Love: A Co-Created Narrative

“Love is a story we tell with another person. It’s cocreation through conarration.”

I am referencing an article in the This Life section of the Sunday New York Times that highlights the significance of a rather natural routine of couple’s joint storytelling, (for example, the “how they met story”). Storytelling is integral to the deeper process of establishing a bond with another person. It is both challenging and rewarding to create an intermingled identity with another. Couples may engage in joint narratives without realizing that it is a stabilizing vehicle as they try to embrace each other’s differences. Creating a shared story of the couple’s life and how it has unfolded actually strengthens the relationship. Often, new couples share the story of how and when they decided to partner up or marry with family and friends. The stories can include mystery, humor and laughter, synchronicity, hardship, and elements of destiny. As the couple’s life evolves over time, their story becomes more elaborate and the feelings deepen through their varied shared experiences and inevitable challenges. Possibly children are added, the spice of extended family, and all matter of ingredients are poured into the pot. The co-creation of the story establishes the identity of the couple and reinforces their shared life. Mr. Feiler, the author, notes that as couples construct a joint reality, it balances the “contradictory impulses of independence and interdependence or selfishness and selflessness”. Those conflicting needs battle within all of us as we try to establish an intimate bond.

Inevitable hardships and “unforgiveable” events become integral parts of the story; a break-up that threatened to destroy the relationship, difficulties with blending families, a betrayal – there can be many obstacles along the path of solidifying a relationship over time. After an initial attraction, there is a long road ahead and you either hang-in for the reward of a stable, committed bond with another or move on and start the search all over again.

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Addicted to Your Devices?

We live in a brave new world of people walking with heads down, being led by their screens – as they float through space distracted and preoccupied. I am amazed at their ability to cross through busy intersections while barely looking up. We can be with our mates, our family, our children or our favorite friend yet continue to engage in a ‘conversation’ with our devices rather then converse with whom we are with. We dine out, witnessing couples and families with one or both mates glued to their screen and, even if sharing a photo or input, there is little sustained contact or conversation that goes uninterrupted.

Supposedly, social media and our devices express our desire to stay connected and that can be a good thing. We want to share with our extended communities our experiences told in photos or shared ideas, view others, converse through text etc. We can engage in a way that supports connectivity. Yet we need to be attentive to our present situations so we don’t miss valuable opportunities for face-to-face exchanges, meaningful conversations, humor, casual talk and physical tenderness in a sustained way, without distraction.

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Becoming Whole in Relationship

My last post was on achieving wholeness and the challenging inner conflicts we endure within ourselves if we haven’t achieved this developmental passage, academically referenced as whole object relations. It is as if our psyches are split in two and one side voices our deeply ingrained self-doubt, self-criticalness and self-hatred (referenced as splitting). The other side may compensate with regressive clinging, grandiosity or submersion into the other. The split psychic structure results in pathological defensive character patterns that manifest in chronic physical symptoms, difficulty in relationships and other psychological symptoms. We are unable to balance our disappointments with self through a natural ease of self-acceptance that reinforces our inner wholeness over and over again.

What is the effect of our lack of wholeness on our relationships? Relationships present challenges in the best of circumstances and are always perpetual learning edges. Bringing two individuals into constant proximity – with every aspect of their lives interconnected – presents the quintessential opportunity for both a gloriously connected relationship that, at the same time, can be fraught with painful miscommunications and disappointments that pitch one or the other right out of heavenly bliss.

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Becoming Whole

Wholeness may seem like an elusive goal – one that sounds great on paper but instead ends up as abstract psychobabble rather than a clear directive to achieve. Many of us know well the opposite condition. We are plagued by self-doubt, with, at times, self-denigrating thoughts that talk at us, seizing on each and every opportunity to shake a finger. “You look terrible today – you have gained weight and it is noticeable. Look at those bags under your eyes, ugh!” “You are so inadequate, you didn’t handle that conversation well at work and your boss spotted your discomfort.” “You did not measure up to your good friend’s intelligent understanding of that concept discussed.” “Your neighbor is so successful – he has money to burn and you are always struggling.” “I didn’t get a promotion or a raise and I feel embarrassed and less-than in front of my peers.” “I am not a good mom – I feel like my daughter rejects me and I get angry with her. The other mom’s at school seem so confident compared to me.” “I wish I had a better relationship with my wife – she boxes me in with her demand for sex and I don’t feel sexy or potent.” This busy dialogue in the brain can be relentless with its constant self-repudiation and we feel badly about ourselves more of the time than we feel content inside. Our good/bad, black/white thinking splits us into two parts making wholeness seem like a distant reality never to be embraced.

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Struggles in the New Year

The New Year in California started with a continued deluge of rain, which brought heavenly moisture to our dry land and dry bones — and has caused some to feel soggy, cold and constricted.

The New Year also brought chaos on the political front with an endless bombardment of controversial executive orders reflecting a lack of circumspect and prudent leadership and stabilizing governance in a time of transition for our divided country. There has been little collaboration with other governmental department heads, or experienced qualified others – even the President’s Cabinet – thus appropriate dialogue that encourages civil and community discourse has not occurred. Rather, announcements resulting in cataclysmic change have caused chaos, fear and shock waves across the globe. The President continues to exhibit his significant personality disorder discussed in my post titled A View of Character – The President-Elect, and his impairments dominant the stage and result in faulty leadership on all fronts. The press continues to observe and report even though attempts are made to suppress what doesn’t compliment the leader’s frail ego.

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Reframing Resolutions

Each New Year brings us opportunities for significant personal changes that can build on our prior successes and accomplishments or help shift areas of regret or disappointment. Every year we have an opportunity to choose and prioritize that which is most valuable and leave behind what we know to be inconsequential or even destructive. The idea of New Year’s resolutions seems quaint and superficial in that we realize we are unlikely to keep them. It can end up as a pretend gesture and we can laugh that we tried for 3 weeks and then go on about our business.

We can approach this effort with a bit more sincerity and intention. It might be advisable to pick one or two changes for maximum effect – eliminate the laundry list that will get blown off by the end of January. Maybe you could think about one item that really matters to you above all else. What do you want to reinforce that will provide a true avenue for the Self – what supports your development in ways that will make you feel proud and fulfilled? What states of mind are most nourishing – peace, generosity, gratitude? Or perhaps seek times of non-activity in order to allow a sense of spaciousness.

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A View of Character – the President-Elect

We have endured an extremely long and difficult election and transition season. The polarization of the two sides has resulted in strife within our families, relationships and communities. How do we reconcile what seems irreconcilable for many? There are deep divides related to differing value systems that, at the moment, seem challenging to cross. Yet we are one people and embrace a tradition that honors our differences and shows respect for multiple points of view. It is with that spirit that I write this post.

My comments in this post may be controversial and I invite dialogue. Civil discussion and debate are essential as we venture forward at this critical time in our history.

I have written multiple posts about character types on my website over the past few years as a way to facilitate understanding of our own styles and coping patterns and as an aid to understanding those around us. I will use character typology as a point of reference as we think about the election. President-elect Trump has been a highly controversial figure who has evoked feelings of idealization, hope and excitement as well as feelings of alienation, repugnance and disdain. His character type, his life-long defensive structure, incites strongly polarizing sensibilities. As president-elect, he is in a position to lead the country and the free world – yet his personality problems have overshadowed, for many, any sign of inherent potential to be an effective, gracious and respectable leader.

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Gratitude – Strong Medicine

It may sound cliché at this time of year to encourage thankfulness and gratitude – yet those attitudes are strong inner healing medicine for our minds and bodies. That medicine warms us from the inside out and gives us a sense of wellbeing. When we act with generosity towards others, we cultivate our natural expansiveness – we can relax rather than constrict. We escape the grip of our small, tightly woven, survival-oriented egos that assert their will over our more gracious and generous values. In those moments, when we live inside our smaller self – constricted, hyper-vigilant to what we are getting – we actually feel less worthy. When we experience our feelings of sufficiency, we know we are enough and can give to others as well as experience gratitude for all we receive. We can feel connected to others and to the beauty surrounding us – we can feel more alive. We see the preciousness of others and move beyond our own petty selfishness – hah liberation!

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Couple Therapy Part 2: Fusion or Differentiation

In my work with couples for over thirty years, the balance ratio of fusion and differentiation is an important indicator of couple health. Let’s clarify these concepts beginning with fusion. The classic photo of two Americans traveling in similar Hawaiian shirts in Europe engenders the flavor — two matching bookends. Of course, individuals in a couple create resonance together that influences life style choices, plans, activities, outlooks on life and everyday habits. That resonance, as displayed in a variety of ways, helps the couple align and function with ease. The relationship can hum with the rhythm of basic routines, worked-out choices and habits that allow each individual a level of comfort in the similarity and consistency of their acquired lifestyle and tastes.

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Couple Challenges

Couple life can present many difficult challenges – while simultaneously providing the most stabilizing, anchoring force in one’s life. Living day-to-day with another can feel like receiving multiple abrasions. We often feel our partner has stepped on our toes as he walked by, and we instinctively retaliate and step decisively on his. We often feel rubbed the wrong way. Contending with major and minor incidents is one challenge facing most couples on a regular basis. If couples learn healthy ways to navigate ruptures, they can preserve and strengthen the fabric of their relationship. Learning couple skills takes trial and error and discipline.

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