I believe this book can change your life and your relationships. It's full of the information and methods that I use in session with my clients. I know other therapists that have adopted these methods with their clients and they have reported an increase in their clients progress. I want to share chapter one with you today.
If you like what you read and think that it can help you in your own relationship, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here.
Chapter 1: What If?
Derek sat on the couch in my office. His Adam’s apple moved up and down in rhythm with his labored breathing. He was obviously distressed. The first few moments of the first session are like a dance: the two partners don’t know how to act without any music to guide them. Therapist and client must listen for the music that is not there and end up in synchrony.
Derek looked at me and said, “My wife and I just can’t get on the same page. Forget communication—we can’t even agree on what we need to communicate!”
I said, “But what if I could teach you how to talk to her and how she could talk to you and move you through your conflict? What if you could engage conflict in a way that improved your relationship? What if you and your wife could actually repair your marriage?”
Derek and Ruby had been married for a few years when they walked into my office. Things started to fall apart quickly. Derek moved out and into an apartment. Ruby begged him to come home. Derek stayed away. She begged some more.
Until she stopped.
After begging, she became incensed. First, she was hurt. Then she was angry. Rage and bitterness followed next. Finally, she flirted with contempt. Overarching these emotions was numbness.
She clung to numbness to protect her heart. At a different time, Ruby sat in my office and told me, “I’m not mad at Derek. I’m not. I’m not angry, I’m not sad; I’m not . . . anything. I’m just really tired.”
If I were going to help them, I would have to challenge her numbness and teach them both a way to talk that moved their relationship forward. I worried that I would run out of time before I could help them.
And I almost did.
One day, Derek walked in and told me that Ruby had decided she was done. She wanted a divorce. “The worst part is that she thinks I was drunk, and I swear to you I wasn’t. I hadn’t even had three beers in two days!”
Derek was angry. I asked him how he responded to Ruby.
“Respond? I just kind of walked away.”
“What if you could change that?” I asked.
What if, indeed!
About a week later, Derek and Ruby walked into my office and she told me, “I want to make our relationship work.”
I asked why she had changed her mind. Derek responded for her.
Derek had gone over to her house and rather than shrinking in the face of her typical haze-and-raze approach to their conflict, he engaged her. He used the same principles that I’ve written in this book to begin the healing process of their relationship. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t caustic. He was direct. He told her how he felt. He engaged his feelings while validating hers. He told her that he loved her, but he gave her the freedom to leave and walk away. For maybe the first time in their life as a married couple, he stopped trying to control her and gave their relationship the opportunity to grow or fail.
This is one of the keys to a healthy relationship: allowing it the opportunity to fail. We’ll talk more about this later, but for Derek, it was revolutionary. It saved his marriage. And you’ll need to embrace it to create the relationship you want.
I’ll ask you the same question: What if you didn’t have to go through Derek’s situation? What if you could create habits in your life that would create a healthy relationship as a byproduct? What if you could learn new strategies to create a healthy marriage?
I believe you can do exactly that, and this book is my attempt to help you create those habits.
We will come back to Derek and Ruby later to see how they navigated these habits. By the way, as of the writing of this book, they are expecting their first baby.
Are You Contributing?
Eric and Emily had called my office and had asked to meet with me at a coffee shop. I agreed. Their relationship was in real trouble.
They knew it.
Sadly, no one else knew.
From the outside, they had done everything right. They had been friends before dating. They dated for almost a year before he proposed. A year later, they were married.
Twenty months later, they were sitting in that coffee shop with me surrounded by a throng of hipsters listening to indie music while wearing knit hats in the summer.
Both had great jobs. Both wanted their relationship to work—at least in the beginning.
Tears flowed down Emily’s face as she told her side of the story. Eric sat with a face carved from granite as she talked about her infidelity. She cried. He withdrew. She stressed that no sexual activity happened—besides a few light kisses and the occasional hug. Her assurances did nothing to thaw Eric’s face or emotions. “It just happened. I wasn’t looking for it,” she implored.
At that line, I saw my first glimpse of Eric’s emotions. He was angry. Of course, that’s understandable. What I was about to ask him, though, would start a fire in our conversation.
“Eric, what do you think you did to contribute to this situation?”
Raw, white anger boiled across his face.
“He was just never home. He just wasn’t . . . there.” Emily slowly and deliberately pushed the words out for me. Eric’s response told me that this was not the first time they had had this conversation. His shoulders rolled and his head shook, his face screaming contempt without a word escaping his mouth.
Both had come from homes where their parents and grandparents had divorced and remarried, with one parent on both sides being remarried multiple times. Emily was the result of her mom’s first affair.
She was horrified at the prospect of having become a cheater. Despite whatever reasons she had to justify her actions, she felt as though she had become the very thing she always wanted to avoid.
Eric’s father was a good provider but was never present emotionally.
Perhaps this was the hardest pill for them to swallow: they had become the parent they most struggled with in their own childhood. This is, of course, very common. Children learn what they live, and live what they learn.
As with most things in couples counseling, this principle seems to be so plain, so obvious that it almost seems not to warrant utterance.
And yet, often the most basic things are the ones we overlook the most. Our parents, or primary caregivers as children, blueprint us for how we will interact emotionally as adults. They give us the plan that we utilize, often without us realizing that we are repeating what they do.
We often default to the patterns of living we learned in childhood. This is true even if we have intellectually rejected them. Rejecting them without replacing them only creates a vacuum that we often don’t know how to fill, so we return to what we know.
Eric and Emily had been taught how to save money, take care of a home, and provide all of life’s basic necessities. They had never been taught how to answer the core questions that haunt us all.
They had never been taught how to best pursue each other. Neither had ever been asked what it would mean for them to sell out to the idea of making their marriage work.
Neither had ever asked what they would be willing to pay or risk to get what they want out of their marriage.
They had never actually considered what the point of their marriage was or should be.
I told Eric and Emily, “It is my belief that any couple can come back from anything. They simply need to learn how to build the most important ingredient into their relationship and answer some basic questions every day.”
The Other Side of Pain
I’ve worked with couples who had multiple affairs—with pens ready to sign divorce papers—and they came back from those terrible situations. One husband cheated on his wife with one of her best friends while she was in the hospital with their newborn baby.
Not only are they together today, but they will tell you that they are best friends.
How does that happen?
How does a couple caught in the deepest hurt move from the most significant pain of feeling the widest gulf between them to being best friends? It happens by both individuals being committed to healing and hope. When both people are willing to move toward each other and invite the other person to walk beside them, healing occurs.
But this process is painful. It doesn’t feel good. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me, “But I don’t feel like it should be this hard!” or “I don’t feel like I should have to endure this pain.”
Eric and Emily both said that to me. I told them the same thing I always say at those moments: “This hard” is subjective and they are correct in believing that they do not have to endure the pain. But no matter what they choose to do, there will be pain, especially if kids are involved. And if they want their marriage to work, they have to walk through the pain. One of the biggest lies we allow our brains to tell us is that we do not have a choice in a situation. Whenever people tell me they “shouldn’t have to endure pain” or “they don’t have to go through the pain,” I tell them I agree with them. They can always choose to exclude a particular pain from their life. There is a catch, though.
Everything in life that is worth having is almost always on the other side of pain. By avoiding the thing that scares us, we avoid the things we want to be in our life. We succeed in avoiding one pain only to invite and welcome another pain into our life. There is always pain.
Eric and Emily had what many would consider to be a big problem in their marriage. There was infidelity—emotionally, if not physically—and it was this giant life-sucking hole that permeated every area of their relationship. They had a much bigger problem, though. This giant problem would allow them to ignore the many smaller problems that had led them to this point.
Emily was not being completely honest that day, and there was more to the story (there often is). And Eric had some secrets of his own to share. They were both holding onto their secrets because they had failed to create a safe place to share the hard things about their life.
We all have these traumas in our relationships. Our screw-ups sit in the back corner of our brain, taunting us. They expose our shame and demand we hide it. They bark loudly and obnoxiously until we acquiesce and hide them. In hiding our shame, we hide ourselves. We retreat our true inner being to the shadows where the shame can grow into its own dragon, seeking to slay us.
Then we try to soothe our pain. We try to soothe it by working out or making millions of dollars or getting involved in church. We try to outdo our shame, falsely believing that we can outrun it through activity. The net result becomes a heaping of shame on top of shame. Our activity does not do away with our shame; instead, it numbs our response to it. A numb soul tends to be numb to everything. This causes us to pick activities that keep us from connecting with someone else, which causes us to experience more shame.
Sometimes, maybe often, we try to deny our shame by simply retreating and not doing anything. This can lead to clinical depression. We keep the blinds in the house down and lose all sense of meaning for life. Our zest fades like the dying light of late autumn.
Most of the time, we strike an uneasy balance between those two extremes and we still fail to heal. Our world spins faster and faster as we scramble to catch up. We don’t find satisfaction in what should be our deepest and most significant relationship, all the while failing to realize that one of the biggest contributing factors to a failed marriage is overlooking a truly safe place to be all-in with our whole body.
This book will give you the tools to be able to create such a space for your loved ones. A space where complete safety can grow and blossom. The challenge for you will be engaging your greatest fears as you seek that which you desire the most.