One of the primary problems we encounter in our relationships is due to how we envision them. Conventional advice regarding relationships and intimacy often reads like a how-to manual or a prototypical “Six Steps to a Happy Relationship” workshop. Relationships are not machines, nor are they electronic devices. This mechanical approach looks at relationships not as an art form to be cultivated, but as a series of steps to master, as though we were assembling a mechanical device. This way of thinking about our relationships contributes mightily to our struggles.
Can you save our marriage?
At times people may ask me if their relationship is “salvageable.” That very question points to the problem of insufficient expectations. We shouldn’t be seeking a repair job or a salvage operation — again the language of machinery — but deep gratification and fulfillment. In its ideal form, a relationship is a creative, evolving, and beautifully raw experience in which two individuals craft their particular way of communing with each other.
Cultivating the relationship is an art form that requires sensitivity to the complexity and nuances of two people engaged in this most important dance of life. This deep fundamental change in how we view relationships begins with how we conceptualize uncertainty. Two individuals, committed to their individual process of becoming — the commitment to perpetual growth and self-awareness — can create the opportunity for joyful partnering.
A relationship is a co-participatory dance that embraces uncertainty as it spirals into deeper and more complex levels of understanding and experience. Just as each person must engage in their own growth, we need to see the relationship similarly. The union needs to be seen as a vibrant and dynamic experience, not as a dormant and unchanging structure. “I’m in a relationship” sounds like you’re stuck inside a container. This may sound awkward, but imagine thinking instead, “I’m committed to the engagement and process of my relationship.”
Uncertainty is the essence of romance
Oscar Wilde wrote, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.” If this is accurate, then predictability must be its death knell.” Our inclination toward the predictable routine and formatting of our unions is counterintuitive to an emotionally vibrant and intimate experience. The experience of falling in love was likely bathed in uncertainty. The absence of certainty required us to be present and stay attuned. Yet, once the romance has been secured, we replace uncertainty with predictability, and so we experience a loss of passion.
I’m not proposing that couples seek an unsafe, volatile experience, but that they try to welcome the currents of uncertainty and change, which can propel their individual growth and usher in a corresponding growth in the relationship. Embracing some degree of uncertainty is necessary to keep the wind in the sails of the relationship.One person’s crisis or challenge inevitably provokes opportunity for growth in their partner. We are on this ride together. Nowhere is inseparability so apparent as in our partnering.
So frequently in couples’ sessions, I’ve noticed that as one person begins to express himself, the other begins to react, even if non-verbally. In the midst of a session, Hank began to share some of his perceptions about his wife, Julia. He was talking in a non-adversarial way, but still I noticed Julia’s face tighten. I gently interrupted Hank to ask Julia what she was experiencing. Julia said, “I know what he’s going to say before he does. There’s no need for him to go on.” This level of predictability leaves no room for surprise, wonder, or genuine inquiry. Certainty deadens the ability to be present and precludes playfulness, let alone spontaneity. When I asked Hank to continue, Julia was indeed surprised by what he had to share. Think about how certainty impacts your ability to be romantic and how it dulls your love life.To thrive in our relationships requires a new kind of commitment.
A new kind of commitment
This is not about the commitment to always love each other or to monogamy. Regrettably we know how often those pledges fail. I’m talking about the commitment to the process, which might better assure continued love and fidelity. This is a lifelong process requiring that each person embrace the spirit of the coupling. Learning the tools of emotional and verbal intimacy are the bedrock of this journey. Think of your partnership as the clay in the sculptor’s hands but this is a clay that you don’t permit to harden. You keep crafting it. You can master the art of relationship by welcoming uncertainty and change as you become the artists of your engagement with each other.
This article was excerpted from Mel’s new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.
The institution of marriage should be intended to enrich our lives. Certainly we might agree that the purpose of marriage ought to be to enhance our life and further our sense of meaning, purpose and gratification. Yet this expectation meets with an incredible rate of disappointment, if not outright failure. Ironically, marriage often becomes the justification for people’s unhappiness.
The fact that more than fifty percent of marriages end in divorce is actually the lesser of the problem. The greater difficulty lies in the fact that the majority of intact marriages are far from joyful. And many people regrettably live out their lives that way.
Remaining in the discontent and lethargy of an unhappy marriage, dulled by the absence of a more hopeful vision, can be downright depressing. And yet, so many people resign themselves to such lives.
Many individuals in such relationships merely give up and don’t work on improving their relations. They stay stuck in their unhappiness due to their fears. Divorce, although tumultuous and potentially scarring, at least provides the possibility of better days. I’m not glibly promoting divorce but suggesting that we do every thing in our power to awaken our relationships and live more meaningfully. Let’s take a deeper look at this dilemma.
The Fear Factor
Fear is the greatest impediment to growth in our lives. Very often, people are literally afraid of sharing their true feelings with their partners. They go silent and angry rather than expose their more vulnerable feelings. The fear may run the gamut: the fear of divorce and its incumbent anxieties or simply the avoidance of coming to terms with a relationship that may be lacking in intimacy, passion or respect. Another poignant fear may simply be the anxiety of being alone and starting life over again..
When you stay married out of fear, the emotional paralysis that pervades further poisons the relationship. Staying together out of resignation – due to fear – results in an enigmatic dilemma. Such people won’t consider divorce, and yet they are convinced that their marriage won’t improve, so they don’t work on the relationship. This is the worst of all possible scenarios.
If you find yourself in this place, it’s essential that you address your fears. The fear of divorce paradoxically eliminates any chance of improvement in the relationship. It produces a state of inertia, and the ensuing stagnation and frustration make mediocre marriages even worse. They become imprisoning.
If we can work through the fears around separation, then we are electing to stay in the marriage not from fear but from choice. This movement begins to unburden the chronic state of unhappiness, and genuine marital therapy may begin. In other words, processing the fear of divorce is not necessarily for the purpose of divorcing; it is for the purpose of clarity. Am I staying married for the wrong reasons?
Fear filters our perceptions and participates in constructing our reality. The ways in which you see your partner are very much informed by your emotions, particularly anger. This anger may have arisen in part because you’re feeling mired in a hopeless relationship.
Getting unstuck permits you to either create a healthier relationship or to move forward. Either choice may be preferable to remaining unhappy without a glimmer of hope. Fear should not be a factor in your choice. Ultimately, the question is how much happiness you feel you deserve. It is not selfish to deserve happiness. In fact, to forgo your own contentment becomes a model of unhealthy self-sacrifice for your children – who will likely suffer in their own self-esteem by having parents who betrayed their own fulfillment.
For the Sake of the Children
One prevailing theme related to fear of divorce is that the act of divorce, in and of itself, will damage the children. People research multiple studies to substantiate this concern. By all means such an upheaval in our children’s lives should not be taken lightly. Divorce needs to be well considered, and navigating the children through this process should be undertaken with insight, reflection and empathy.
Yet, very few people consider the consequences of children growing up in unhappy yet intact homes, as they witness conflicted, unloving and uncooperative parental relations. Children tend to model what they see in their parents’ relations. Certainly, as parents we want better for our kids. Yet, the likelihood is that such children will incline toward similar marriages. Worse still, many parents claim their kids really don’t know anything is wrong with the marriage. The irony is that they will therefore normalize what may be a mediocre, disappointing or conflicted marriage. At least the kids ought to know that the marriage is indeed falling short of the mark. In that way, they can note the failure and aim higher for themselves when they come of age.
The legacy of unhappiness
Is this the legacy we want for our children? To be the best we can be as parents we need to model a level of authenticity in our lives. One in which we face our challenges and struggles and don’t succumb to fear. Isn’t that what we’d want for them? If you choose to stay married, commit to the process and model that commitment for your children. If your marriage precludes the opportunity for happiness, have the courage to face your fears. Let’s not claim that we’re protecting our children by exposing them to unhealthy relations. We need to face our fears, embrace them and choose to stay married from a healthy place of growth and hopefulness, not succumb to the deprivation of a joyless life.
The experience of falling in love is altogether reminiscent of what in quantum physics is known as entanglement. In the microscopic realm once two particles experience a shared state, they are no longer separate entities but exist as one. This remains true even when they are separated by a great distance. The falling part of the falling in love process requires a falling away of many individual boundaries as the two people merge significant parts of themselves. The coupling moves the two individuals into an entangled sense of oneness.
All living beings are energy fields manifesting through their physical form. Mere physical attraction to another is based on sensory stimulation, but being in lust is not quite the same as being in love. Falling in love requires that our energies coalesce with one another. When this occurs, our energy field resonates with our partner’s energy field, and our vibrations harmonize with each other’s, so that two individuals are no longer distinctly separate. This energetic interchange happens simultaneously on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, and it is what makes falling in love—and staying in love—potentially the most fulfilling experience in life.
Over the course of time, however, many people indicate that although they may still love the other, they no longer feel in love. There’s a common belief that as the years pass, falling out of love is natural and to be expected. I’d suggest that it may be ordinary, but that doesn’t make it natural. Falling in love and sustaining it requires maintaining a sense of oneness.
In the turmoil we experience when a relationship becomes adversarial, we need to acknowledge or change something to shift the energy away from separation and back toward entangled wholeness. Making that shift may mean changing our beliefs, our perceptions, or our behaviors or possibly all of these. You might ask yourself, “What is my partner seeing in me that I don’t see in myself?”
If you set out to reenter the energy field of the initial romantic entanglement or the caring friendship, you can selflessly try to get in the other’s shoes. This is an exercise in empathy. Doing this doesn’t mean you are abandoning your position; it simply means loving and validating your partner. If I try to appreciate and care about my upset partner’s point of view, I’m invoking a shift of energy. Connecting empathetically with our partner is the most powerful thing we can do in such troubled moments. It can turn the tide from a competitive, maybe even emotionally and verbally abusive, exchange back into a loving energy field once again entangled with caring. (If you try this approach consistently and with genuine affection, but your partner doesn’t reciprocate over time, you might well consider whether the relationship is right for you.)
Another way of shifting the energy of a relationship is to express positive feelings or appreciation for your partner. Once a couple’s energy has drifted into separatism and conflict, they may default to unloading critical thoughts and feelings with each other. Negativity then fills the divide they have structured. Yet there are times in therapy when individuals may share with me positive or appreciative feelings they experienced about their partner. When I ask, “Did you share that with your partner?” I rarely hear a yes. Why would we become acclimatized to sharing the negative, yet feel awkward or reluctant to express approving or positive feelings? It’s because we’ve gotten stuck in the groove of negativity, which only widens that gap between us. We may be holding back an expression of approval so as not to give the other a stronger hand—a sign that we have set up separate battle stations. So set your intention: when you feel good about the other person, articulate it to him or her.
In trying to reset the downward spiral of the relationship cycle, it may be helpful to pause and not be reactive. Take a moment before criticizing or defending and ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” If it doesn’t, you can choose to let it go and create a very different reality. Again, this is an energy shifter.
The common expression “You can’t change the other person” appears sensible when a relationship is in turmoil. But from the quantum view of inseparability, if you change some aspect of yourself, it will necessarily affect your partner, because you’re both as connected as our quantum particles.
This post was excerpted from Mel’s forthcoming book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love Sep. 2017 (Sounds True).
Is it more important for me to correct their misstatements or to stay present and listen?
Would I rather be right or engage in genuine dialogue?
Am I judging or listening?
Fear is a universal experience for virtually all of us. Perhaps there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the Dalai Lama, but for the rest of us it’s part of life. The goal of living without any fear might be desirable, but somewhat naïve. What we should aim for is to reduce fear to its rightful place. Constant apprehension shouldn’t be a burden that we carry with us, day in and day out — moment in and moment out. So when I use the word fear-less I’m not proposing a life without fear, as that may be a stretch. But I am advocating living with less fear.
There are appropriate fears that are a warning signal that we are at risk and there’s something we need to pay attention to. If the road you’re driving on becomes icy, you want to be cautious. But you certainly don’t want to freeze up – as the road beneath you did. If you’re having chest pains it makes sense to seek assistance. If you’ve noticed you’ve gained weight and aren’t exercising, rather than fretting about your health, do something about it, check for online sites like healthyusa.co to learn how to get healthier. If you’re noticing that your child isn’t thriving and feel afraid that there’s something wrong, seek help. You can choose not to let fear consume you.
There are some fears that go unspoken yet are common. One of three people will be eventually be diagnosed with cancer and some of them will even need home care like https://homecareassistance.com/los-altos/. Do many people feel apprehensive about this? Of course they do. That makes sense, but to carry a sense of dread around with you gets in your way of living well. Fears run a very wide range from apprehension about losing your job to not having enough savings to retire. From not be loved to having your lover leave you. From thinking others don’t like you to worrying about what you say and how you’ll be judged.
Changing your relationship with fear
For those who experience such excessive fears, there is a way out. Rather than focusing on the fear, look at your relationship with the worry. Fear, self-doubt and insecurity are not uncommon. But when you take these concerns and elevate them to the bull’s eye of your attention, you’re in trouble. You need to change your relationship with the fear. What do I mean by this curious statement?
Some people have a very strong affinity for fear; they actually seek it out. Their thoughts become habituated to looking for and focusing on what distresses them. So their minds develop a fixation as they paradoxically search for what causes them disharmony.When our thoughts perpetually attach to fear, it’s like carrying a lightening rod in a thunderstorm. What we look for we find. Anxiety is the consequence of our thoughts’ addictive relationship with fear.
Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear
The more you resist and try to ward off your fear, the larger it becomes. Think of it in the following way: What we resist we make more formidable. Imagine putting your arms out at full length in front of you as you try to hold back the fear. The irony is we actually embolden fear by trying to ward it off. Fear gets stronger when you resist it. Changing your relationship with fear means welcoming it in. Say to whatever is alarming you, “Come on in and let me have a look at you.” When we do this the fear tends to dissipate. Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear. Loosen the grip. When you can see your relationship with the fear, you don’t have to become the fear.
In my next post I’ll be discussing how the need for certainty and our resistance to uncertainty contributes to our fears and anxiety.
To experience truly effective communication, which rarely occurs, we need to make sure we’re actually talking about the same thing. If you assume that the words or phrases you’re using mean the same thing to both of you, you’re making a mistake – I can assure you. Establishing a shared meaning is essential to have a coherent conversation.
Coherent communication doesn’t require agreement, but simply a shared meaning. We need to know that we are, in fact, talking about the same thing. How often do we pause and thoughtfully ask the other person what he means by the word or words he is using? As I was walking by a restaurant near my home one day and saw a parking attendant with whom I was acquainted, I asked, “How are you?” He smiled and said, “I can’t complain.”
As I continued my walk, a thought occurred to me: he might have meant either that he had nothing to complain about or that he literally wasn’t giving himself permission to complain. On my return home, I ran into him again and genuinely inquired which meaning I should construe. It took quite some time for him to admit that he believed that no one would care to listen to his complaints, so he wouldn’t bother. “I can’t complain” was now clear to me. I explained to him that when I ask, I truly do care and perhaps he might make an exception to his rule. Typically, I wouldn’t have inquired and never would have come to know this side of him.
To pause and ask people what they meant by the words they’ve just spoken is remarkably respectful. Respect comes from the Latin respecere, which means “to look again.” That is precisely what shared meaning demands – looking again at what the other intends in his or her articulation. We need to check in and confirm that we are on the same page. Read more
The experience of falling in love is truly a thing of marvel. It’s a remarkable and incomparable feeling. Time seems altered and our senses become fervently alive. Each moment has meaning and intent. This is a peak moment in life. Yet, sadly over time we tend to fall out of love as easily as we fall in love. We may say that we still love one another but we’re not in love. Let’s explore why this occurs and what this phenomenon is that we call love. Read more
In my role as a relationship therapist, I’ve begun prompting couples to ask their partners, “Would you like to be the person that I’m asking you to change into? Would you like to be the partner that I want you to be?”
This type of inquiry quiets the tired back and forth, right and wrong ping ponging that gets us nowhere. It’s not uncommon to ask your partner to make changes in their beliefs, attitudes, or behavior to accommodate your wishes. Very often, though, this is met by an entrenched resistance from the person being asked to change. You should ask yourself if you’re resisting simply for the sake of resisting, or would the requested change be consistent with your own growth and personal evolution?
If what is being requested seems authentic and resonant with your growth, and you are nevertheless resisting, then you might want to pay attention to why you’re digging your heels in. If you’re caught up in the power struggle and keeping a scorecard of offenses, the path to amicability remains obstructed; the larger picture is surely being missed.
Mel Schwartz Psychotherapy & Marriage Counseling • 246 Post Road East, Suite 275 Westport, CT 06880
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