Hi Patch readers:
Today we conclude the "Magic Pill" series, at least for now, with this installment by Deborah. Deborah and I will temporarily be taking separate paths (no relationship problems between us, I promise) because I want to start writing about individual issues in therapy, starting with next week's post. You can still follow Deborah's writings on Berkeley Patch.
“So, what happened?”
“Well, we got into that thing we get into...”
“So, what did you do?”
“Well, I know it didn’t work last time, but I ...........”
Aha! So, we are not completely in the dark! We know what doesn’t work, but still, we do that same thing and go through that wretched cycle...again?
What was that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results”. Hmmmm.
Why do we do this? How can we change this compulsion to do the same thing, despite the trouble it leads to, and despite our most fervent wishes to be good/have good in our relationships?
Ah.....take two of these and you won’t need to call me in the morning! It’s one of the best medicines on the market, because it is for you individually, and for your relationship! (Caveat: It is best if you are both on this medication.
It is called the “I Grow/We Grow” Remedy.
Did you see the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? The plot is based on a (fantasy) technology that allows people to have painful time periods or events erased from their minds. This new remedy, although requiring more active participation on your part than was required of the characters in the movie (who simply hired folks to work on their brains as they slept), allows you to begin to make alternative choices to those patterned responses of feelings and behaviors with which we are too familiar. Although it does not erase the negative experiences and interpretations which led to these responses, this medication allows you to pause and step onto a new path, as if you never had to go down the established one to begin with!
It can be worthwhile to look at why we make choices and take actions that are purely habitual, and there is a great deal of research currently being done on the brain and the ways it influences our actions in relationships, as well as the ways that our relationships influence our brains. Some of you may find great learnings by reading Daniel Siegel, (see Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology) among others, in this field.
I think the most important point is that it takes conscious attention to look at what is happening, and to consider what is important to you. Then we need new learnings;
How do I really see my partner as a unique individual who is different than me, and generously give her/him my deep listening and respect, even though I have my own feelings? This is not easy in the midst of conflict, but is definitely do-able and worthwhile. Some readers have sent comments like these: “...I remind myself that my partner is not trying to hurt me...”, or “...We see that it is too exhausting to get that angry, and so we have learned to let most things go....”. These comments reflect an internal conversation - a voice more mature than the one that typically acts out the habitual reactive patterns - coaching the individual “down from the ledge” of their heightened anxiety, so that they can do something different. This engenders the possibility of making conscious choices. And this usually involves a personal challenge to be and do something different, and see how that plays in the relationship.
Success with the I Grow/We Grow remedy also requires consideration and clarification on your part regarding your intention. I have asked this in previous posts, and here it is again: Who do you want to be - for your own best good, and for your relationship? It may surprise you to find- in the course of your own experience - that these two lines of inquiry are perfectly matched. If my habitual response to perceived danger (my partner’s distance) is to go after him for information/bring him closer again for reassurance, then perhaps who I want to be is someone who can give space and take care of myself if I am anxious, becoming more free to be than constrained by my fears. And that will match perfectly with what is best for my relationship: I will be a more relaxed partner who can allow a different dynamic to unfold. And my partner will need to take responsibility for making the contact that they otherwise wait for me to manage, and this is probably his/her “growth edge”. Win/win. I Grow/We Grow.
Although we are humorously using this idea of magic pills, what we are really talking about is how to be more skillful - with our own emotions and with difficult dynamics that are pretty typical in most relationships. These are “pills” to help us pause, examine, and to bring conscious attention and intention to our actions and reactions in our relationships. To grow into a “relationally mature” human being. This is where the rubber meets the road: the challenge to the individual, which becomes the strength and medicine for both the person and the relationship.
Sometimes it can look like this reminder: “Remember, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it. It just means you don’t like it.”
- Cheri Huber
It is okay that things come up.
Find what helps you calm down, examine what is happening for you, bring compassion to that, and make the growthful choice that reflects what you care about and who you want to be in your relationship. Stretch to be loving where tightness wants to reign.
I Grow/We Grow.
Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA. Visit her website at deborahleeds.com
Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com.