In my previous blog, I discussed how a couple therapist serves as a “lifeguard” for relationships. The therapist calms the couple’s panic, listens empathetically and normalizes their experience of woundedness. As the couple and the therapist collaborate in the healing process, the tension between the partners begins to lessen and they begin to soften toward each other. They learn how to turn toward each other and create a “safe haven” relationship. Continue reading
The beginning of the year is a great time to start or restart therapy with your partner, to pursue new perspectives and new skills for your love relationship. To this end I offer you a story, “The Lifeboat.”
Once upon a time two people met on a cruise ship, fell in love, and were married by the captain. They were having lots of fun and everything was going well, until one day a huge storm capsized the ship. Disoriented but alive, the couple found themselves in a lifeboat, with just each other to rely upon. But then along came a great wave and capsized their little boat.
Just like compound interest for our mind and heart, the lessons we learn early in the new year will keep producing dividends month after month. Let’s look right now at 3 lessons that, if learned early in 2015, will spare you a lot of frustration this year.
In 2015, you will experience some necessary, legitimate and unavoidable suffering.
If you start right now embracing the inevitable disappointments, losses and reversals life throws at you, you will experience a lot more serenity the rest of the year. In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Franciscan brother Richard Rohr notes:
Thanks to the hopeful (or cynical) genius who invented the concept of New Year’s resolutions, the average gym derives the majority of its revenue from new memberships purchased in January. A January 2013 article in Forbes magazine suggested that, although more than one-third of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, “just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.”
There’s something attractive and energetic about the New Year. Our brains are hard-wired to notice things that are new or different. Back in the day (way back), the ability to notice what was new or different about one’s environment could save your life – you would be more likely to notice the approach of predators, or you would be more aware of new sources of food and other resources.
In his classic Christmas short story The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry paints a picture of a young married couple making their passage through the rough seas of early twentieth century urban life.
The outline of this tiny literary gem is simple: each wishes to buy a magnificent Christmas gift for the other – she wants to buy him a platinum chain for his heirloom pocket-watch, and he wants to buy her a set of tortoise shell combs for her long, beautiful hair. But neither of them has any money to spend … unless they each sell their most treasured possession. What will they do?
This poignant story was published in December 1905, so the urgent impulse to buy just the right Christmas gift for our loved ones dates back at least a century. Perhaps people have always thought, how can I be happy unless I know that my loved ones are happy? Continue reading
One of the scariest movies ever isn’t about vampires or chain saws. It’s the 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The scariest part is not the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but the warning they bring to Ebenezer Scrooge: What if you spend your whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall?
Scrooge’s late partner Jacob Marley appears to him, wound about with a heavy chain consisting of “cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deed, and heavy purses wrought in steel,” which have become eternal encumbrances. Marley’s Ghost explains,
“I wear the chain I forged in life.” Continue reading
At this time of the year, if we listen carefully, we can hear the Spirit of Thanksgiving calling to us, “Remember … remember.” That’s what the practice of “thanks-giving” is – the conscious remembering of undeserved benefits we’ve received. This practice enlivens us and connects us to others in many ways.
When someone enters therapy, it’s rarely because they’re having trouble managing all their feelings of gratitude! They are usually preoccupied with other, painful feelings. How can we use the intentional practice of thanks-giving to counter and even transform our painful feelings?
I’m sometimes hesitant to “prescribe” gratitude to my clients, because some of them have been hurt by friends or family who neglected to first acknowledge their pain and validate their feelings. But once we have experienced the “emotional clearance” of having our pain validated and sympathized with, the cultivation of an “attitude of gratitude” becomes an important aspect of our emotional health. Continue reading
The joyful experience that the holiday season is meant to be can be obscured by over-spending, over-indulging, and over-sentimentality. Our heads are filled with real or reconstructed memories of happy times in the family circle, and when memory is trumped by reality, we might come away feeling disappointed. The landscape of the holiday season is dotted with land mines of “unfinished business” in our relationships with parents, siblings, children, and extended family members. Continue reading
- Staying up late
- Having money to buy things
- Eating ice cream whenever they want
- Driving a car
To a child, being a grown-up means you have arrived. Hidden from them, of course, is the dark underbelly of adulthood – needing to stay up late to accomplish 30 hours’ worth of tasks in a 24-hour day, watching one’s waistline expand as a result of eating whatever one wants, paying for gas, auto insurance, etc., to keep the car on the road. Children see the outward manifestations of being a grown-up but don’t understand the hard choices their elders have to make in order to become and remain healthy, productive, well-functioning adults.
For a family member or friend of an alcoholic or addict, life can feel like a non-stop roller coaster ride. When we are emotionally attached to someone whose life has been rendered unmanageable by addiction, our own life can become unmanageable.
- We might experience unhealthy demands on our time, energy, and finances.
- Our home or workplace might become chaotic or unsafe.
- Our own mental, emotional and physical health might become compromised.