Keeping The Love Alive

(As Published in the Hyde Park Living Magazine)

The Czech poet, Rainer Maria Rilke said, “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people; that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other”. This would not be a verse on the average Valentine’s card that tells us we should be conjoint if we are truly in love. However, in my experience of working with couples over the years I have found that the troubles in relationships have a lot to do with not accepting the individuality of spouses.

If we are to keep the love alive it takes action on our part. Love has to evolve, no matter how beautiful it is at the beginning. A bud is usually never as beautiful as the mature flower and yet it has to be there before the flower can exist. We need to actively work at helping our love to evolve. Evolve, of course, means to change and we all know that most changes involve growth and pain.

What can I do to feel happy with my partner and ensure that love is the center of our union, rather than a function or a duty? Am I waiting on my spouse to change his or her approach? This is such a common stance and yet it leaves people with such frustration and disappointment. YOU must be the one to try bringing the change about that you desire. We can’t change our partners but we can try to change ourselves and the situation. We have so many defenses up, that predate our marriage, which prevent us from being vulnerable to our spouses and the result can be a deep sense that I am not being understood and am not fulfilling myself.

I need to fulfill myself. I need to let down some of the defenses that keep my wife/husband from truly knowing me. I am the one who needs to talk out about my feelings, needs, wants and desires. Most people do these things when they first meet and yet then get consumed by all the other aspects of married life. Try not to be just another person. Start to work on bringing about what you feel a need for in life. It’s ideal if your spouse will start with you but if they won’t then start yourself and there’s more chance that they will then move with you. It won’t be easy but what’s the alternative? Don’t try to bring huge changes about but do little things that will make a difference for you and the relationship. Maybe it will be taking time off to reflect or showing more awareness of you partner as you part in the morning or return in the evening. You could establish a date night or day each week. Try to touch more or ask more about how your spouse’s day went. Exercise together, etc. Just don’t let you marriage grow old but help it to grow new each day of this busy life.

Tony Fryer

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Struggling to Find Connection

Making connections through family therapy

We can’t find the ultimate causes for the ‘wrong’ things we do or say. We can try to understand the many experiences that lead us to do those things that we avoid doing when we are operating more closely to our true self. Often we focus on the stresses of the here and now. These are the obvious factors/people and we don’t consider enough, the less conscious, internalized motivations from our developmental years.

In my therapeutic experience I encounter clients who have learned, from their childhood, to get on with it; take care of the other person all the time; not show any weak/vulnerable feelings; always work hard and not play; that not winning is not acceptable; that you only get attention if you are emotionally loud; that you are more acceptable when you smile/laugh; etc. These people end up struggling for connection with that person they did once connect with, in courtship. The initial attraction for a long term committed relationship, felt like total acceptance and connection. When we have that experience our defenses are lowered and we open and connect. The world seems different. However, as the relationship matures we realize difference and experience some conflicts that can lead to the resurrection of the defenses and the reduction of connection.

The lack of this connection, which most humans desperately seek and desire, leads to behaviors that further hurt their relationship. If we are not mindful of the damages to our ‘selves’ from the past and it’s motivations to our habitual actions of the present, then we act unconsciously. We ask ourselves, ‘How could I do/say that?’. With these unconscious/habitual actions we feel more misunderstood, alone and disconnected.

Good therapy helps to develop more congruence between who we are and what we do and so we are more able to connect. This is especially true in Couples and Family Therapy where the dynamic can be observed and assisted in live time. Changes are observable/measureable.

Tony Fryer

Unlocking the Potential in Blended Families

Blended families
I prefer to think of it as a…

Stew-Pot Family

Marriage has tremendous potential for many good things! Also, marriage and raising children has many challenges. It’s not easy to create all your heart desires as a spouse and parent.

Having said that, I would say that those who marry and try to form a Blended Family, will find that there is even more potential for challenge. Even the term Blended can conjure up the wrong idea. Too often we think that all of us should be the same and just like any other family, where the children have all experienced each other from birth and there are no ‘other parents’ involved. The Blended Family is not worse or better, just different.

I’m just going to list a couple of things that are good to keep in mind:

  • Even if an ex-spouse is acting in a problematic way, the other parent needs to try provide stability and comfort to the children. Take personal responsibility. Both parents being problematic make things worse. Do not bad mouth other parent.
  • Some people think it is best to tell the children ‘The Truth’ about why the marriage ended. I would suggest that parents don’t always tell their kids the truth about their relationship issues, especially when the children are young. It is good to ask yourself, ‘how will this information be good for my child and what pains might it cause them?’ The truth is also very subjective.
  • If we have ‘Your, Mine and Our Children’ then it is important to accept that each of those relationships will have differences. It is good to be fair and loving and yet the context for each relationship and the history will differ. No child should be made to feel second class or less than and yet there is difference. Over time the step-child relationship can become stronger. A lot will depend on the age of the children. The child will often have fears that they will be seen as disloyal by their absent parent, if they get too close to the Step-Parent. They need to be assured that no one can ever replace the biological parent relationship.
  • Divorce is a transition that brings change. Children need to be helped to move through that change well. Divorce will be hard for the children to understand and deal with but the parents and step-parents behavior is what can make the transition and life of the child tougher to cope with.
  • When the children are moving between houses the adults involved should do all in their power to make the movement as hassle free as possible. Try to make the time hopeful for the kids. Be careful about your language and body language when the change is occurring. When the children are with you then try to listen to them carefully and allow them to share positive things with you about the other parent. Try to help them with all practical matters in the movement between homes.
  • There should be good structures of communication set up between both parent’s homes. Never use the children to deliver messages to the absent parent. Try to set up healthy means of communication. Kids still need to feel a solid parenting relationship. Remember, you divorced as a husband and wife but not from parenting the children. The evening before a change of house is a good time to communicate about the children. Depending on your relationship with your ex-spouse, this can be telephone, personal, text, etc. You might find it useful to have an agreed list of topics to share.
  • Step-PARENTS are involved in parenting. I would suggest that they assist the biological parent and try not to become the main disciplinarian. This will depend on the age of the children and the relationship with the ex-spouse. Even if all the adults involved have a good relationship I would suggest it is better to let the biological parent be the main disciplinarian.

The above statements are generic and not meant to apply to every situation. It is good to find an experienced Marriage and Family Therapist to assist the family when issues don’t seem to get resolved. It can also be useful to be proactive when you are remarrying with children.

Tony Fryer

Try Something Different

Trying something new can foster connections within relationshipsPeople often try to get the connection they strongly desire and cannot understand why their attempts don’t get them what they’ve been looking for. This can be a single person or someone in a marriage relationship. I am not talking about someone with huge problems in life but the average man or woman who feels they are not finding the intimate relationship they would love and that they feel a need for.

As I listen and reflect on so many life stories, from my objective position, it seems that the efforts people put in are substantial but often have remained the same for years. Too often the same action/approach is taken even though that action has never produced what they are looking for. It’s the definition of insanity and it is a common trait.

A good example would be the person who has always tried to look after the needs of others and wonders why someone doesn’t put the same effort to looking after them. I have found that these people have tended NOT to make clear to others what they need/want/desire. They frequently just don’t ask or else explode at a partner when they are frustrated by the lack of caring or understanding. Until they become aware of this tendency and start trying to change it, they will rarely (if ever) have the connection their heart longs for.

It is not a matter of being selfish but of healthy self-care. How can anyone love you if they don’t really understand what you need? The best relationship approaches I have observed are with a people who understand and feel understood, give and take, carry and are carried, etc.

No one knows exactly what YOU need to do differently but we know that doing the same thing, that has not worked, will perpetuate what you don’t want. Trying different things/approaches has more potential for creating the change!

For more information about building better communication and connectivity within relationships, contact Tony Fryer, MFT and ask about couples therapy.

Tony Fryer

Perception is not the Whole Truth!

The way I see things‘, is a good way to talk about my viewpoint. Too often we tend to think that we have the whole truth.

I find that I need to help clients accept that their perception is understandable and yet it usually is not the truth about another person or situation. It is the ‘way’ they see. Often when people are in the middle of an experience they find it very hard to realize that their perception is very limited. We tell teenagers this, when they feel so sure about how they see things, but we don’t often enough, question our own feelings and views. It’s always useful to try step back, pause, reflect, take another’s opinion into account.

Perception in marriage and family counseling

The mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain! Is a very useful phrase to keep in mind. When we have problems we are like the climber who is limited due to his/her proximity to the mountain. Good therapy is one way to expand our view. We need to talk about how we see things and feel about things and we also need to keep ourselves open to different observations.

I have experienced people traumatized by events in their lives and struggling to believe that their view of life and experiences will change. It could be death, illness, extreme conflict with family, an affair, divorce, or one of the other many things that happen in life. At those times I have witnessed how perception can get fixed and stress and pain continue or increase. As people start to work through these experiences in therapy their perceptions are modified and their behaviors too. It’s often hard to estimate how long it will take but when it does begin to occur the change alleviates some of the suffering and stress. The initial problem has not been altered but the perception has. Truth is rarely, if ever, a given but is an evolving thing or process. In that sense, the truth can set us free.

Tony Fryer

Divorce: for Better or Worse?

Divorce counseling and divorce mediationToo often people head down the divorce path without getting some good marriage advice. If more people did seek out some good relationship counseling then they might save themselves a lot of heartache and money. They might also help reduce the pain for themselves and their children (young or older). There is no doubt in my mind that some couples need to get divorced and there is also no doubt in my mind that many couples can work their marriage around and create a happier relationship. Marriage is a tough relationship and requires work. When it seems there is little hope, a couple would be wise to seek out a good Marriage and Family Therapist, especially if they’re in need of divorce counseling. If they have kids and are not 100% sure then my advice would be to try keep themselves on the marriage side of mid-way between marriage and divorce.

Why try to save marriage?

Because they are in a serious contract and have children and a whole life style. When a couple divorce each will have a reduction in financial stability. Before changing their status they need to get objective relationship counseling and marriage advice and, if they are healthy people, the outcome will be more life giving and help minimize the damage and pain. The Therapist should be one who specializes in Couples issues and the two partners need to feel ‘comfortable’ with the Therapist. Every therapist will not fit every couple. If you don’t like the Therapist’s approach try another Therapist!

For those who learn and decide to stay together

Through the therapeutic endeavor they will learn more about themselves and how to enhance their personal lives and marriage relationship. Too often couples have carried unhealthy ways of dealing with life into their marriages and then tend to think that their partner is the cause of all pain. Not true! The pain that I have seen in marriage is mutually caused and often comes from each person’s learned behavior from their Family of Origin. We all have some issues coming from our pasts and the marriage relationship tends to accentuate those issues. Often we feel if we get rid of the other person we will also get rid of the pain. The problematic issues from our past help form a dynamic that the couple become entrenched in. In therapy they see some of their own issues more clearly and speak about needs they have. The couple learn to approach each other differently and this can help them build love and connection anew. This is what most of us want.

For those who learn and decide to divorce

They too have learned a lot about themselves and the dynamic that they have mutually created. They too have learned of the need to express needs and of the impact of their past on the present. However, they see that the relationship is not a viable one and move towards divorce. In most of the cases I have dealt with it is one person who usually ends up coming to that conclusion first. There is a lot of pain for both people because their dream is coming to an end. Now they enter divorce with more understanding and try to reduce blame. They will be more inclined to approach the divorce process less angrily and this will reduce the potential for escalation of anger in divorcing. This will minimize their costs in money, time and emotions. Most importantly, they will reduce the pain for their children. The divorcing couple are in a better position to approach the co-parenting of their children into the future. The kids will feel less torn between the parents and structures will be developed to try help the kids feel they still have 2 loving parents who are going to continue to look after their needs. Divorce is change and changes usually involve some pain. As I work with and listen to my clients I know that parents hurt their kids much more than divorce. Making accusations, talking disrespectfully to or about the other parent, sending bad messages through the children, not allowing the kids easy access to the other parent, court battles, etc. are the things that damage the children’s lives the most. The Collaborative Law approach to divorce can also greatly help reduce escalation and pain, if you make sure to choose a truly Collaborative attorney when it comes to divorce mediation. All attorneys are not the same. Interview them and choose wisely because this is a huge milestone in your life and the lives of your children!

Tony Fryer

The Child Within!

Tony Fryer, MFT can help heal emotional damages experienced in childhood

Some of the Pop Psychology literature that abounds in our modern world irritates me. One of the terms that is too often bandied around is ‘The Inner Child’ and yet it is my experience that the child within us needs to be seen and healed. The damage done to our development in childhood is very real and often leads to pain in our relationships and marriages. Some book writers will spend forever on the subject and act as though there is some magical cure to deal with this pain. Some other writers will suggest that we need to ignore this pain and move on. I would say it is of great help to look at the pain and try understand its possible impacts on our present life so that we can better move on.

What is the message you got from the eyes of your primary care givers? What did you come to accept as your role in life? Do you often sense there is more to you than others seem to realize? I’m thinking of a client who found it hard to be vulnerable with her husband because her parents constantly attacked her; A woman who finds her sexuality suffocated because she was always expected to be the ‘good girl’; A couple who cannot come to resolution of their differences because they idolized their parents non-conflict relationship; A woman who had an affair because she had always been encouraged to keep her feelings to herself. Where did you learn how to express intimacy? Do you ever blow up or shut down and do you still tend to say the other person ‘made’ you?

It is good for us, in relationship or marriage, if we can start to explain that some of our problems with the other person have a lot to do with our childhood experiences. We will then be more inclined to take responsibility for our emotions and actions. The over-reaction to our partner can then be seen as coming from experiences in our family of origin that accentuate our feelings in the present. Our awareness will not necessarily stop the behavior but will reduce the frequency or intensity of the problematic action. We can learn to better deal with our emotions, rather than letting our emotions take us to places we’d rather not go.

For more information about getting healing from damage done during childhood, please visit tonyfryer.com.

Tony Fryer