To give advice to "divorce-proof" a marriage might seem intimidating, yet I consider it to be quite an opportunity. Risking too much self-disclosure, I must admit that I wish I had discovered whatever effective ways there might have been to prevent my own divorce years ago. In an Imago relationship workshop, the facilitator emphasized that many divorces are unnecessary, and I agree. Since then, valuable insights and effective support have helped thousands of couples achieve the loving, safe, and secure relationships we all desire.
Within my first few months of private practice, several couples in serious conflict came to me for help. My discovery and study of Emotionally Focused Therapy has proven to be just the ticket for my clients. Originating in attachment theory, the work of Dr. Sue Johnson is a laser to the essence of the difficulties many couples experience. The remedy makes sense, finds the individuals who are in conflict to actually be in agreement regarding "what they are looking for", and provides the ways and means for couple to go through the discomfort inevitable in close relationships.
In the best-selling book, Hold Me Tight, Dr. Johnson provides easy to understand and deeply insightful information. Stories of couples working through layers of emotions and shifting perceptions when being made aware of previously unspoken thoughts and feelings may seem very familiar to you. The key task for couples is the identification of the pattern developed over time. As partners experience greater trust to express the truth of their thoughts and feelings, and realize that while taking great risk to expose vulnerability, their partner is still there for them. This is the bottom line: no matter what, you will still be there for me.
The process of examining the negative pattern in which we can become entrenched involves some "make-sense" explanations, and a willingness to dissect the message being delivered and the underlying — perhaps unrealized — need pressing to be expressed. There are many reasons we develop the patterns of interaction we do, many of them simply learned by the examples we had in our formative years, as well as those attitudes, behaviors, and ways of expression that were reinforced throughout our lives.
What we find is a deeper understanding, a return to empathy and compassion, and a willingness to shed our defenses. We recognize our partner's reach toward us, and we offer genuine expression we have been reluctant to risk. The manner in which we communicate our needs can be altered to incorporate the softening needed or the openness we now trust. We realize not only the importance of our own truth, but the strength of our voice and the power of our words. By taking on the full responsibility of our part in the relationship, we can access the courage to examine "our side" of the pattern, and the real message we need to deliver. What many individuals have found is that it wasn't so scary as it seemed, and it wasn't so hard to understand... as well as to be understood.
The end result is that we grow through the experience, and the "rules of engagement" are clearer. The couplehood is solidified, and skills to grow through the next stage (and there will be one!) are accessible. It's a strange, exciting, and fulfilling journey — and one I recommend you take!
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