How Couples Can Make It Work
Couples Therapy entails building upon a sense of the “us” to bring greater harmony in our togetherness. What may serve one person in a relationship may or may not serve the other person (or the relationship itself), even though we ourselves may feel benefit. This is where problems and breakdown occurs most often and must be investigated in a safe context for both individuals to present their differing points of view earnestly.
In Couples Therapy we identify behaviors and communications that will be beneficial to the happiness and full functioning of the relationship itself, even at times requiring some sacrifice or adjustment of behaviors that may benefit us only, but antagonize our partner, and ultimately take away from the “us.” Required changes can be very radical, or relatively easy to do. Honoring the relationship itself–“the us”– takes top priority from this vantage point, with the goal of “meeting halfway.”
As individuals are willing to let go of preferences or demands that may be injurious to the relationship — more space opens in the relational field which in turn allows for the sharing of deeper feelings and concerns. You start feeling “unstuck,” and sense that positive change is possible. At times, however, individuals may feel compelled to maintain such patterns which fall into direct conflict with their partner’s wishes. Here we have problem. Skillful communication and negotiation are now required so that thorny issues are clearly and openly laid out, perhaps for the first time. It may be scary to open up like this at first, but because you now have a safe, confidential, and professional therapist to support you through this process, it can be greatly relieving of the stress and anxiety you have kept bottled up inside you.
As a couples therapist, I can help you sort through and express sensitive areas to each other, which can be difficult to discuss alone currently. In time you will be able to do this effectively with each other without my help. Communication skills and active listening will be very helpful. The wisdom of compromise or adjustment may be suggested, always with the bigger picture in mind, namely to serve the larger entity, i.e. the “us”. In our first few sessions, I like to learn as much as I can about both of your points-of-view, and get the most current issues out on the table first. Sometimes, I may prefer to meet individually with each partner before couples work begins. I’m happy to discuss any questions by phone about how I work before you make your first appointment.
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Implementing A Change Strategy: Below is an outline of steps to be taken to achieve the level of harmony with which healthy relationships may thrive. Interestingly, it is a modern psychological adaptation from the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, The I Ching, (Hexagram 44 “Coming To Meet”). I use these principles in counseling as a clear template for positive relationship growth, and can help you to apply these basic principles to your own unique situations. Art Rosengarten, Ph.D.
On “MEETING HALFWAY”
“Coming to meet halfway is possible only between people who are mutually honest and sincere in their way of life.” I Ching
1. The hexagram describes a “correct” relationship as one in which two people come to meet each other halfway. Halfway means that both are open and receptive to each other. It must be mutually voluntary.
2. We must maintain reserve in our relationships until the coming to meet is mutual. Maintaining “reserve” is the correct action (or nonaction) during turbulence and communication breakdown
3. Coming to meet halfway is possible only between people who are mutually honest and sincere in their way of life. It is the great joy of such relationships that they are full of mutual trust and sensitivity
4. “Coming to meet” is best understood as a contract made between two people. If one is indolent in performing his part, or has mental reservations about what he is willing to do, the contract may fail. Although such a person may have entered the contract without any immediate objections, his attitude may contain objections which arise only at the time his obligations are to be performed. Such a person may secretly feel that contracts are not to be taken seriously, or, on seeing how difficult it is to fulfill his part, he may hedge on doing it because of some idea that all contracts are subject to fitting into his concept of what is “reasonable.”
5. It is impossible to come to meet such a person halfway and it is better for us to go on our way alone and to wait until the fundamentals of unity are firmly established before we commit ourselves to other people.
6. When we cater to another person’s ego because it is uncomfortable to go on our way alone, we choose the high road of comfort rather the low road of modesty and loneliness. Withdrawal from the high road is the action often counseled by the I Ching (The Classic Chinese Book of Changes).
7. If a person is treating us presumptuously, and if we remind him (or her) of this, he may correct his habits for a few days, but gradually revert to the same pattern of neglect. This he does from egotistical indolence (apathy), something in his point of view makes him feel he has the right to be indifferent.
8. Likewise, we must withdraw from the indolent person, “cutting our inner strings” of attachment to him, and no longer look at his wrongdoings with our inner eye (preoccupations, self talk, ideations etc.).
9. This enables the person to see what he is doing in the mirror created by the void. By dispersing any alienation we may feel, we also lend strength to his superior self. Momentarily, his ego is overcome. We need to realize that his change is short-lived, but it is an essential beginning. The change does not last because it is only founded on his response to feeling the void. It becomes permanent change when he sees clearly that unity with others depends upon his devoting himself to correcting his mistakes. Only then can we abandon a more formal way of relating to him.
10. The sense of loss, loneliness, or poverty of self a person feels on our withdrawing from him is called “punishment” (in the I Ching), but I prefer the term “mindful disengagement.” Mindful disengagement works only if it is applied in the way described—we must consistently and immediately withdraw, neither contending with him nor trying to force progress by leverage. We withdraw accepting his state of mind, letting him go. We must take care not to withdraw with any other attitude than that required to maintain inner serenity, and to keep from “giving up on” him (or her).
11. If on the other hand we withdraw with feelings of alienation, or of self-righteousness, our ego is involved as the punisher. The ego lacks “the power and authority” to punish. The culprits not only do not submit, but “by taking up the problem the punisher arouses poisonous hatred against himself.” One person’s ego may not punish another person’s ego.
12. When a person returns to the path of “responding correctly” (being open and receptive) we likewise go to meet him (or her) halfway, rather than tell him he is doing things correctly. In this way he comes to relating correctly from his own need to relate correctly and we do not force it on him. Our consistence and discipline in feeling out each moment and responding to it does the work.
13. It is unnecessary to watch a person’s behavior to see if he is becoming worse or better; we need only be in tune with ourselves. Our inner voice warns us precisely when to withdraw and when to relate. We need only listen within.
14. It is important to work with a situation only so long as the other person is receptive and open, and to retreat the instant this receptivity wanes. When we understand that this represents a natural circle of influence, we learn to “let go” when the moment of influence passes, and not to press our views. This gives other people the space they need to move away from us and return of their own accord.
15. We must avoid egotistical enthusiasm when we think we are making progress, or discouragement when the dark period ensues. Throughout the cycle we learn to remain detached. Holding steadily to the light within us and within others. The instant we strive to influence, we “push upward blindly.” If we insist on accomplishing the goal at all costs, our inner light is darkened and our will to see things through is damaged.
16. The strength of a person’s ego corresponds to the amount of attention it can attract. On the most simple level this recognition is by eye-to-eye contact; on the more basic inner level we strengthen other people’s egos by watching them with our inner eye. Only when we withdraw both our eye-to-eye contact and our inner gaze do we deprive his ego of its power—“We cannot lead those whom we follow.”
17. Inner withdrawal is an action of perseverance that has its own reward, but only when it is modest perseverance, not an attempt to impress others by getting them to notice our withdrawal. In many situations the problem is resolved, not through any external action that arises spontaneously on our part, but by simply “letting it happen,” through letting go of the problem. Our “action” is to “let go.
I whole-heartedly subscribe to this elegant strategy of “meeting halfway” as a template for modern relationships. I can help you implement needed changes and fine-tune where necessary in ways. Contact me at Moonlight Counseling to set up an appointment.
Call (858) 481-6600 or (760) 518-2001
Adapted from the essay: “Coming To Meet: Advice From The I Ching,” by Carol Anthony, [included in the anthology, Challenge Of The Heart, John Welwood, Shambhala).