Therapists. Admittedly, we tend to be a hippy dippy bunch. Trained to pull from our vast understandings of neurology and human nature, we spend years developing virtually bottomless capacities for empathy. Just kidding. I mean, yes there is a little of that, but it also helps that we’re not the ones living with your socks-in-the-living-room-every-night and nose-hairs-in-the-sink-every-morning husband or your but-all-ten-of-these-new-dresses-were-on-sale and no-way-can-we-afford-a-big-screen-TV wife. A little distance never precluded anyone from seeing all sides of an issue.
I often think to myself, what would happen if spouses in couples counseling saw each other as I saw them? (Or if the partners of individuals in therapy saw them as I saw them?) How would your relationship, your well-being, and your life change if, in an instant, your spouse knew the following things about you?
- You aren’t crazy. You may be anxious. You may be scared. You may be hurt. You may be operating on an unhelpful defense mechanism (shutting down, behaving passive-aggressively, heightening intensity, etc.) to protect yourself from distress or to meet an unmet need. But you aren’t crazy.
- WANTING what you want and FEELING the way you feel is never unreasonable. Even if you can’t reasonably get your way.
- Your perspective is valid, even if someone who is not wired the way you’re wired, or has not experienced the things you’ve experienced, says it’s not. Again, just because you are married to someone who is different than you does not make you crazy.
- There is an unmet need in you that has nothing to do with the dishes or the finances. We all (even your spouse) have the same basic needs for acceptance, consideration, adequacy, and safety. There is nothing weak or unreasonable about desiring these in your life. You likely feel afraid to access your deeper unmet needs because you fear the pain of disappointment.
- You need your spouse to accept you, your vulnerabilities, and your needs. Even if they don’t agree or see it the same way. Only after acceptance is accomplished can any constructive feedback be heard.
- You need to be told what to do differently just as badly as you need your spouse to be told what to do differently. This gives you hope and relief. And you need hope and relief just as much as you need to practice actual techniques.
- You don’t want the other person to hurt; You just want yourself to stop hurting and may be acting-out in emotional survival mode.
- Your perspective is worthy of acceptance and empathy, EVEN IF it doesn’t have a lot to do with your partner. Your pain/fear/distress may have more to do with family of origin, personal turmoil, past relationships, etc. However, regardless of where it comes from, you are feeling it, and you deserve empathy. And you are capable of learning that the same is true for your partner.
- Even though all of the above are true, there may be some more constructive communication, emotional-regulation, and thinking skills that you may need to practice. That doesn’t make you a horrible person.
- You are doing the best you can. Your sitting in this therapy office means you are willing and brave. Even if you sulk or act out or behave unconstructively momentarily, the fact that you show up tells me not to judge or give up on you.
I think, if all couples knew these truths about one another, I might just be out of a job. Even-so, share this post, because you never know- A little shift in perspective might really help a lot of couples out there!
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