Podcast #8 Understanding Marriage


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.

Good morning. This is Dr. Gerry, 1490 WGCH on your dial. I’m talking from the Psychotherapist’s Corner. This morning I am going to go over a few things that we mentioned last week.

I received a few emails from people interested in the whole point of couple’s therapy and one of you was kind enough to remind me that at times, I do speak a little quickly, and would I mind slowing up a little bit and going over some of the things. I appreciate those comments; so don’t hesitate at all to email your reactions to the content, or even to my style. So let me go back and reiterate some of the points we were talking about. We’re talking about marriage and marriage therapy. Before we get in to it, I want to refocus. A lot of times, people think that the primary and only function of marriage is children. Now of course, that is a significant function of marriage. But on a deeper level, it’s important for us to realize that human beings want to know each other; human beings want to be connected. That’s who we are.

A number of shows ago, I spoke about how we probably survived against some very big animals, a million years ago, by banning together. That banning together is essential to being a human being. We happen to live in a very individualistic, highly competitive society. And sometimes, one of the results of that is that we don’t always appreciate that we are community creatures, that is, we want to know each other from the inside out. Not just from the outside in. You know, when we know each other from the outside in it’s how tall we are. How rich we are. How beautiful we are. What house we have… What car we have, etc., etc. I’m not knocking that matter, it’s fine, as long as we keep it in correct focus, so to speak. That is that we don’t think that that’s how we know each other from the outside in, so to speak, rather then from the inside out.

I’m going to highlight a few of the points that I mentioned. More often then not, in couple’s therapy, what we have found, believe it or not, is that couples know each other and also don’t know each other. Now what do I mean by that? They know each other and they may know each other’s history, but they haven’t had the time or maybe not the ability to experience what we have spoke about, in terms of cross identifying. Now what does cross identify mean? It means that, the example I gave last week, if a wife happens to be married to a husband who is somewhat distant, a little closed off, a little bit over self protective, for her purposes, she may know, for example, that this particular fellow might have been a product of divorce and was left home alone with mom, and may have had to do a lot of stuff around the house while mom went out and had to make a living. She may know that fact, but she may not know what that meant to an 11, 12, 13, 14-year-old boy. She may not know what it did to him inside. A kind of predisposition he might have to generally be weary of a woman making demands on him.

In this case, the wife obviously would experience his actions as personal. She’s married to him. But, one of the points that we try to make and clarify for people, is that when any of us bring leftover issues, and we all do from our childhood, even though the person we are with may get the result of that, it’s really not personal. In that little example I gave you, if a husband is somewhat closed off and self protective, he’s actually protecting himself in adulthood, in a way perhaps he couldn’t protect himself growing up.

When I speak about cross identification, what I mean is, that each party, the husband and the wife should try to really gain an appreciation of that. Appreciating where our spouse may be coming from will make their actions less personalized, a little less painful to bear; cross identifying enables us to have a little more room to negotiate adult needs by enabling us to understand childhood needs. Each couple in a marriage situation always brings their memories of both their mother and their father to their present marriage table, so to speak. They are unconsciously, when I say unconscious that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing. There are a lot of forces inside of us, and we can’t know all of them. But we model our behavior on our dads or on our mothers. If we model it positively; we’re going to imitate them. Or if we had painful experiences with our parents, we model it negatively. “Oh my God, I’m not going to do what my dad did to me. I’m going to make sure I do everything different.” Either way, our parents are very important, as you can hear.

In other words, how our parents interacted with each other also becomes a first example for us, of how spouses interact. We simple absorb it. I have said to myself and I’ve said to the patients that I work with, “when I was growing up and before we had all the smoking laws that we have today. You’d go in to a restaurant and even if you didn’t smoke and you had a meal, you came out and of course, the smoke would be on your jacket. You could just smell the restaurant. Well, in a sense, you can use that as a model. We literally absorb our parent’s interaction like smoke on our clothes in a crowded room. It just comes in to us. We don’t even have to think about it, we don’t have to notice it. We notice it’s after effects. I don’t mean that in a depressing way or ominous way. The goal of therapy, formal or informal therapy, is just to know what happened to us and the knowing gives us a handle on it. In some cases, children are going to be very different from their parents; all of which is understandable, but it’s necessary to know what we’re doing.

What are some of the issues that couples, in particular, bring to therapy? The most usual ones, in my experience, is that couples feel that either he or she is being ignored. That he or her needs are being side stepped, being bulldozed, to put it strongly. Furthermore, underneath that complaint, you will frequently hear the spouse implying “It’s obvious that the other person is doing it on purpose, and they know what they are doing.” That conviction, of course, causes a lot of anger, frustration and difficulty. Now while a person can understand how angering such a situation is, it is usually not that simple. It’s not that simple actually in most situations in life, just to stay on the surface.

Tensions can arise, for example, in this situation, so I’ll clarify what I’m talking about. It’s very important that each spouse allow each other and that parents their children to have their own dreams. A wife or husband comes to a marriage with certain dreams about what marriage is going to be like. We have to know that, we have to hope and try to work towards it. We also have to know that dreams have to be negotiated. They need to be held as one’s own, but they also have to be negotiated. The same is true for husband and wife and for parent and child.

In marriage and couples therapy, to the extent that a person just stays on the surface and if neither one makes an effort to put themselves in each other’s shoes, the bottom line, unfortunately, is only settled frequently, by a lawyer, with all the financial and emotional expense that a lawyer and divorce entails. Once a person emotionally understands, and I want to reiterate that, emotionally understands then they can appreciate where their spouse is coming from, without compromising their own convictions. They can usually start to see if there is a sensible solution to a given situation. Because we are legally free I don’t really think we are emotionally free. To get frustrated and then just divorce or have a fight, walk out or not talk to one’s spouse. If you think about it, I understand those reactions, but that’s a reaction of when we were beginning adolescence. When we didn’t understand that one has to tolerate frustration and understand it, not just react to it.

A solution is possible when both people are willing to let go of power issues. A solution is possible when both parties are aware of our human propensity to overvalue our self’s importance. That’s what I’m talking about, when I use the example of the Queen in Snow White. What did the queen do? Yes, it was very dramatic… she wanted Snow White killed. But what was the Queen saying? Was she just talking about how beautiful she was? Well, that’s what the fairytale says, but what she was psychologically saying was “I am very important. I’m the most important person.”

Now all of us harbor that fantasy inside of us, I understand that, it’s very universal. It’s universal and it’s almost funny, at times. We have to appreciate it’s universality and it’s funniness. We’re not that important. We’re unique. We don’t have to be the most important person, that doesn’t make us valuable. What makes us valuable is that we are unique. What makes us valuable is the care and love that we give to ourselves, our spouse, our children, our community. That’s what’s valuable, not that we’re special. As people are willing to let go of their power issue, their narcissistic issues, they can experience more connecting issues. In reference to marriage, it’s very important.

There was a funny adage that was a very well known English writer in the 50’s or 60’s, some of you may know of him, called G.K. Chesterton, the author of the Father Brown Mysteries. Very well known writer and he was a very devoted Christian and at one point he said when they were speaking to him about evolution and creation, he said, “You know, I don’t know about evolution. I think each morning God wakes up and says, Hey let’s make the world anew today and let’s just see what happens.” What he was trying to get at was, that we have to have a sense of aliveness. We have to try to reach for that sense of aliveness and I don’t mean in a Polly Anna, silly way. Of course couples fight sometimes and feel alienated. Of course they feel burdened, particularly today, with this ferocious financial crisis we are in. I appreciate all of that. I’m not advocating some Polly Anna notion, but an inner sense that we are alive and marriage is something that should help us stay alive and feel alive.

My wife and I when we work with couples, we have been fortunate enough that many of them, who have stayed and have been willing to work it out, by being honest and letting go of the power, narcissistic issues, have been able to stay together. That is a great gratification for them primarily. I don’t have any investment in people staying together or not staying together, I have an investment in people feeling real and feeling connected and feeling that they know who they are.

I’m going to take a break. We’ll be back in just a minute. [Commercial Interruption 00:14:58]

Hi, this is Dr. Gerry, back again.

Let me continue what we were talking about. You know without connections, without love, life becomes more than tedious. It becomes dry and uninteresting. That’s when we usually have to over stimulate ourselves, with all kinds of things, to counteract an inner sense of loneliness. We all happen to live, myself included, in a society, where there is so much noise and distraction in our life. It’s easy to think that everything is OK as long as one is busy. That is, as long as one is doing something. It’s also equally easy to think that an inner loneliness is simply due to one’s spouse or to a situation, and so change one’s spouse or change one’s situation. Human beings are meant to be alone inside. But they are not meant to be lonely inside. When they are lonely that usually indicates some issues that have deep roots. We all have an area of being alone and that’s fine and absolutely necessary. But if we don’t recognize that and we are pervasively lonely, that deserves our attention, our honesty and our examination; because changing one’s spouse is not necessarily going to change that situation at all. It might change it, seemingly, but only temporarily.

Let me start now a little bit, I don’t know if we’ll finish in this morning’s broadcast, about what happens to children in a divorce. Children are usually the first casualty, when love can’t be re-awakened, when love can’t be re-found. Now, we happen to know that children are wonderfully resilient. We also know that a child’s reaction, sometimes even up to adolescence, they can consciously know that the parents are getting divorced, but they unconsciously feel that some how they may have contributed to it. Had they been better kids, maybe mom and daddy wouldn’t have fought so much, maybe they would have stayed together. It’s very important if a couple decides to get divorced, that they let their child know, over and over again, not just once, that it’s their decision and it’s their situation, and it is not the child’s fault.

In this regard let me say that we can know what we shouldn’t do and we just march right ahead and do it anyways. Children should never be used as hostages or bargaining chips in interaction with one’s spouse. For example, one spouse in a divorce may not inform the other when the child is ill. When they have them for the weekend or during the week. One of the spouses may constantly be talking to the children about how much money the divorce is costing. Or they may be complaining that mom or dad isn’t doing the right thing. Or they may talk to the child about why they had a divorce, because mom or dad insists on doing such and such and such. All that kind of behavior is destructive. All that kind of behavior really is the shadow of the Queen in our lives. The shadow of, I did everything right and the other person did it wrong. I have to show these children that I am wonderful and the other spouse is not so wonderful. Anything that approaches that is going to be ferociously destructive towards the child. We have to constantly remind ourselves, if we find ourselves talking about one’s spouse in a divorce situation in such a way.

You don’t want a child ever to feel that they don’t matter; you don’t want a child to feel that they are simply a distracting sideshow. I don’t know if we human beings have learned yet how to raise children. We live out, as I’ve said before, our left over dreams. We live out our ambitions and hopes with them. Very understandable, but I am not sure it’s always the best thing for the child. We are still struggling after 150,000 years of homo sapiens, in trying to figure out how to raise children so we truly respect their individuality and allow that individuality to grow. It takes a great deal of maturity in our society to get married. It takes a lot more maturity to negotiate marriage. I would say it takes even more to handle a divorce well. By maturity, I mean, for lack of a better word, a certain amount of everyday wisdom. I’m going to talk about that next week. What’s involved with everyday wisdom? I don’t mean an old man with a big beard that we go and get advice on some very complicated issue. I mean day to day, how do you live? How are you flexible? How do you forgive? How do handle anger? How do you handle sexual feelings, sexual desire, sexual fantasies? Day to day experiences, is what is crucial for people, is what I mean by maturity.

Getting back to children for just a minute, children obviously don’t ask to be born. But once they are born, they are owed care and love. That is absolute. When I hear parents say, “I wish this child had never been born.” Well, a moment of frustration, of course, anyone can understand that in a moment of frustration. But on a deeper level, it’s very crucial to remind oneself that children did not ask to be born. It was our decision, conscious or unconscious, to have a child. So therefore we owe them the respect of having brought them into life. They should not be used in any kind of way, to satisfy our needs or projection for our frustration or anger. Nor should a child be used to satisfy that inner loneliness. Nor should a child be not allowed to separate, not allowed to go their way, because of a parent’s inner loneliness.

In couples therapy, even when one’s love for each other seems to be gone, it can save a lot of emotional and financial expense to give it a chance, one more run around. Many people have no idea the emotional expense of divorce. They are running away from inner loneliness and inner frustration. But in point to fact, they are liable to walk in to a whirlpool of conflict of feelings. It’s in view of that actually, that I am recommending that when you find your getting stuck, that you stop and say, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Maybe I have to do a little chimney sweeping myself. Better I get a little soot on myself now, then the whole house go up in fire and everything we’ve worked for get destroyed, because I didn’t take the time to see if I could clean the chimney out and look at the daylight again.”

That’s really what therapy is all about. That does not imply, and I’ve said this many times, that does not imply that we are sick. That does not imply that someone else is going to tell us what to do. That does not imply that we are wrong and our spouse is right. Or, that our parents are bad, or that our parents are perfectly wonderful. It doesn’t imply any of that. It implies something essential about being alive. That human beings have to constantly re-examine themselves. Constantly find a quiet place, to think about who they are, where they are, what they want to be. You can be 60 years old and still think about what you want to be. I don’t mean necessarily in terms of a job. I mean in terms of how you want to live your life. It’s crucial that you think about that.

I’m as modern as anyone else, I drive a fast car and I watch TV and I have my cell phone and my computer etc., etc. But I know it’s important to have a quiet space. That’s what I mean by the Psychotherapists Corner. I want each of you to have a Psychotherapists Corner in your head, in your mind. In some section of your life, whether it’s driving to work for a half hour or an hour. You can turn off the radio, and give yourself some quiet time to just think. Feel what you’re feeling and decide what you want to do with that. We don’t have a society that particularly promotes that, and we can celebrate our great technological advances and at the sane time be a little wary of our technological advances because they are liable to alienate us from our insides.

If we find that there is a kind of pervasive, unresolved loneliness inside of us, then think about it. Think about where that maybe is coming from. If you are carrying, as most human beings do, very few of us get to adulthood without carrying a fair amount of pain from our childhood. That’s OK. That’s the human condition; we don’t have to be overly dramatic about. It’s just that if it’s still leaving a lot of residues, then it’s worth remembering in order for us to forget about. I want to reiterate that. Therapy is a paradoxical experience. We remember in order to forget. We go back to the past, in order to bury it. I hope that is of use to you. If I can be of any help or if you want to make any comments I gave you my email before. Feel free to email me. I would appreciate it. Thank you. We’ll be talking again, next week, on the Psychotherapist’s Corner.

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