A Connection to Remember

WOAH! Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah!

What did she just say?

Did I just hear what I thought I heard: The words every person in a relationship fears to hear at any point in time? You’ve got to be kidding.

What the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s not like she’s giving me much breathing room here.

Why couldn’t she just say “we have to talk”? What kind of bullsh*t is this? Who just says that?

Ok, ok, try to focus. She said it. And she said it in that tone: The one that means business. She’s not just saying it to jostle me; she’s serious. And this is not a vulpine move: I know that. She’s pissed off and she’s putting her foot down.

The words set my thoughts on fire like napalm. Is there any way to respond to that without freaking out? I mean, what does she expect me to do?

“I want to have an affair”

An affair? What the hell…because I’m not enough for her? Wow, I’ve really lost it. Why couldn’t I have seen this coming?

Wait a second, it’s not like I’m an abusive boyfriend; I tell her I love her all the time. I’m there for her when she needs me; I make an effort to interact with her family and friends. So what is this? Why an affair?

Alright, I have to respond but I don’t want to snap at her – she’s already pulling away, I don’t want to make the gap farther, I want to close it… so what can I say?

“Go ahead you ungrateful bit-” no, no, that’s pushing. Try again.

“But you mean the world to me! Why would you-” No, that’s pulling her towards me and if she’s already pushing, then pulling is going to tear her apart.

I need to say something that’s going to communicate that I want to deal with this with her; show her that this is a real relationship, no matter how much I’m freaked out right now.

“I hear you. I hear that you want to have an affair”. Woah, where did that come from? Well, I want to show her that I’m attentive to her needs and that I’m meeting her where she is right now. I want to listen, really listen to her. That way, I’ll find out why she wants to have an affair. “What’s going on?” that’s good. It’s a straight up question posed after I’ve let her know that I’m all ears.

“I feel like you don’t listen to me anymore”.

That’s SUCH HORSESH- hold on, hold on; these are her feelings. She’s allowed to feel that way. But I do listen to her – and I’m listening now. She’s putting the blame about how she feels on me, like I can control how she feels. That is not how it works.

“Don’t talk about me, talk about you.” We’ve discussed this before – I’ve let her know in the past that only I can make myself feel something. If she does something, it’s MY choice whether I react to it or not. So If I’m angry about something, I’m angry. And while I might feel angry at her for doing something, the truth is that it’s my issue to deal with, not hers. We’re adults now and responsibility’s the name of the game. I’m not shutting her down, I’m just focusing her.

“Ok, I don’t feel listened to.”

Good, she’s taking responsibility. That’s important because it means she’s ready to share more about where she is, not blame me. All I can do is listen, because if I tell her she’s wrong, I’m going to push her away. So just keep listening.

“Okay, I hear that you don’t feel listened to”. Good, I’m not putting any words in her mouth and I’m just there as a sounding board so she can get her thoughts out and then go back to being sane- I mean calm.

“That’s right. And I know that you listen to me, it’s just-“

No, don’t let her drift! Remind her about what she needs to talk about. “Keep it about you.”

“Right. I feel listened to sometimes it’s just lately… we’ve been really busy – I’ve been really busy.”

She caught herself there, that’s great! Just keep it going. “I hear you say that you’ve been really busy.”

“Yeah. And I really want to spend more time with you because I don’t feel connected.”

Oh, so it’s about connection! I didn’t realize that she felt a loss of connection. Don’t get distracted, keep going.

“So I hear that you don’t feel connected to me.” That’s it, no more. And look how she’s smiling. I don’t know where that affair came from but now’s not the time to ask, just stay on task.

            “No… well… I am now. *Sigh* I just want to feel that I can still talk to you about my day because I haven’t done that in a while… I’m okay. I don’t want to have an affair anymore.”

Wow… I kind of can’t believe we got through that without so much as a bruise. But I kept my calm (after losing my mind for a moment) and just listened to what she had to say. The reflection of her feelings helped her to feel validated and that encourages her to want to share more. That’s how she knew without a doubt I was right there with her. I didn’t have to defend my actions or anything! Wow, I feel incredible!

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Curiosity, and why we need more of it in our lives

Therapy, when you think about it, is a rather unique relationship. In a short period of time therapists often will transition from being complete strangers to having clients sharing some very personal stories and feelings. When I began my training as a therapist one of the first ideas that was focused on was the importance of nurturing and maintaining an open curiosity within our sessions. In being curious we acknowledged how much was unknown to us about our clients’ lives and invited our clients to help us understand their perspective.

Since then I’ve found that the idea of curiosity has often been on my mind. Curiosity wasn’t something that I thought about much prior to that point however. When thinking of the qualities that an aspiring therapist needed to cultivate, it was qualities such as patience, understanding, or compassion that were talked about but curiosity…not so much. Especially when looking outside of the therapeutic context, curiosity isn’t often listed as at the top of people’s virtue lists.

In our society we praise people for being kind, or brave, or wise but not often for being curious. Curious George may be a loveable character for many people, myself included, but you don’t often hear people aspiring to be like him. Curiosity is sometimes highlighted as being one of the characteristics of the young but as much as we idealize youth, we are less likely to praise youthful traits later in life. Continue reading

The Intimacy of Personal Space

I always had my own room as a kid. I was pretty lucky in that way that I didn’t have to share it with a sibling as some people did. It was really nice to have a place in my house that I could really call my own and that I had a lot of control over. The rest of the house was definitely my family’s house and the spaces were shared with other people and others dictated the rules surrounding it but in my room I was in charge. Well, as long as I kept it clean enough that my parents didn’t have to step in that is.

As I grew up, this space became an extension of my own identity. I organized it the way I wanted, I decorated it with pictures and posters and my favorite things.  It was a place where I could retreat if I wanted to be alone, a place I could go with friends where we wouldn’t be interrupted. I place that I could share with whomever I wanted and keep away from those I didn’t.

This pattern continued, as I got older and moved out of my parents home. Now the house was an apartment and was shared with roommates and friends instead of family but my room was still my own. I could decorate it as I liked without having to negotiate with others and people only came in if I wanted them to. It was still my place, where I could be me and no one could tell me different. Continue reading

Fuming Recognition

Half an hour. She said she would be here half an hour ago and she’s not here… I’m going to call her, this is ridiculous… No answer. So she’s on her way? She better be… we’re going to be late as it is. Is my time worthless to her? Do I have nothing better to do than sit around and wait for her? I should have taken the bus; I would have been there by now. How completely obnoxious of someone to keep me waiting and not have the decency to call or, heaven forbid actually be here at the time we both agreed on.

Wow, am I fired up. I am so upset right now. I can feel my face begin to fume. My heartbeat’s increased and I feel like I want to break something. When she gets here, I am so going to let her have it. I’m going to tell her once and for all that this business of keeping me waiting has got to stop or else. In fact, I will never ask her to pick me up again, it’s obvious she doesn’t care anyway. Oh man, I am so pissed! Continue reading