Help for Troubled Relationships

Unhappy couple with arms crossed at therapy session in therapists office

Warning: in this article I’m taking a very critical look at conventional self help and professional counseling for troubled relationships.

I saw what I perceived to be the demise of the therapeutic community’s capacity to be effective back in the 90’s when I served on the State Board for Marriage and Family Therapy. It was there where we spent the majority of our time strategizing and hiring a lobbyist to persuade insurance companies to reimburse therapists. (I seldom worked with insurance companies and the underlying reasons for that are grounded in the damage it does, IMO, to the healing process. Working with insurance companies promotes dependency, subtly implies that you are defective and places the therapist in an untenable triangle – his/her fee, you and demanded diagnosis.)

If your relationship is broken and you are in pain, please know you are not alone.

You have “fallen out of love:” both of you.

Your marriage or relationship is stuck. You are stuck. Each day a bit of your heart and psyche is destroyed. Maybe the emotional distance widens the hole of emptiness you feel in the middle of your torso. Maybe the frustration simmers and clinching your teeth and holding the resentment in the pit of your stomach is the norm.

Maybe the conflict; the fighting, the arguing and the constant state of disagreement wages and destroy the peace. Maybe your children suffer from the broken marriage and your heart breaks for them. Maybe your self esteem erodes weekly and you find your body, your spirit and your confidence draining away.

Maybe the disconnect in your relationship is like a background noise that slowly but surely is destroying what you thought you had. Maybe daily or perhaps hourly you give thought to your pain, the emptiness and the lack in your relationship.

That is why you are here.

Or perhaps the background noise of the disconnect or the resentment or the conflict, which has been there for some time, is now erupting into a full blown crisis. Perhaps it’s an affair.

Perhaps the emotional and physical health of either of you can no longer take it. Perhaps functioning in the rest of your lives is becoming more difficult. Perhaps it’s a threat and talk of separating or even, ending it through divorce.

Perhaps you or your spouse has had enough and want to end it. Perhaps one has walked out the door and/or filed.

Perhaps one of you is initiating a crisis and crying out for change and help.

That is why you are here.

To confirm the reality that you are not alone, merely look around you.

How many truly joyful couples do you encounter? And, if you know a couple that appears to be joyful, do you ever have the inkling that, under the surface, the relationship is less than copacetic?

The divorce rate continues to hover at 50% and has for decades. That is the DIVORCE rate – one out of two couples will split.

Think about the other 50% of the couples. How many of those do you suppose think about divorce, want a divorce or are in a desperately empty, distant, frustrated or conflicted relationship, yet for a variety of reasons do not pull the divorce trigger?

A study was taken a few years in which 9 out of 10 reported to be unhappy or less than satisfied in their relationship. I assume that number, 9 out of 10, would hold true today as well.

Loving and being loved is problematic. Not all live happily ever after.

And you’ve looked and sought out help and information. You want some answers that up to this point elude you.
And, you may be the only one “trying.” And on top of it all, the more you try, the more you persist, the more s/he seems to fade away.

The pit of emotional emptiness you feel right now you want filled with the warmth of a true and lasting love. You want a deep emotional connection.

Yes, you can have that powerful emotion! And, I want it for you.

I assume this is not your first attempt to find information on how to have a great marriage or relationship. Am I correct?

There is not a shortage of marital and relationship advice floating around you.

And, from mainstream and conventional sources (professional and self help) you get your typical advice and suggestions:

-Get your partner to talk about feelings

-Try to get an agreement to work on the marriage

-You must meet his/her needs, expecting reciprocity

-Do special things for your partner

-Try out new communication techniques

-Plan a surprise or special event.

-Be more sexy or romantic

-Register for a weekend marriage conference

-Suggest marriage counseling

Conventional Advice falls far short

Most of these suggestions DO NOT get at the core issues underlying your marital pain and emptiness.

Now, some of these approaches may be helpful. The stress and strain may be lessened. You may feel better, although that is not a given, especially if one is resistant.

I coached a woman who was feeling empty and alone, wanting more from her husband. She pursued, suggested and asked for more support, connection and “romance.”

So, he spent $30,000 for a week at an exquisite 5 star Resort for couples in Puerto Rico. She said the first day or so was rather tense, she picking up on some of his resistance. But after that they had a great time.

However, she sadly reported that once they flew back, landed at the airport, drove to their home and opened the front door, the old empty feelings returned. The core issues of that relationship were not addressed: only glossed over and avoided by an expensive week away.

Believe me, those who espouse traditional and conventional methods are good people; some of them great people, some of them my best friends. They truly want the best for you.

However, these approaches or theories are limited. Plus they often take a great deal of time and money!

And, remember, the divorce rate continues is stuck at 50% and 9 out of 10 people continue to report dissatisfaction in their relationship. I’m sure most of them have utilized conventional methods, which in the long run failed.

The 3 Premises of Conventional Relationship Saving Advice

Here’s the core of the problem: the foundation for Conventional advice is based on these three assumptions that seem reasonable and logical and are deeply embedded in the very fabric of how we think and feel about ourselves in a relationship and how we view that relationship.

I call these the “Force it – Fix it” laws. You can force your other to love you or your relationship is broken and you can do xy or z to fix it.

Read carefully these three assumptions:

1. Something “out there” will make you better. Your partner can take away your emptiness. Romance can fill the void. An expert will unlock the door to your unhappiness. A new strategy or method of relating or communicating will make your world better. Something “out there” has the POWER to change you and make your life different. Your partner changing will make you change. A new pill or magic potion will revitalize your marriage or relationship.

2. The second assumption is that you are defective. Something is lacking in you. You or your relationship is dysfunctional. You must change. You are sick and need to get well. You lack. Your marriage is a mess. You are a mess. (And, again, something out there will treat your sickness or add where there is lack.)

3. The third assumption: you must perform. You must get healthier, become more attractive, lose weight, learn communication skills, be more romantic, listen better, talk more, talk less, and the list goes on and on. If you act differently, if you meet particular standards, your life and marriage will be better.

Your worst relationship moment contains these three assumptions

Take some time. Think of your worst marital moment. What defined that moment? What was happening? What deep within you and the relationship fed the distress?

Take a minute, give this some thought.

Do you have a memory of that terrible moment?

Didn’t you really tend to believe that…

If only our spouse were different, your marriage would be better,

Deep down, if you dare to admit it, something was wrong with you. You lacked something.

You needed to change in a particular way to get (or manipulate) the love you want from your partner.

Let me strongly state to you that if you live by these assumptions, you will NEVER have the love and emotional connection you long for! Never!

Your marriage will NEVER be better. Your marriage will continue to swirl in your distance and stuckness, forever!
When you live by these three assumptions, you experience these results:

-End up silently sobbing after sex, feel so alone

-Heart rate spikes, tightness in chest when spouse comes home

-You wonder where s/he is. What s/he doing

-You feel like you play a role. You’ve lost ‘you.’

-Particular words or looks trigger the anxiety and tension

-You feel unappreciated, not wanted

-You fear s/he is becoming more distant

-Your self esteem continues to erode

-You resent giving so much

-You are afraid to speak the truth

-You feel trapped, stuck

Being “Close” may not equal intimacy

Conventional marital and relational advice seems reasonable and practical – to try to move “closer.” But “Closer” does not mean intimacy at its deepest and most satisfying level.

It seems reasonable that you can learn a new strategy to FORCE the love out of your other; or, that your relationship is broken and you can find the correct tool to FIX it.

The three assumptions of most conventional advice is an attempt to push two people together. However, this closeness is not a closeness of freedom and joy, as we have seen; it eventually becomes a trap in which a relationship and those within the relationship feel stuck, anxious and exude tension.

Another word for this is “fused.” The “Force it – Fix it” model and the underlying assumptions suggest that you fuse with your partner.

There is a technical term for this condition, arising out of Marital Systems theory back a few decades. The technical term is Emotional Fusion.

Couples or family systems that live by the 3 assumptions I outlined earlier eventually become Emotionally Fused. They become emotionally enmeshed, reacting with negativity to each other, in a futile attempt to declare their own space and sense of individual well being.

The fusion over time becomes more intense; the anxiety skyrockets and those in the system feel deep pain and isolation, even though they are seemingly “close.” (A couple that screams and yells at each other and live in separate bedrooms may be extremely “close” but certainly not intimate.)

My clinical training was mainly in the arena of Marital and Family Systems, and I was terribly excited and hopeful as we developed a framework that enabled couples and families to “defuse,” grow and experience the joy and satisfaction of being in life-giving relationships. We enabled systems to counter the Emotional Fusion tendencies.

Please know that this position was not always popular in the medical communities. We were seen as undermining some long held assumptions about “treatment,” which meant you went to a doctor because there was something wrong with you and you needed to follow his advice to get better. (Please reflect on the 3 assumptions outlined earlier.)

While serving on the State Board for Marriage and Family Therapy in the 90’s I became disillusioned with many Marriage and Family Colleagues, whom from my perspective, abandoned the framework of Family and Marital Systems and reverted back to the 3 assumptions, tied closely to the medical community. (Insurance companies and a therapist’s need for reimbursement played a large part.)

From the mid 90’s to today, I observe the underlying assumptions of Emotional Fusion to take a foot hold on many different levels of our society.

You are programmed to “Force it – Fix it” and emotionally Fuse

The world around you screams for you to emotionally fuse, not only with your partner but with a product, a person or an idea.

You are told that a pill, a facial lotion, a procedure, a diet plan, a guru, a car, etc. etc. will make your life better. Take that something out there, place it in your life and your life will be immeasurably better.

Get married and you will live happily ever after. Use 3 different secrets to make your spouse be more romantic and all will be well. Someone or something “out there” will make your life better.

You are missing something. You lack something. You are not attractive enough. You don’t communicate very well. You are too aggressive. You don’t listen. You are sick. You are dysfunctional. (And, others have the secret or therapy to make you better.)

You must perform. You must learn how to win friends and influence people. You must say the right words. You must learn to convey power with your body. You must utter particular words to get to your man’s heart. You must learn to be more aggressive to attract your mate.

It is no surprise that the divorce rate continues at 50%.

We are like the proverbial dog chasing its tail.

To experience self worth, to relax and allow love to emerge seems like a foreign world. We do not speak that language or live that life.

The world screams at you to Emotionally Fuse. The self help communities, therapists included, unknowingly perpetuate “Emotional Fusion.”

You are encouraged to (1) look to a source outside yourself for help, that (2) you lack something and (3) you must act (perform) differently to get the love you want.

These 3 elements slap you in the face on television, in advertising, at the grocery checkout counter, in self help books and yes, in the therapist’s office.

You are told:

Be more romantic. Be sexier. Seduce. Charm. (Perform) to win him/her back (focus on him/her.)

Focus on your spouse’s needs. Accommodate and s/he will reciprocate. (Focus on him/her)

Learn communication and confrontation skills (perform)

Get counseling. Conventional counseling is based on treating a disorder (something is wrong with you.) Why
do you suppose men won’t go to counseling? Who wants a disorder label stamped on their receipt? Why do you suppose women go to therapy too much? Do they want something outside themselves to “make them better?” (Please know I’m aware of gender stereotypes.)

EMOTIONAL FUSION will NEVER Give you the Love you REALLY Want

EMOTIONAL FUSION is thought to be love: it is not.

EMOTIONAL FUSION is thought to be intimacy: it is not!

And, here’s the kicker; it will only get worse if you live (unwittingly) by the assumptions of EMOTIONAL FUSION.

You cannot FORCE love. You cannot FIX a broken relationship.

Love is natural. Love WANTS to happen. True love is truly EASY.

I’ve spent the majority of my professional life developing and perfecting the 3 LOVE LAWS that result in EASY LOVE.

It has been a good ride!

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