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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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

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

Infidelity in Marriage

Tony Fryer, MFT can help counsel families through infidelity in marriage

“Why did you do it? How could you do this to me and the kids? What were you thinking? Do you love me? Can I ever trust you again? Was our relationship a lie?”

I have listened to so many couples coming for marriage advice and relationship counseling after infidelity and the questions are many. No couple is ever the same as another and yet there are some similar situations around the experience of infidelity in marriage. Often we are lead to believe that it is only bad people who have affairs and yet I can say that my experience has been quite the contrary. I think most people can accept that the action of having an affair is bad, as it violates the bonds and contract of marriage.

Marriage is a relationship with huge expectations and when the expectation of fidelity is broken the pain is immense. Many people will decide to divorce and others will move on with the marriage and never really deal with or try to understand the trauma that has occurred. Most of my work has been with couples who want to try to understand what has happened, forgive and see if they can find a way to save their relationship. These are the couples that I am talking about here. They usually come in with very intense emotions and wonder if they can turn things around. Often the person who had the affair is guilt-ridden and wants to leave the whole thing behind and move on. They can be frustrated that their partner is unable to do likewise. The partner is often deeply wounded and angry and unsure whether they can ever again trust their spouse. They doubt every aspect of the relationship and the affair seems to block out or call into question any positive relationship attributes.

As time moves on I find that the vast bulk of couples come to understand their life and relationship differently. I see them leave with a relationship that is more communicative than it has ever been. They don’t forget, nor should they. They learn more about what they want from a relationship. The person who had the affair accepts full responsibility for the terrible choice they made, that could have destroyed the marriage they want. The couple both put more effort into how they relate and develop more openness with their feelings, needs and desires. My experience has been that this couple ends up with a relationship that, ironically, is deeper than it has ever been.

Traumas are never desirable (including an affair) but when they are worked through healthily, can often immensely increase our understanding. It requires both partners being prepared to work hard in couples therapy.

Tony Fryer

My Feelings

Cincinnati marriage and family therapy

Some people say, “Take the feelings out of it” and our working relationship will be better. How does one do that? Unless you are a Robot or Spock, it is not possible. Logic and emotion are not polar opposites. They work in conjunction with each other. When in relationship we can benefit greatly by letting our logic inform our emotions and vice versa. Building awareness is a good way to be in control of our choices. Lack of awareness often means that we will be motivated by our feelings unknowingly and end up regretting things we say or do. Some examples might help clarify:

  • The quiet woman who was always quiet and unemotional may find herself transgressing her usual moral standards because her suppressed needs, wants and desires take her to a place she would never logically choose.
  • Traumas/hurts in our life or relationships that are ‘swept under the carpet’ can often lead to a lack of appetite for intimacy with our partner or to a sense of ‘depression’ or ‘apathy’.
  • The strong woman who has had great success with pushing any vulnerable feelings aside can often end up in a relationship where she finds it hard to connect.
  • The man who got the message, as a child, that his role in life was to take care of everyone else’s needs may be angry that his needs are rarely taken care of in a relationship.
  • People often use substance, work, parenting, housework, sex, food or exercise to distract themselves (unconsciously) from dealing with underlying feelings, needs, wants or desires.

Awareness does not require therapy. Therapy is a great way to develop more awareness and start choosing how to deal with life. Awareness helps us see more clearly and be able to choose a path to take. It helps prevent avoidance. It provides us with options. Having a relationship therapist to assist in building awareness helps us to be more objective in recognizing what we do and what we want to do. Awareness does not totally change our behaviors but helps us be more actively involved in the process of change. The change is not into what someone else wants us to be but to become more aligned with our true essence.

Tony Fryer

Getting the Love You Want

Cincinnati marriage and family therapy by Tony Fryer

Isn’t this what most humans need? Why is it so elusive, and what can we do to be more successful in achieving the love we want?

In this past week I have been struck by the strong desire that we have to really connect, to love and be loved. I hear and see clients struggling to understand why their lovers just don’t seem to ‘get it’. That love relationship carries so many strong expectations and when they are not met, or are violated, the resulting emotions can be immense.

Most of the people I work with are ‘normal’ and good. Maybe these are the types who seek out counseling and are prepared to do the work necessary to try bring about change. These are the people I am reflecting on and about. They want the relationship to work and are frustrated that it is not providing the love they need. There are no easy answers, although some ‘Doctors’ in our media try to tell us there are. The love relationship is complex and needs continual work if it is to stay alive and grow healthier. I would just like to make a couple of observations from the week past that might help you to think some more and get more of what you want:

  • Be true with what you feel and careful about how you word it. Try removing blame.
  • Prioritize your marriage and don’t allow your other relationships to take precedence.
  • Realize that you brought perceptions from your Family of Origin that you will judge your partner with. So your perception, of him/her, is not the absolute truth.
  • You need to learn a new way to make your needs known if you have not been successful in getting them met.
  • Being ‘too kind’ can often lead to problems in your relationship.
  • If you don’t look after your feelings, in relationship, they will often motivate you to do things that are not for the good of you or the relationship.
  • What is reality/the truth?? Don’t be so sure that it is what you think. There are many ways to get a more objective view and one way is going to see a good Marriage and Family Therapist.
  • Read my other reflections and learn more about me at www.tonyfryer.com

Tony Fryer