Stopping The 'Blame Game' In Relationship

No matter what the specific complaint, many couples first arrive at my office repeating a structure that goes something like this: “I could relax if s/he would just (fill in the blank).” When the inevitable disappointments in relationship feel overwhelming many of us are quick to blame our partner for the relationship’s problems. It reminds me of Rex Harrison’s character Professor Henry Higgins in the musical “My Fair Lady” who asks, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” For most of us the question is simply “Why can’t you just see it my way?”

One famous family therapist, Carl Whitaker, put it this way: It’s crazy to expect you and I to think about and experience our relationship in the same way. Many variables contribute to an individual’s unique life perspective. Relationship combines differing perspectives.

From this vantage point, blaming each other for problems in your relationship makes very little sense. Blaming is a convenient way to not take responsibility for yourself, for your personal habits, and for your idiosyncratic perspective. And, blaming discounts your partner’s unique perspective, much of which you have less understanding of than you may think because her/his point of view encompasses the totality of her/his life. Learning how to
self-soothe your own vulnerable feelings can help stop the blame game as you relate differently with the emotions that feed the blame. Soothing yourself (and therefore respecting and trusting yourself) also provides a foundation for empathy and inquiry; an ability to be curious about your partner’s perspective while simultaneously relating with your own

'Doubling Down' On "Doubling" In Collaborative Couple Therapy

Recently I wrote about one aspect of a training experience with Dan Wile, Ph.D., the originator of Collaborative Couple Therapy. As stated then, I will continue to write about Dan’s work as I deepen my understanding. I believe there is a subtlety to his model that is powerfully transformative. In the mean time I was struck by an additional insight from my experience in the November consulting group. In my original entry I wrote “Dan’s perspective is compassionate and particularly attentive to not ‘rebuking’ clients in even the smallest way.” I now have a more nuanced understanding of this.

Inherent in Dan’s methodology, I think, is a faith that individuals have the
capacity to generate compassion for each other (and for ourselves) through the process of experiencing “confiding” and “intimate” conversations. Whatever the outcome of any particular conversation, I think Dan trusts this human capacity within all of us. (For the therapist to behave otherwise would certainly not model trust.) Collaborative Couple Therapy never works in opposition to the client’s perspective because of that trust. At her best, the therapist remains perpetually curious about the client’s experience, persistently refining understanding of that perspective in the ebb and flow of the conversation. This is gentle and patient route finding, deftly navigating shoals and eddies, allowing the river to reveal itself on its own terms. In that revealing, compassionate understanding naturally blooms. Great stuff!

Why Be In Relationship?

Recently I was meeting with an individual client who was questioning her relationship. We discussed differentiation and how expecting her partner to comfort her in the middle of a tense disagreement was a recipe for her continued disappointment and suffering. (Not because her partner is "bad" or "wrong", but because at those painful moments he's trying his best, just like her, to hang-in there with his pain.) Nodding her understanding, she suddenly blurted out, "Then what's the point? If my boyfriend isn't [behaving like I want him to], why would I want to be in a relationship?"

"I can give you at least two reasons," I replied.

First, humans are just social animals by nature. We desire closeness because our survival as a species has been historically dependent on it. A particular person’s social interests may take different forms, of course. “Pairing up” is not necessarily for everyone. In general, however, human survival for 200,000 years has depended on emotional bonding and social cooperation. It’s intrinsic to who we are as a species. Without fangs or claws, humans needed close bonding to survive. We can’t
not bond.

Second (and perhaps most interesting to me), intimate relationship is an opportunity to develop your own sense of self. Another way to say this is that being in relationship provides repeated opportunity for deepening psychological maturity. David Schnarch, Ph.D. calls marriage “a people growing machine.” I believe all human growth is tied into relationship.
Your partner provides an unmatched opportunity for you to deeply understand yourself. Being in relationship helps you psychologically develop, stretch, and grow.

So, if you’d like to deepen your understanding of yourself, get into an emotionally bonded relationship. It’s a real education. --Doug

Dan Wile & Collaborative Couple Therapy

In September I participated in a two day intensive training in "Collaborative Couple Therapy” with its originator, Dan Wile, Ph.D. I had heard a lot of positive things about Dan, although I had never read any of his books. I was so impressed by the experience that I flew down to Oakland, California, Dan's home, to participate in a therapist consultation he conducts. These monthly three hour meetings are an opportunity for therapists to refine their skills employing Dan's methodology for helping couples.

There are many therapeutic perspectives that help couples navigate difficulties in relationship. All of these perspectives are imperfect from the standpoint that people and their intimate relationships are unique. Many of these differing perspectives have shared beliefs and assumptions, however. Differences are often about where the therapist's attention and emphasis are primarily placed. The structure that any particular therapist uses has much to do with his own psychological perspective.

From my perspective, Dan Wile’s Collaborative Couple Therapy deeply resonates with me. I look forward to writing more about Dan's view in subsequent articles as I further my understanding. For now I'd like to give a very small taste of the content from the November consultation.

"Doubling" is one of Dan's concepts that supports "intimate conversations" between partners during a therapy session. When a therapist doubles she literally speaks for each member of the couple as a way to better clarify and understand the emotion each is feeling. In Dan's own words,
I "speak as if I were that person talking to the other partner. I translate that person's angry, defensive, or avoidant comment into a collaborative, confiding one.”* This structure can quickly build confidence in a client that the therapist understands his perspective while simultaneously modeling behavior that invites each member of the couple to better understand himself and other. Fundamentally, Dan's perspective is compassionate and particularly attentive to not "rebuking" clients in even the smallest way. More on all of this in future blogs. --Doug


"So Happy Together": Building Confident Relationships

Remember the ‘60s song by The Turtles? “Imagine me and you; I do. I Think about you day and night . . .So happy together.” Since the dawn of romance both men and women have been professing love for their beloved. In popular music these declarations are often a testament of the crooner’s desire for the beloved, something along the lines of “without you I am nobody.”

Popular culture reflects truths about the culture as a whole. Many people believe that once they are with someone they love the relationship will give them happiness. Intimate relationships certainly can inspire happiness. They can also generate fear, anxiety, worry, and even depression. The truth is that many of us, perhaps most, hunger for the joy and run from the pain.

Cultivating the kind of trust and happiness we desire in relationship requires us, I believe, to transparently reveal ourselves to those we love. Doing so forges intimacy. There is a risk in this, however; that either you or your partner may experience pain through the process of authentic self-disclosure. “Intimacy,” writes Dr. David Schnarch, “is not for the faint of heart.”

While many factors can contribute to happy relationships, I believe it is confidence that deeply promotes happiness. One aspect is the confidence within yourself to
soothe your own hurt and pain when the mud and arrows fly. Confidence grows as you learn to take responsibility for and attend to your own emotional pain. In doing so it becomes easier to reveal yourself to your mate (whatever the perceived risk) and to accept the same from her/him without blaming. You can increasingly trust your ability to self-soothe.

Most of us, I believe, desire a partner who is emotionally strong and supportive. We’d like someone who can skillfully weather the inevitable problems in the relationship. But there’s a ‘catch’ with this: We desire this so that
we can relax; we want to feel safely supported by a confident and calm mate. In other words, we want our mate to soothe us when the relationship feels rough. What we rarely realize is that he/she probably desires the same in reverse.

One facet that helps confident relationships grow is learning to trust one’s own ability to self-soothe. As we build trust in ourselves we can also begin to trust that our partner is attending to herself/himself in much the same way. Relationship has many enjoyable benefits. Trusting that you and your partner can take responsibility for your own emotional pain can help you be happy together. --Doug

Intimacy Begins with Self-Intimacy

This blog is about deepening intimacy in relationship. By intimacy I mean to say an experience in which people authentically and intentionally reveal themselves; reveal their internal emotional experience of self, their struggles, hopes, and desires. Intimate relationships, I believe, always begin with self-intimacy; this is because, in order to authentically reveal myself to another, I must first reveal myself to me. This is not so obvious as might first appear.

Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we feel uncomfortable with or discouraged about. Because there is stress or emotional pain associated with such aspects, many people cope with that stress by suppressing or repressing thoughts associated with the pain. Depending on the circumstances, coping in these ways can be helpful. However, although these aspects are hidden from conscious awareness, they are still expressed through a person’s behavior. Unconscious expression of hidden emotion can lead to behaviors that cause people added pain.

The first step toward healing pain of any kind is acknowledging and accepting that pain within yourself; that’s self-intimacy. In time this may lead to deeper awareness of hidden emotion that gets expressed unconsciously (sometimes called ‘sideways behavior’). From this place of awareness you may more confidently reveal your internal experiences to your mate or partner. Another word for this is transparency. When we cultivate intimacy with ourselves and with others we become more transparent and more accepting of ourselves.

Here’s the takeaway: Intimacy is cultivated through revealing your internal emotions to others. If you would like to deepen emotional intimacy with someone start by deepening your awareness of your own internal process: your likes and dislikes, your fears and your joys. Examine more closely what it’s like being you in all aspects of living your life. No doubt that examination will be a mix of appreciation and discomfort; and with practice you can accept the fullness of your life (both the pain and the joy) and more confidently reveal yourself to others. --Doug