YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
WHY ARE RELATIONSHIPS SO HARD? ISN'T MARRIAGE SUPPOSED TO BE EASY?
There is a myth that causes more upset and discouragement in relationships than any other. It is the one that says relationships are supposed to be easy and natural. When fights and painful blocks to closeness happen, this myth makes things even worse by suggesting that something catastrophic is happening. This myth is passed on as a truth because falling in love seemed so natural. Why then, can it not continue as easily?
When you think of those early dating times, they were not on automatic pilot. Consider the amount of time and energy you spent on those dates: getting ready, clearing schedules, getting errands out of the way, going into nature, dinner dates, many hours of listening and sharing, taking time to watch sunsets, and dancing. Was that natural? Did it take planning and creative initiative? Of course it did, but you wanted to spend that time and you were keen to make the effort, no matter how much it cost you! Now compare that effort to how much time and exertion you give to your relationship these days. Therefore, one obvious reason that relationships are hard is that we do not put much time and effort into nurturing and deepening them.
There is also a deeper, psychological reason for the struggle. Many of us have difficulty being in relationships because we are ambivalent about them. We are pulled in two directions. One direction is yearning or longing for the benefits of relationship - family, security, passionate connection, companionship and partnership, or a sense of belonging, and being special. On the other hand, we are scared of what relationships have the potential to do to us - such as, getting deeply hurt, being disappointed when we let our guard down, or being taken over and controlled once we really fall in love. These worries, heightened by yearning, creates the heat of the fear-driven fights.
DOES THE LENGTH OF MARRIAGE AND THE AGE OF THE COUPLE HAVE ANY BEARING ON HOW LONG IT TAKES TO GET PAST THE HURT OF AN AFFAIR?
Based on research and surveys and from the people I have talked with, many (if not most) of the couples struggling with infidelity have been married for a long time. Most over 25 years. Certainly, the issue of affairs is not restricted to only the "young and foolish." Affairs touch all kinds of people of all ages in all walks of life.
While it's true that the chance of affairs (like divorce) diminishes with the length of marriage, there is always the possibility of these things happening. After so many years of marriage, the initial shock and disbelief of discovering an affair may be even greater. After all, you've had more years of thinking you know your spouse, only to discover this side of them that is alien to anything you had known before. But I have not really seen any evidence that it's necessarily more difficult to recover if you've been married a long time. It's just that the difficulty in recovering is quite significant, regardless of the length of the marriage. None of the specifics of the affair - when, for how long, with whom, how long married, etc. - determine the difficulty in recovering. Recovery depends on what happens after the affair is discovered.
On the negative side: Those who have been married a long time may feel that the process of adjusting to their "new reality" is a bigger challenge. By "new reality" I mean the adjustment required of anyone discovering a spouse's affair: that your spouse isn't who you thought they were, your marriage isn't what you thought it was, and your world isn't what you thought it was.
On the positive side: Couples that have been married for a long time have built up a longer history together that provides more joint life experiences and connections that may have developed a stronger bond that can serve to help in dealing with this challenge.
I encourage long-marrieds to focus on the aspects of each other - and their life together - that they value (despite the pain), and to use those factors to strengthen their resolve throughout the recovery and marriage rebuilding process.
HOW TO SEE YOUR RELATIONSHIP FROM A NEW PERSPECTIVE
Using only ONE LINE, can you make a 6 out of this symbol: IX. I will get back to that.
I know you have marriage/relationship problems, and your situation probably appears to be very complicated. Maybe it is, but maybe it is not. Maybe what is complicated about your situation is the way you are analyzing it. Did you ever find a solution to a problem and realize how simple the problem was to begin with?
This, by the way, is the value of third party input. The value of hiring a consultant, for example, is NOT the information they offer; it is the PERSPECTIVE they offer. The value is not their solution; it is that they introduce you to a NEW way of seeing the problem. From there, the solution is reachable.
I experience this in sessions with couples and individuals all the time. A husband or wife will explain all the intricacies of their marriage and express that they feel trapped. "I just don't see how we can resolve this. We beat these issues like a dead horse for months. We're not getting anywhere."
I respond, "Did you try approaching it like this..." Frequently I can "see" the light bulb turn on in their heads, and soon, they will tell me that the issue was resolved, or that they are on their way to reconciliation.
Now it is not always that easy. Of course, this is not the case with every couple or person. Some issues take a long time to resolve and others are not fully resolved. Sometimes problems are complicated. But usually the way we see our problem makes it more complicated than it needs to be when in fact an easier solution is just on the other side of a new perspective.
Let us get back to using only ONE LINE and making a 6 out of this symbol: IX. Did you try it? Did you get it? If you did not get in the first few moments, then you probably will not get it. Why not? Because from the moment you tried to solve the problem, you established a paradigm, a way of looking at the problem. If you adopted the right paradigm, then you solved the problem within minutes. It was easy. However, if you adopted the wrong paradigm, then no amount of analysis or figuring will lead you to the answer. In other words, if you are looking at the problem wrongly, you are doomed to fail. If you see it correctly, it is a piece of cake. You see, making a 6 out of the symbol "IX" using only one line is easy. You just go like this: SIX.
Sometimes people struggle in their marriage not because of any lack of effort, analysis, or care. They have a hard time because they are locked in the wrong paradigm. If you are not seeing your marriage or your spouse in the proper light, then you will not succeed, and no amount of effort will change that. The only thing that will get you different results is a DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. Once you adopt the right perspective, fixing your marriage can be as easy as placing an "S" in front of "IX" to make "SIX".
If you would like a new perspective on yourself, your spouse, and your marriage situation, then make an appointment to see me for Imago Relationship Therapy. In the meantime, look at the video clips and posts on my Facebook page - Suzanne Duncan Imago Therapy.
AFFAIRS: IS IT NORMAL NOT TO REVEAL EVERYTHING?
I found out about my wife's affair 17 months ago. After 14 long months of therapy, she was summoned to divorce court for her affair partner and his wife. There, my wife revealed that the 2-year affair had actually begun many years prior....by phone, etc. I don't feel like I will ever heal from the hurt. Nor can I ever trust her. Is this "normal" for the betrayer not to reveal everything until forced to? Did she not realize that all the progress we had made went down the tubes when she hadn't told all?
Unfortunately, this problem is more common than we'd like to believe. It seems that the basic attitude among those having affairs is:
If questioned, deny it.
If caught, say as little as possible.
This is almost universal. So even if/when someone is caught, they tell only what they absolutely have to tell - and no more.
There's a basic human survival mechanism in most of us that means we don't want to voluntarily disclose things that we know will create bad reactions - about any issue - but especially about affairs.
Of course, there are also other reasons for not "telling it all," including feelings of guilt or shame, protecting their partner's feelings, avoiding a showdown, and/or a desire to continue having affairs. But by far the most common reason is simply a belief in the basic code of silence quoted above: "never tell" and "say as little as possible."
Since it's highly unusual for someone to immediately provide "the whole truth" upon discovery, getting information is somewhat like "peeling an onion," removing one thin layer at a time. Typically people acknowledge only whatever has been discovered - or whatever they think might be discovered.
The fact is that few spouses who learn of their partner's affairs ever learn absolutely everything. They're often afraid they don't know everything, but they're even more afraid of finding out there's more. But many people eventually want to know everything. And no matter how much progress may have been made based on incomplete answers, if/when they get more information later (either from their spouse or from outside sources) it is much worse. Unfortunately, when more information is finally discovered later, it's like starting the whole recovery process all over again. So the clear message for those who have had affairs is that few people fully recover without answers. So it's preferable to go ahead and provide answers to the questions the souse asks sooner rather than later. Not only will this allow the recovery process to be better, it will also relieve the stress for those who had affairs of continuing to carry secrets the rest of their life.
Here is an important bit of advice: Do not make any life-changing decisions when you are in turmoil, such as, moving out, separating or deciding to get divorced!
HOW DOES A BETRAYED SPOUSE/PARTNER HEAL?
Although the article below is geared toward the betrayed spouse, it can be enlightening for any unfaithful spouse who wants to understand more about the healing process.
Here are the the main points that are addressed in the article:
Healing from infidelity is a process
Stop the self-blame cycle
Stop labeling yourself
Grieve the loss of who you were
Regain your identity
Work on self esteem
Transform trauma into something meaningful
It is lengthy, so rather than posting it here, I direct you to the article on the blog.
WHAT IS GASLIGHTING?
Wikipedia defines gaslighting as the following:
“Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim".
The term “gaslighting” comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations. In those works a character uses a variety of tricks to convince his spouse that she is crazy, so that she won’t be believed when she reports strange things that are genuinely occurring, including the dimming of the gas lamps in the house (which happens when her husband turns on the normally unused gas lamps in the attic to conduct clandestine activities there). Since then, it has become a colloquial expression that is now also used in clinical and research literature.”
Gaslighting can occur in all different types of relationships – at the office, in our friendships, between parents and children, and, between siblings.
Gaslighters are masters at convincing you that your reality isn’t…real. They believe that their perception is reality and that yours is crazy. Can you relate to this?
Gaslighting is different from denial. Rather, it turns the denial into an attack on the person’s ability to be in touch with reality. Gaslighting turns suspicions that the betrayed spouse has which are often valid into an attack on their sanity. As a result you begin to question what you know are the facts and wonder if you even know what’s real anymore or if you ever did. It’s a form of mental abuse and manages to deflect the situation away from the cheater and back on you.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY FOR ME TO TACKLE MY PROBLEMS?
There are a number of ways to tackle problems. One way to start is to act in good faith. Patience often prevails over force when confronting a problem. Many difficulties that cannot be overcome in one go can be overcome when tackled little by little. In therapy, it is such an approach that pays dividends in discussions between partners in a relationship, between family members and in tense stand-offs at work or other environments.
By engaging in dialogue with good faith, the two sides can turn their great troubles into little ones and then little ones into none at all, as a Chinese saying advises.
WHAT CAN I/WE EXPECT THE FIRST THERAPY SESSION TO BE LIKE?
In your first session, I will want to understand what made you come for counselling. In the session, we will discuss the conditions of therapy as contained in the contract, confidentiality, session times, goals, your previous counselling experiences, and so on.
I will invite you (both of you in the case of marriage counselling), to talk about the problems you want to address. Then we will jointly develop a plan including the frequency and time of sessions.
At the end of the session, I will give you specific feedback on how I see the issues you have mentioned and my thoughts on how we can work towards achieving the progress you want.
My role as a counsellor is to listen and provide direction, reflection, and clarification. In couple's counselling this includes coaching you in Imago dialogues, mediating, and helping in clarifying and confronting issues.
DID YOUR SPOUSE TELL YOU, “I LOVE YOU, BUT I AM NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU?” WHAT DOES THAT STATEMENT MEAN?
A person who uses this expression, is making a distinction between two different feelings, but NEITHER of those feelings is love! They are saying that I CARE about you but I am not EXCITED about you.
CARING about someone is a good thing. It is reflective of CONCERN, but it is different than love. I care about the starving children in India, but I do not love them.
Being EXCITED about someone is also a good thing, but it too is different than love. I might be excited to have a relationship with a good person or a Hollywood star, but that does not mean I love them.
While someone who says, “I love you, but I’m not IN LOVE with you” seems to be making a distinction between “different kinds of love” in fact, they are expressing their confusion about what love really is, and that’s why they’re having marital problems and maybe even an affair (because who are they IN LOVE with?).
Love is something we articulate in the vocabulary of ACTION. Love is a verb. It’s not only a feeling you get from another PERSON; it is an experience you receive as a result of DEEDS YOU DO for another person, and those deeds are not a secret. In other words, love is NOT a mystery! There are specific things you can do with your spouse to solve your problems and build love in your marriage. Just as there are physical laws of the universe (such as gravity), there are also laws for relationships. Just as the right diet and exercise program makes you physically stronger, certain habits in your relationship WILL make your marriage stronger. It is a direct cause and effect. If you know and apply the laws, the results are predictable, that is, you can “make” love.
Very often someone will say to me, “I love my spouse, but I am not IN LOVE with my spouse.” My immediate response is to ask, “Can you list for me 5 ways in the last week that you have DEMONSTRATED your love for your spouse?” The usual answers I hear seldom pass for an answer to my question.
“I love you, but I’m not IN LOVE with you” is an excuse, a cop out. It basically means that I have no clue how to make a relationship last LONG-TERM so I am exiting to get high from another short-term romance, but, whoever they’re IN LOVE with now will also eventually hear, “I love you, but I’m not IN LOVE with you.”
Of course, this is all fine and good, but it is really your spouse who needs to hear this, right? Getting your spouse from “I love you, but I’m not IN LOVE with you” to “Okay, let’s give this another chance” is a tricky task. If this is your situation, it is crucial you handle it carefully. If you take the right steps, you can draw your spouse back in and begin to restore your marriage TOGETHER! How do you do that? IMAGO RELATIONSHIP THERAPY has the potential to help you to get the love you want. This is the title of the book written 30 years ago by Dr Harville Hendrix, "Getting the love you want". www.gettingtheloveyouwant.co.za. www.suzanneduncanimago.com. Facebook.com SuzanneDuncanImago.
WHEN IS IT TOO LATE (OR TOO EARLY) FOR MARRIAGE THERAPY?
It is never too late or too early for marriage or relationship therapy. A relationship requires regular work and attention to keep it healthy. It’s best to come for relationship enrichment before the struggle gets too hard. Improving communication skills, working through unresolved issues, and understanding each other's perceptions better leads to individual growth and development as a couple.
Many couples, however, request therapy when they are in deep trouble, especially prior to a divorce. While having counselling earlier is ideal, it’s never too late to start working on relationship problems. It’s important to know that problems develop over time and marriage therapy takes time, but that it is possible to re-establish connection and emotional intimacy - even if only one of you really wants to!
If you are unsure whether therapy is the right decision for you and your relationship, contact me for an initial exploratory session. We will identify the challenges you are facing and create a plan of action for you to consider.
DO YOU TAKE SIDES IN COUPLE'S COUNSELLING?
Many couples come to counselling and ask whose side the counsellor will choose. I don’t take sides. – in the greater scheme of things we need to respect differences and validate opinions and experiences that are different to ours - rather than judging differences as right or wrong, good or bad. What matters is your perceptions, how you communicate, your understanding of yourself and each other, and taking responsibility for your own issues. You cannot change your partner, nor can you make them happy!
The ultimate goal of counselling is for the couple to enhance their relationship by deepening their emotional intimacy by means of intimate dialogue, healing and growth.
WILL YOU TREAT EVERYTHING I/WE SAY AS CONFIDENTIAL?
Confidentiality is an integral part of the work I do. Unless I have written permission from you, I will not discuss your concerns with others, except in special circumstances, such as:
When an employee is referred to the EWP by a company manager, I will be asked to submit a report to the EWP, and management will expect feedback from them. In such circumstances, I will obtain your written permission.
I may be compelled to provide information to other professionals in order to protect the client from self-harm or harm to others in life-threatening circumstances. I am bound by law to do so in cases of child abuse, homicidal threats and suicidal threats.
I may seek consultation with a senior professional with whom I respectfully discuss situations that are of concern to me. I do not use information that identifies a client and the focus is on the provision of 'best practice'.
HOW LONG DOES EACH COUNSELLING SESSION TAKE?
Sessions with individuals are usually 51-60 minutes, whereas in my work with couples and families the session time is usually 81-90 minutes, or 111-120 minutes.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY SPOUSE / PARTNER DOES NOT WANT TO DO THE RELATIONSHIP WORK?
This is a common question. The answer is, YOU need to do the work, rather than expecting your partner to do the work. It takes two people to make a relationship difficult, but it takes only one person to make a relationship better. If you listen to your partner with more empathy and validation; if you create a safe space so that your partner does not feel judged or criticised by you; if you learn to talk in a new way, your partner will move from being defensive to being curious, and ultimately most partners become cooperative. Because you are behaving differently, their old behaviour no longer works. It's like a tennis game: If you change the rules and your strokes, the (playing) partner has to change. When you make a change, your partner has to respond. They usually respond in a positive way!
Words of Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Relationship Therapy.