Couples therapy is similar to individual psychotherapy in that in both treatments the presenting symptom is unhappiness and dissatisfaction. In individual treatment the disappointment is about yourself and or about your job, your friends or your spouse. In the process of therapy you learn about the ways you might be contributing to your unhappiness by repeating old patterns that were developed as a child, but are not working for you as an adult.
In couples therapy, one or both of you are disappointed in the other. For example, a wife might complain: "My husband doesn't understand me." Her husband might insist that he does understand and say: "Nothing is good enough for her."
Each of you wants something from the other you are not getting. The wife wants her husband to understand what she wants and needs without her having to tell him-- the way a mother has an intuitive sense of when an infant is hungry. He, on the other hand, may want her to say he's a "good boy" and instead she's telling him that he's not "good enough"-- just like his father. Nothing is good enough. You may not be entirely aware of what it is you want from the other, only that you are not getting it. And you may feel inadequate because you cannot give your partner what he/she wants.
You may have gotten into this relationship precisely because you fantasized that you would finally get what you've been longing for, what you've wanted all your life. But, it has not worked out that way and the hurt, disappointment and anger feel familiar because each of you is repeating an old pattern that DOES NOT WORK.
I will help you understand what each of you is hoping to get by teaching you a new way to listen to each other and your selves. The two of you are repeating a dynamic that each of you developed in childhood, a relationship between a child and a parent that might have been adaptive in childhood (or not even then) but does not work in a relationship between two adults.
Once you understand that dynamic, you can start working as a team to change it.
If you really think about it, we spend as much or often more time at work than in our personal lives-- especially in today's connected world where it seems we never stop working.
Our jobs involve interaction with clients, colleagues and supervisors. These work interactions seem different than our personal interactions. Yet, communication and relationships are central components of work. Therefore, repetitive patterns from childhood can be destructive for our work lives, most especially when they are unconscious.
I worked with “Regina”, who received her MBA from a top school and aspired to be a financial analyst. One of her first interviews began as a group interview at Goldman Sachs. It was extremely competitive with every other candidate trying to outdo each other by every means possible.
The competition was furious.
Regina was afraid to compete. While the others jockeyed for attention, she sat there silently and waited to be “discovered”. Regina did not get the position.
As Regina and I began to work together, she told me she was not “supposed” to feel competitive or anxious or threatened. We discovered that this stemmed from her relationship with her father, who wanted her to be superior, but told her not to compete with her sisters. It had put her in a double bind; she had to stand out and be superior without showing outwardly that she was trying.
“I was always hoping my father would discover me.”
No matter how bright, well-educated, or well suited you are for your job or potential job, to succeed (as Regina did eventually), you have to put aside old destructive patterns from your past. In Regina’s case, she had to learn that a group interview was not the family dinner table.
If you are having problems at work, like Regina, you may need to distinguish between your present work scenario and old family ones.
Are you acting out old patterns in your work life? I can help you make them conscious so you can move on and become more successful at work.
There’s an old joke I often tell patients. This man wants to borrow a lawnmower from his neighbor. He thinks to himself: “If I ask him to borrow his lawnmower, he’ll probably say he is using it himself. Or he might say that he doesn’t want any extra wear and tear on it. Or maybe he doesn’t want me using up the gas.” Finally, the man goes over to his neighbor’s house and knocks on the door and says:
“Fuck you and keep your lawnmower.”
The joke is about the unconscious expectations we have of other people and how it controls our behavior. It is a lens through which we experience the world. Sometimes I describe it as similar to Bugs Bunny’s Carrot Machine. Whatever he put into it, it came out in the shape of a carrot.
When repetitive patterns control and constrict our lives there is no room for creativity. We literally can’t feel “outside the box.”
What makes people have repeatedly unsatisfying relationships is that we repeat patterns of relating we developed as children. They may have been adaptive when we were children, but they don’t work for us as adults. These patterns are not simply bad habits or bad luck, the patterns recur when a present situation or interaction feels like an old one and triggers a similar response.
We don’t stop repeating these patterns unless we become conscious of them. I will help you become conscious of the patterns that undermine your relationships and/or your success at work.
Most of us have narratives of our life story which include some pivotal event.
This pivotal event could be meeting the love of our life, or a special teacher who changed our life for the better. Sometimes the pivotal event is a tragedy such as sexual or physical abuse, an accident or death in the family.
For example, John Kasich's narrative revolves around the tragic death of his parents in an auto accident in 1987. However, some people’s narratives involve old grievances that are not tragic, but they have been carrying them around for years. Something that was done to you that was unfair, or even cruel, changed your life and it explains to you why you are unhappy and never got what you want. You may be right that someone did do something that caused you pain and grief. But holding on to the grievance puts the blame for your unhappiness on someone else; it keeps you feeling self-righteously angry, but powerless.
It keeps you stuck.
You don't have to stay stuck for the rest of your life. I can help you get that weight off your back.
If you would like to learn more, please see my article on grievances on the website thirdAge.
As caregivers, we have to make peace with the reality that our parent is going to die.
Despite our efforts, death is inevitable.
All we can offer is comfort and support. However, we have to make peace with the fact that some of us have parents who will not accept our comfort and support—or will not acknowledge it.
A difficult parent may have always been difficult and as she gets older those problems do not disappear. On the contrary, the illnesses and losses of later life can make a dependent personality more dependent. A controlling parent who feels out of control becomes even more controlling. A self-centered mother usually becomes even more focused on her own needs.
On the other hand, your elderly parent’s personality may have become difficult as a result of the death of a spouse or sibling, or a chronic illness. The latter case is easier because there is hope that your parent can change with the help of medication, counseling or mourning. In the former case, however, when your parent has had these personality problems your whole life, you are most likely entangled in an interaction with him/her that makes it hard for you to set limits and keeps you in a rut.
You are not able to make peace with yourself. I can help you.
You can listen to my interview with Diane Rehm about caregiving by Clicking Here.
My book on caring for your parents, Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even if They Didn’t Take Care of You, is available on Amazon by Clicking Here.
We have a relationship with our parents in adulthood that is based in the present, but we also have an internalized relationship with our parents from childhood, a relationship of which we are not always aware.
The present relationship is filtered through the internal one from the past. We may get angry at something that seems innocent enough in the present context, but is, in reality, bringing up painful memories from childhood. Similarly, we not only have an adult relationship with our siblings but also an internalized one developed in childhood.
The internalized one involves an image or mental representation of our self and a mental representation of our sibling. The mental representation of our sibling is in relation to an image of our self; the two are inextricably entwined. The relationship between those images is internalized and often unconscious.
I call it The Sibling Inside.
For example, you may be brighter, wealthier, or more fulfilled in your marriage than your sister in reality, but feel envious of her because you still experience her as if she were the mental representation you internalized as a child when she seemed better at everything. You may also be envious of friends to whom you’ve transferred the feelings you have about your sister. But in both cases, you have a mental representation of your self that complements the image of “sister”—i.e. your self as deprived, unable to compete, and bad because you are filled with envy.
You don’t have to feel bad for the rest of your life. I can help you.
If you would like to learn more, please see my article, “Adult Siblings Over a Lifetime”, on thirdAge by Clicking Here.