what i learned at couples counseling

2 03 2010

I’m someone who is an unabashed proponent of therapy. I’ve never really understood the shame that I’ve heard many people have around going to therapy. I look at it like an Adult Continuing Ed. class in Emotional Education.

I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to go to therapy. I’ve also noticed (myself included), that often people would rather do anything (root canal included), than look inward, and take responsibility for their lives, and make the necessary changes internally and externally toward a more fulfilling life.

I didn’t grow up in a home where emotions were valued or expressed. Well, let me rephrase; toughness and do-it-yourself-ness and everything-is-fine, if those are emotions were valued and expressed, but I found myself wanting a broader and more genuine range, so out of a kind of frantic claustrophobia mixed with despair, I went to therapy at around 20 years old. I’m still at it, and hope to be until well into my eighties. I want to keep learning about human psychology and emotions, my own and others.

Things don’t have to be going wrong to go to therapy. And that’s the spirit that my girlfriend and I decided to start going to couples counseling twice a month. A sort of, “Hey how can we really make sustaining dynamics in the foundation of our relationship instead of stale habits?” And we were both sort of talking about this idea of “What does it really mean to be with each other?”

I heard something last time we were there, that has been resonating with me, and that I keep thinking about and wanted to share with you.

The (Buddhist) therapist said to us (I’m paraphrasing), “What makes a good relationship is actually not great communication. You could master all sorts of communication techniques and still not have a good relationship. What makes a good relationship actually, is the ability of each person to be with the other person in whatever state they are in.”

This is where I was sitting there thinking, WTF. I think I said out loud, “Seriously?”

She continued, “Yes. Whatever emotional state arises in your partner, you want to just be fully present with it, without pushing it away, or trying to change it, or give advice, or become annoyed by it, or anything like that. You just want to be fully with them in it. That,” she said, “is real intimacy. And that is what sustains a relationship.”

I have been reflecting on my ways of being towards Meg in light of this rich statement by the therapist. I am surprised by how often I am uncomfortable for whatever reason by her responses to things. I’m a fixer and an action-taker. How often I want to separate myself from her when I am uncomfortable with her state or words. I have been trying to drop those things since our last session and just see if I can be fully present to her and that’s it. Just really be there. In the kind of naked stripped-down kind of thing just as it is.

It’s an amazing and slightly terrifying thing. The intimacy is immediate and full-throttle, and very rewarding. A natural compassion arises for her and for myself and for the situation.

It’s what all the teachers have been saying. Just be fully present to your life. Don’t try to push anything away or force a change because we think it would be better if we tweaked it slightly. Just be with it. Why would the teaching be any different in its application to relationship?

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15 responses

2 03 2010
Ronna

Oooh. Ramifications in so many realms. My mind immediately jumps to parenting, but also clients, work, and yes- relationships. Even writing…

Thanks, Bindu. Your therapist should now be raking in affiliate monies!

2 03 2010
Lindsey

Wow. How can things be so simple and so revolutionary at the same time?
Thank you.

2 03 2010
Martha McPhee

You just saved me a few sessions with my therapist and perhaps even marriage counseling! This is so beautiful and honest. Thank you.

2 03 2010
Michelle

Wow. This explains why, even as a communication coach and “expert”, intimacy doesn’t just show up all the time in my relationships (and work, parenting, whatever.) This feels really profound – and true. I will be pondering this all day. Thanks so much for sharing it.

2 03 2010
Sharon

Brilliant! In the last few weeks, all of my writing has been telling me to be in the moment — to not lose the present.

2 03 2010
Megan

The perfect example of what Buddhists do wonderfully: simplify to the point of crystallization. This is so very true.

In fact, I know it’s true because it’s the one thing that drives me crazy about my husband – he always wants to FIX me, and I just want someone to BE with me… (Not that I think I’m free of the behavior myself!) Now, how to apply the lesson… (I emailed this to him to read to…)

Thank you so much for your lovely and insightful sharing.

Yours,
Megan

2 03 2010
lbaedeker

Lovely post.
I don’t know what’s harder: trying not to fix my husband’s pain or keeping myself open to my own. Intimacy with oneself seems to be such a key to it all. I’m working on it. Thanks for your sharing this.

2 03 2010
Carlos Velez

I have learned this countless times over the 7 years I have been with my wife and I have hardly gotten any better at it. My instinct to conquer her unhappiness almost always wins out and sends me into action when she really needs stillness and understanding.

The way you paraphrased it is so simply and beautifully stated, I believe it has found another foothold in my mind to get a stronger grip. Thank you for sharing.

3 03 2010
Stephen

I totally Agree Bindu..Nelda and I have learn { slowly of course} to allow each other to experience ,whatever changes we are going through..don’t interfere…Don’t analyze it…allow it to be….and sometime communicating or talking about it…messes it up…..I don’t want to change her….I want to enjoy and learn from her….a true Holy relationship enhances your life..Helps you to Awaken…

3 03 2010
Lianne

Bindu, this is a beautiful post and so, so true and so needed.

My husband and I have done a lot of work with John and Julie Gottman (famous via Gladwell’s book Blink) and his work maintains the same idea but from a more “scientific” approach. According to his research (and I can back this up with my experience) the killer in relationships has nothing to do with communication and everything to do with contempt. And contempt arises when we believe our partner should be/act differently then they are. Acceptance is the key – and when you transpose this on to how we treat ourselves it can be very illuminating, too.

What a relief, really, to realize that we don’t have to do the “What I hear you saying is….” dance anymore. šŸ˜‰

6 03 2010
Alana

Simple truths are life changing aren’t they? I love this post, this way of saying it so clearly. Thanks to your therapist – and to you – for sharing this gem.

6 03 2010
Alana

Oh – and I need to mention that in appreciation for the you that is here in these words, on these pages, there is a little sunshine on my blog for you if you have a moment to take a look.http://wholeselfcoach.wordpress.com/2010/03/06/sunshine/

7 03 2010
Carol

Wow. So simple yet so hard. The fixer in me fights this but the woman in me knows this is what she wants for herself. Now to sit with this a while….

9 03 2010
olive & hope

Thank you Bindu for sharing this with us! Amazing that something can be so simple and so profound at the same time. I will be pondering this, and can’t wait to use it the next time I feel the need to fix something or someone.

10 03 2010
Karissa

That’s amazing advice. It rings so true.

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