This week has been heavy with abandonment, neediness, and despair. I often feel hopeful for many clients who are able to deeply process their pain, understand and accept their realities….but this week was heavy. Endeavoring in the task to help people tear down and rebuild their relationships is a challenge. Approaching marital issues, couples, and individuals requires respect for where they are in the process, knowing they will need change. Before changes can happen, there is a need to shatter false hope and false expectations once we understand what is going wrong, to understand what’s getting in the way.
Beginning the recovery process takes a leap of faith. When couples start counseling, faith is in limited supply. There is so much intensity and neediness in each person, that emotions run high and out of control at times. Some things to remember when entering counseling is (1) you are unable to make healthy changes on your own, (2) the issues you are experiencing in your marriage are outside of your control, (3) the negativity has run you into hopelessness and helplessness, (4) the issues are bigger than both of you. This is just the beginning. There is hope once you begin marriage counseling, but it takes several months before healthy changes become natural in you and in your partner and this requires work.
The process will bring about uncomfortable feelings that don’t feel good. That is supposed to happen. Addressing issues that aren’t being talked about or aren’t even known to each person in the relationship is precisely why there are issues in the first place. Trying to make changes and expecting them to feel happy or good is unrealistic. Sometimes clients can become frustrated or disappointed that certain behavioral tools don’t work early on in the process. Behavioral tools do not work because the issue is inside the person, so “doing” an activity isn’t going to change how you feel. In fact, it can irritate an already tense and painful situation, when it doesn’t work.
Couples need different suggestions for different issues. In some relationships people are too close…not in a healthy way, but in an enmeshed way. This can build abandonment feelings for each person if there is too much closeness. Self-abandonment is like losing your passion, drive, uniqueness for the sake of someone else. In this case, space is needed. Some couples are too distant, living separate lives, unaware of the lack of intimacy that exists between them. This is too much dependency on self, flawed independence, and may require uncomfortable closeness and an understanding of how this is the baseline in the relationship.
Let’s get back to the needing space for those couples who are enmeshed. The reason couples come to counseling is to stay together in a solid relationship for the long haul. That goal may not seem possible at the time, but with therapy, couples can become more secure within themselves, providing the relationship more security as well. Sometimes space is needed to be able to gain clarity, to reduce reactivity, anger, unhealthy reactions, and just some breathing space. Space can be actually physically separating, which could be scary for some people. But depending on how angry you are, separation could be exactly what you’re looking for; the ability to take time for yourself to gain clarity. Space can also be time taken to think before speaking, before deciding, before reacting to your feelings. Creating space is about slowing down life and your internal processes. Creating space can trigger abandonment, fear, shame, jealousy, insecurity, and other vulnerabilities in yourself and in your partner. These are the challenging times in therapy but are also the most rewarding for long-term, emotional health. Good emotional health benefits the individual and the relationship. Being in an unhappy marriage, before recovery, is like being in the eye of the storm. You can’t see, because there is too much going on right in front
of you and its all moving too fast to manage.
Creating space is a tricky move, especially when reactivity is high in the relationship. Being counter-intuitive, behaving in new ways, and thinking in new ways is scary, unpredictable, and represents more unknowns. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. Learn new hope, new faith, and new trust…..