witness to the complexity of relationships. The push and pull of the contemporary struggle; the unique components of stress. Yet every therapy session has similar beginning – an issue I inevitably anticipate: “We don’t communicate…we argue all the time.”
Inability to “talk it out” spawns patterns which can be deadly to relationships. Emotions that feed each other, like fear and anger, careen out of control. Frustration escalates; voices shrill.
Invalidity of the partner’s words or behaviors is a particularly female pattern. This no-win attitude enhances mutual distress and generally encourages stalemate. Men often counter with withdrawal or avoidance – similarly ineffective, since problems won’t go away by themselves.
Another stumbling block to communication is negative interpretation. Here one partner assigns a dire motive to the other, as in the flat assertion: “He/she wants to leave me.” Finally, when repeated strategies for resolution have apparently failed, somebody finally gives up.
History and myth prove that lack of communication, ever an eternal issue, and breeds discord. That’s why we empathize with hapless Desdemona and are outraged by Othello’s impassioned stupidity. Those of us familiar with this sort of thing know that therapeutic intervention might have spared the tragedy.
It is imperative that individuals know their feelings. Unresolved anger, and getting stuck in it, is not unusual. Yet anger is often a surface emotion. What is beneath?
Try this exercise. Sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. Complete these sentences:
I feel hurt because…
I feel afraid because…
I feel wounded because…
I feel sat because…
This is also an excellent practice for couples. Each partner should share his feelings for 10 minutes without interruption.
Partners seeking a more advanced level might try this four-step exercise devised by Angela Arrien, PhD.
1) I feel…(i.e., upset)
2) I notice…(i.e., you’re getting home from work at 8 or 9 pm)
3) I want…(i.e., to spend 3 or 4 evenings with you a week)
4) I am willing/unwilling to…(i.e., sacrifice our relationship for money; job)
Not enough can be argued for good communication – healthy relationships need a daily dose of it. Robert Louis Stevenson said it best: “Marriage is one long conversation.”
A BALANCED LIFE
the act of bringing into harmony and
First considered, Webster’s
definition strikes us as elemental.
Yet in the midst of a hectic dinner party, a
harrowing commute or a verbal clash, that seemingly transparent notion
appears as vague as a Himalayan mountaintop shrouded in mist.
What is it about our lives that seems to defy
this delicate balancing act?
Has it to do with the unavoidably complex
nature of modern existence?
Or does it point at something intrinsic to our
An addiction…to the excitement that our
frenetic activity generates?
Though most of us concede that a generous dose
of real harmony may benefit, few of us know what it takes to go about
Sue Bender in
Everyday Sacred recounts the
classic Zen tale of Overflowing Tea: a Zen student, greedy for spiritual
knowledge, makes a pilgrimage to an enlightened Monk only to have question
after question returned by silence.
Finally the Monk instructs, “Pour me a cup of
tea and I will tell you when to stop.”
As the student pours the tea and watches it
spill over the top, he shouts, “Can’t you see?
The tea is overflowing the cup!”
“Yes,” the wise monk answers, “and so it is
Your mind if full of many things.
Only when you empty it can knowledge enter.”
Like the student we too must seek knowledge
with an empty cup – purging our minds of superfluous notions so there is
space for the balancing act to simply begin.
It remains for each of us to examine the
overflow of o
See Johnny Go Go Go
Once upon a time when kids were – well, kiddish – parents, come September, hustled them off to school, signed gratefully, and figured that was pretty much it. Johnny played a heck of a lot of ball and Mary trudged dutifully to dance class. It was all about god clean fun and giving the kids a little extra…
In light of today’s climate of impossibly high expectations, these attitudes appear as quaintly retro as Sunday dinner.
Today there is almost no end to the volume or organized activities available to children if parents have deep pockets. Many experts concur that such children are fortunate since after-school activities are enriching and foster socialization. Parents seeking constructive ways to occupy children’s free time say that extra-curriculars teach important skills and, not insignificantly, look good on college applications. Increasingly, parents feel the pressure of competitive grade schools, college admissions and college scholarships.
Children are feeling pressured too. School psychologists report an influx of overscheduled, sleep-deprived children. Many of the busiest children strive for high performance or feel driven by parents and coaches to excel. Often these children suffer from stress related symptoms like insomnia, stomachaches, headaches, anxiety and depression.
Children have varying degrees of stamina and tolerance levels. Parents should be on the lookout for signs of overload. Exhaustion, illness, mood swings and poor academic performance signal distress. Children who show these signs should be encouraged to cut back.
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