Is it too late to save my relationship?
Over and over again, I answer this question for people in my office. Repeatedly, I see clients who began their relationship the way most do – blissfully. Gradually, over time, the bliss that once prevailed was replaced by painful patterns that ultimately brought them to therapy with this question on their minds.
Blissful beginnings, as delicious as they are, blind us to the differences that attracted us to our partner to begin with. Falling in love began as an amazing, pleasurable ride courtesy of Mother Nature and your endocrine system. And ironically enough, those differences that were once part of the attraction now create intense challenges for you. In other words we become attracted to a person who is different from us, and yet those differences create disharmony. We feel hurt, disappointed, even devastated because we believe our partner has changed. News flash - Your partner is who they've always been. It is your experience of them is what has changed.
Let me give you an example: Erin fell in love with Adrian's easy going, fun loving nature. This balanced Erin's rather Type A, driven personality. Adrian loved the way Erin was always taking care of the details. Eventually, however, Adrian's easy going nature became annoyingly irresponsible to the detail-oriented Erin, who Adrian perceived as tight, obsessive and controlling. Same characteristics – different interpretations, you see.
And so it goes.
Both people in the relationship are managing the pain and disappointment with their defenses up, which makes them unapproachable and difficult to love. Picture a cat hissing or a dog growling. This is how we look when we are defensive. As we defend our self over time, we hurt the other person. Because wouldn't you know that our defenses are the very ones that hurt our partner the most. In our example, if Adrian fears smothering, and Erin fears abandonment, of course Adrian's defense will be to withdraw, triggering Erin's fear of abandonment, which will create the defense of pursuing.
All of the above happened unconsciously.
In Imago, we seek to live and love consciously and intentionally. We learn to listen with curiosity, empathy and compassion. We know that much of our partner's pain is about the past, and we are our partner's healer. We know that ultimately what our partner asks of us actually matures us and makes us better people. We live into the 80% or more that is going very well, and address the 20% calmly and maturely. We create joy, passion and connection by having fun again, and we do this intentionally and behaviorally.
So the answer to the question is: "It is not too late, and your relationship can and should be saved". Conflict is supposed to happen because it creates new and necessary growth and a stronger connection as each conflict holds opportunity for greater understanding. Couples all over the world limp into workshops wounded by each other, and in two days time, walk out with restored connection, understanding and hope. It is not too late to discover the new way to live and love. Why not resolve to start the year with renewed hope and a strengthened commitment?
How long will we have to go to therapy?
This is really up to you. If you are willing to learn and practice the tools provided, you will experience rapid improvement. More often than not, couples leave my office feeling hopeful and connected after one session. This immediate improvement is rewarding and reinforces the desire to learn more. A new skill needs to be practiced in order to become habitual. I sometimes compare it to driving lessons. The first day can be awkward and overwhelming with the mechanics of driving. With practice, however, the awkwardness gets replaced by an effective tool for taking you where you want to go. Most people agree that a new habit takes about 90 days to form. I usually ask couples to commit to 12 weeks of therapy in order to form new communication patterns.
There is an even faster way, and that is to attend a “Getting the Love You Want” weekend workshop for couples. Essentially, healing your relationship is a function of both learning about relationship dynamics, along with learning how to communicate more effectively. A weekend workshop is a wonderful way to jump start healing. Whether you do a workshop or weekly therapy, I can assure you Imago Therapy is positive, rewarding and effective.
What is the cost of therapy? How can we keep therapy costs less expensive?
Therapy doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive. I try to keep fees affordable. Individual (50 minute) sessions are $105.00 and couples sessions are $125 per 60 minute hour. Ideally, couples sessions are 90 minutes in length.
Affordable couple’s therapy is possible - even efficient - if you are willing to follow my recomendations. I find that the couples who are willing to learn and practice the imago dialogue move very quickly to effective communication and the connection they want. Couples who attend a Getting the Love You Want Weekend Workshop see dramatic improvement after just a weekend. Then they sustain their connection with weekly follow up therapy sessions. My recommendation for affordable and lasting change is a commitment to one or two sessions with me, then attend a workshop, then ten more weekly sessions. Why? Because lasting behavior change really takes about three months. Think about any new positive habit you’ve acquired; let’s take exercise. Your first run was not bad, but probably didn’t make you want to keep doing it. The second time was probably a little frustrating. But if you stayed with the program, then within 3 months you found not only the absence of pain, but the rewards of exercise, which is intensely motivating. By then, you WANT to keep doing it because it’s working. In relationship work, trust takes a while to re-build, so defenses are hard to shake. Dropping defenses, however, allows for intimacy, which restores connection. It’s actually a chemical / neurological shift that is taking place, and while it doesn’t happen overnight, the changes are quite noticeable. Also, doing your own reading of Getting the Love You Want prior to or concurrent with therapy can move things along. My job is to help you restore your connection. This is accomplished through a process of learning how to communicate effectively, and getting your needs met. Your willingness to learn a new communication skill (the Imago dialogue) will speed things along nicely and keep the cost of therapy affordable.
Do you take insurance?
I have been on insurance panels in the past; now I am an “out of network” provider. These days, many insurance companies will reimburse the member for sessions. Call your health insurance company and ask about your out of network coverage. It works like this: you pay me directly; I give you a statement, which you turn in for reimbursement. They send you the check.
Do I need coaching or therapy?
Coaching is about the present and future. Often, I assist people in leadership or managerial roles in improving their relationships in the workplace. Or people considering a career transition will seek my services. I coach people through weight loss or other personal goal achievements the way a fitness trainer works. It’s about accountability, and untangling the psychological roadblocks that may be sabotaging success. I also coach couples in communication skills.
Therapy looks at the past for the sake of healing. Coaching is about present or future goals. Make sense? Call me and we can decide.
What is the difference between a psychotherapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and social worker?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe drugs that address depression or anxiety, for example. Many psychiatrists prescribe meds exclusively and “outsource” the talking therapy. Some do both.
This talking therapy is what we call psychotherapy and generally explores the past in order to heal. This can be done by Master’s level counselors, social workers and psychologists. Degrees are usually Masters in Counseling, Social Work or Psychology or PhD in one of those areas. My advice is two fold, find someone that fits with your personality and comfort level. And be sure whoever you choose is licensed and certified in their field of expertise. Licensure and certification processes require proof of training and continuing education.
What if my partner does not want to come to therapy?
Well, it does make it more challenging if only one person wants to work on the relationship. I would recommend that you approach this challenge with curiosity. There is a valid reason why we are the way we are, and if your partner is rigidly refusing, it may be due to anxiety over the unknown. See if you can use curiosity rather than frustration or judgment about what’s going on with him or her. Is it an option to come in for just one session, to see what it is about? If so, you will discover I’m quite harmless.
I think many people fear marriage or couples therapy because they think it is stepping into the ring to fight. Or they fear being put on the stand, as if in a courtroom. I often have couples who think it is their job to confess the other person’s sins for them. I don’t work in any of those styles, I don’t need to know everything your partner has done “wrong” and I won’t be judging or refereeing. What I do care about is teaching you how to communicate so that you both feel understood and connected again. I care about both sides getting their needs met, and because this is the goal, therapy is actually quite positive and even fun!
Imago Therapy is about understanding each other better, eliminating negativity and restoring passion. We use the dialogue to talk about difficult subjects, and it is safe and positive. No one is going to have to testify before a committee. It’s just the three of us with me coaching you on how to phrase what you need to say, and coaching your partner on hearing you fully until you both get that there really are two valid perspectives on things, and that is OK! This helps us become less defensive and reactive, and much more loving as we negotiate the differences, address conflicts and turn them into connections.
What is Imago Therapy?
The word “Imago” is the Latin word for “image”. Imago theory explains the chemistry of attraction, why it fades, why we argue and fight and repeat the same core scenes over and over again. It also provides a very effective array of tools for reconnecting. This reconnection is what Imago Therapy is all about. When you fell in love, you felt whole, like the other person completed you. This phase of the relationship is known as “romantic love”. It feels amazing, positive, hopeful and delicious. In romantic love, you’re happy together and cannot imagine life without this person. After a while, we habituate to the chemistry and often find that we’re in a relationship with somebody who drives us nuts! What happened? Who changed? Who ARE you and what did you do with the person I fell in love with? This phase of love is known as “the power struggle”, and it can be devastatingly painful. Imago Therapy teaches us how to use conflict as a portal to the far more rewarding phase known as “conscious love”.
Why would we choose Imago Therapy over other types of couple’s therapy?
Because it can save your marriage. Because it works, and often very quickly and effectively. Using the tools learned in therapy, couples report immediate improvement in communication and in connection. My job is to show you how you can turn a conflict into a connection. It seems so simple, but it does take practice. With practice you become much more effective at communication. Using the Imago dialogue involves the cerebral part of your brain rather than the “reptilian” brain that triggers adrenaline-induced fights or flights. So fighting, criticizing, judging, blaming get replaced by effective communication tools that allow you to understand each other better. As an Imago Therapist, I will do a combination of teaching and coaching you on how to express your thoughts, feelings and needs, and I will coach your partner on hearing you fully. Using the dialogue, along with other tools you learn in therapy, will help you feel safe, close and connected again.
Imago Therapy is about understanding each other better, eliminating negativity and restoring passion. We use the dialogue to talk about difficult subjects in ways that are safe, positive and geared toward both people getting their needs met. It’s also about restoring joy and fun and sharing life together again.
Everything leads to an argument. How can we stop fighting?
Most relationship problems originate in misunderstandings, followed by ineffective communication. Hurt feelings get buried, linger, and one way or another come back to haunt every time we feel misunderstood or manipulated. We use the only tools we have; yet they don’t work. We learned yelling, fighting and defensive behaviors when we were only toddlers; they may have worked then, but they don’t work now!
Understanding what is really going on psychologically (why we are re-creating pain) along with the use of effective communication tools will take you from conflict to restored connection and trust. This helps you experience being heard, validated and thoroughly understood emotionally. When this happens, there is a dramatic shift in feelings. Defenses go down because tenderness and understanding has replaced fighting. The understanding restores hope and connection.
What about infidelity? My partner cheated.
Trust, a very necessary component in an intimate relationship, obviously becomes a real issue in healing from infidelity. “If I can’t trust my partner because of the affair, how can we ever heal our relationship”?
It’s difficult to re-build trust, once it’s broken, but it IS possible. One does not re-build trust by policing another’s behavior. It is understandable that the party betrayed would want to ask questions and be reassured in order to build trust; however, this should not last forever. If you make a lifelong habit of stalking, checking phone records, e-mail accounts, etc., you’ll make yourself and everyone else miserable and you won’t re-build trust. There is another way.
It’s about deeper work on the self, re-claiming your own power, effective communication, a strong desire to know more and more and more about your partner, and willingness to open up and share. Yes, this is risky, but intimacy is vulnerability and this implies that one can be hurt. Knowing you can survive is where your strength and power lie – not in another person.
Is the risk worth it? It is possible. From all my years of crisis intervention work I am convinced that a crisis can be a time of extraordinary growth and radical change for the better, and this is certainly true in a relationship. If both parties want the relationship to work, and both parties agree to learn what there is to learn from this pain, and moving forward in a new, positive way, then yes, it can be worth it.
In Imago, we talk about “exits”, or ways that we may unconsciously avoid intimacy, usually out of fear. Some exits are socially acceptable, like work or TV. Other exits, such as affairs, we call “catastrophic” because of the severe damage to the relationship. We need to look at the possibility that the affair is a behavioral way of ending the relationship, or bringing it to the pivotal crisis point. If this is the case, then why? Does something need to change or is it time to end the relationship?
If the infidelity is chronic, it is my opinion that the person who has been unfaithful should be in a SA group or other sexual integrity group in order to understand, heal and change their behavior.
What happened to our chemistry? Or… What happened to the person I married?
When you first fell in love, you likely had a euphoric feeling of wholeness or completion. You probably felt passionately energized and consumed with positive thoughts of the other person. This amazing feeling of falling in love blinds us, to some degree to the reality that this other person is different from us. This intoxicating chemistry is Mother Nature’s agenda or mating call. It includes testosterone, phenyl ethylamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytosin, vasopressin, and together they slide the rose colored glasses over our reality. The delightful cuddle cocktail typically lasts 3-6 months and wanes over the next couple of years. Then we are left with what often feels like a devastating realization that this person has “changed”. This person has always been this person, though they may have put their best foot forward at first. Most of us do. But when the romantic phase is over, the 2nd stage may look like a power struggle characterized by conflict and fighting. It is tempting to think our partner has changed. It’s the chemistry and the way we see things that has changed. Our goal in therapy is to restore your connection through the use of tools that help you communicate effectively and experience the true love and understanding you once enjoyed. Here in the 3rd stage of conscious love , you experience renewed hope, joy, fun, romance, and appreciation for your partner, because here is where both people are accepted for who they are and get their needs met.
How do you know when it’s time to break up or divorce?
Conflict is normal. And Imago Therapy teaches us how to turn conflicts into connections through good communication, intentional dialogue, and caring behaviors.
The fighting needs to stop. And it needs to be replaced by effective communication, taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts, feelings and actions, compassion, curiosity and caring behaviors. These are all things that can be learned. To lose the negative, we need to replace with something positive and this is the goal.
If either party is abusive and refusing to seek help or change behaviors, then it seems likely that a breakup is imminent. Abuse is not love, and verbal, emotional or physical violence cannot be tolerated or condoned.
What I usually tell couples who are considering divorce is this: if you want this relationship to work, or you are even ambivalent about it, but willing to try, let’s give it 12 weeks of something different. This is about the time it takes to create a new neural pathway in the brain. In AA, they go for 90 meetings in 90 days for the same reason. If after 12 weeks you still don’t feel the love, then we can talk about a conscious divorce. You fell in love, you have a life together, and divorce is expensive financially, emotionally, socially. If you learn the dialogue, use the exercises taught in therapy, if you’re each willing to take responsibility for your own actions (in place of blaming and criticizing the other) we can move your relationship into “conscious love”, and avoid divorce. Life can be good, fun, rewarding, even juicy and amazing again.
LOVE is a verb. We can have something different if we do something different.