Online Counseling in Georgia
Serving couples in Roswell and the surrounding areas for 20 years.
Part 5 in a 6-Part Series
I’m on my soapbox again. But I know you guys like that, so here goes. No matter how much conventional sex therapy and marriage counseling try, it cannot open up the marital box, then shove in all the stuff-you’re-supposed-to-do-to-be-happy-together and expect to resolve a lack of intimacy or any other common relationship problem. You can’t insert a communication technique, a good-behavior-checklist, a step-by-step guide, or even regular sex and expect to bypass the emotional processes set forth by God, Yaweh, Allah, The Great Spirit, or the God of Thunder.
Are there communication strategies that can be helpful? Yes. Are there known and well-researched behaviors associated with having a warm, happy marriage? Yes! Is regular sex associated with long term, stable marriages? Probably! But couples can’t just adopt these behaviors and expect to achieve some kind of resolution to the complex emotional and intellectual problems in marriage. We are not automatons. If your husband starts having sex with you, but doesn’t really want to, you haven’t resolved anything. If your wife agrees she needs to listen better, but isn’t really interested in hearing what you have to say (again), then you haven’t really resolved anything. You’ve put a Band-Aid on it. Good as it may feel, it’s just a Band-Aid…and could possibly…no, most likely…will make things worse in the long run.
There is an unfolding that must take place. There is a long, unmercifully slow, emerging that must take place. The emergence of a self. A self that knows a little something about what they value most. About what they are willing to go through to achieve their most important goals. About how to get centered when faced with an emotional challenge.
Learning to Think Emotional-Process
One of the reasons communication techniques don’t work is because they are linear, and problems in marriage are dynamic, non-linear, and constantly in motion. Something emotional is going on. Something instinctive. Something bigger than the two of you. It’s hard to see without stepping back far enough to observe the evolutionary ebb and flow of things.
Learning to think in terms of emotional process can help you step back far enough to see more fully. And, unless you see more fully (you, not your therapist, not your mother, or anyone else), you are going to be missing the mark. Your thinking has to change. The way you process things has to change. Thinking in terms of emotional process is like those posters that were popular in the 80’s where, once you stared at them long enough, an entire 3-D image would pop out from nowhere. Seeing the 3-D image is like seeing in terms of emotional process.
No matter how much we might want your marriage difficulties to be simple and straightforward, they are 3-D. And unless you can see the full picture, you will be shooting in the dark.
For example, an overly simplistic definition of a common relationship problem is something along the lines of my-spouse-is-too-needy/insecure when it comes to sex. With that 2-D definition, the 2-D solution is to be careful with them, be sensitive to their needs, and tip-toe around them when they are moody. As most of you know, this isn’t terribly successful! Why? Because both the definition of the problem and its solution are missing a 3-D perspective. A 3-D perspective would be that the two of you are stuck in a reactive pattern, one’s reactivity feeding upon the others. With this more dimensional definition, you have options. You can change your part…your own reactive part.
In some ways this is a relief. You only have to be responsible for your own emotions and not your spouse’s! Can you think of ways this would also be more challenging?
More on Emotional Process
Emotional process in relationships is most often automatic, instinctual, and beyond our clear awareness. It is associated with the parts of our brain we have in common with other mammals. Emotional process in relationships is hypothesized, by some really smart people, to be the reason our brains evolved to be as large and complex as they are. It takes some serious grey matter to live in the kinds of complex social and familial groups we live in.
We can get caught in any combination of the following four emotional process patterns: conflict, triangles, over-/under-functioning, and distance. By far, I think the emotional process pattern of distance is ultimately the most vexing for couples. It underlies all of the others. I’ve described it in blog posts over the years in various ways. It’s the perplexing question of how do two people connect openly with each other when anxiety and stress are chronic, as is the case for most humans? I think it has a lot to do with understanding space vs. distance.
As you reflect on these ideas, remember from the last post: The most important question isn’t what-do-I-do. It’s how-do-I-think about any given marital difficulty I’m facing? People do a lot better when they start thinking and stop worrying so much about doing.