Friday, January 30, 2009
Game Time (Joanne’s response)
I agree with Harold that Celia's playing her own game, but I don't think she's conscious of it. Celia is pouting because she's not getting her way, about having a conversation about her fear that Rob will pout if he doesn't get his way, because her father pouted when he didn't get his way. She doesn't even see the irony. Most of us don't, except for those rare moments of looking in the mirror and thinking "Oh,God, I've become my mother." It is our lot as humans to recreate the relationship patterns we most want to avoid even as we are actively fighting against them. Rob is playing Celia's game as fairly as he can and if he gets mad I wouldn't blame him. I hope Celia can step back from blaming Rob's disinterest in her and thus escalating the issue, when the real issue is obviously her bad timing.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Game Time (Harold’s response)
On the surface the situation unfolding here seems simple. Celia has picked a pretty bad time to want to delve into this discussion which has huge emotional investment for her. Rob has staked out his spot on the couch and sent out the warning signals that for the next two hours he doesn't want to talk about anything serious--not unless it is related to basketball. But is there more going on?...
I think that basketball and snowboarding may not be the only games going on. I hate to say this about Celia, but I think she is gaming Rob. What I mean is that I think she is testing him. Rob and Celia have been discussing these issues about how her reactions are often re-enactments of her relationship/perspective towards her father. There is nothing new here. Yet, Celia seems determined to engage Rob in this discussion during a time that he has reserved for the game. Is Celia testing to see whether this relationship issue is more important than a basketball game? Is Celia testing to see whether she is more important to Rob than a basketball game? I think probably a little of both as evidenced by her questioning whether Rob cares about this relationship. And, if either of these are true, I think she should stop the game--her game that is. Rob has obviously made the time to deal with these issues. This shows that they are important to him.
I do think that Rob did the right thing in making it clear that it is game time for his favorite team. He communicated it. And, Celia should respect that. But, I would advise Rob to tell Celia during the next commercial that he would like to continue this conversation after the basketball game is over. I think the important thing for Rob (and for all of us in intimate relationships) is to allot time for these emotion-laden conversations when our attention is fully engaged. If our partner can trust us to do this then he/she will most likely respect game time.
So all of us football fans should have our deep conversations with our significant others between now and Sunday because Sunday night is GAME TIME, Superbowl style.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Rob learned that one of the reasons Celia waited until
their therapy session to tell him about her realizations from Christmas at home
was because she was afraid Rob would tell her what to do about it, because
Celia’s parents had divorced due to her father’s controlling ways.
Celia and Rob were at his
apartment. Rob was lying on the
floor, channel surfing between basketball games and winter sports events, and
his attention was only partly on Celia, who was sitting on the sofa trying to
explain something to him. “My dad
is almost fifty,” she said. “His
wife is close to my sister’s age.
That’s so he can tell her what to do and she’ll do it. It’s more like a father-daughter
thing. It’s gross and it makes me
“I get that. But I’m not him,” Rob said, with some
impatience. They had been down
this road several times since their last therapy session. “When I tell you what to do it’s just
an opinion. You don’t have to take
my advice.” He cheered at the
television when the Big Ten team scored, then flipped back to snowboarding when
the game went to commercial. “I’m
not going to go into some childish pout like he did if I don’t get my
Celia disliked basketball
but she didn’t mind watching the snowboarding. They watched a few runs of the competition and Rob switched
back to basketball. As if on cue,
Celia began to talk again. “That’s
true,” she said.
“What’s true?” Rob said,
since his last comment had been made a several minutes prior.
“That you don’t pout like
my dad did” – Celia was interrupted when a score put Rob’s team ahead and Rob
cheered again, sitting up and facing the television with rapt attention.
Celia exhaled loudly,
irritated, and lay on her side on the couch. Rob watched until the commercial again, made a few comments
about March Madness, and switched back to snowboarding. “What did you say?” he asked
“I don’t remember what I
said.” She was obviously
pissed. They watched more
snowboarding in silence, and Rob switched back to the game.
“I said that you don’t
pout like my dad did,” Celia said, as soon as Rob appeared engaged in the game
“Are you doing this on
purpose?” Rob said. “Are you
waiting until the game is on to talk?
I told you I wanted to watch the game.”
“Don’t you care about our
relationship?” Celia asked, pouting.
“Of course I care about
it! Why the hell am I in therapy,
visiting your family with you, waiting for you to decide what you want”—he
cheered again when his team scored.
How will Celia respond?
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Ghosts (Harold’s response)
Joanne, being an excellent therapist herself, is insightful as she assesses the stance of Rob and Celia's therapist Carolyn. There is someone or something (the ghost) behind Celia that is influencing her behavior. And, it is in everyone's best interest to try to make this subconscious influence more conscious. Good therapists like Joanne (and Carolyn) know the behavioral and emotional markers to look for in spotting these ghosts. But, how can those ghosts be spotted in everyday situations when Joanne and Carolyn aren't around? Here are four "signs" to clue you in when a ghost is present in your intimate relationship:
(1) As Joanne pointed out, look for a disproportionate emotional response. If your partner is giving you verbal or non-verbal feedback that seems overblown relative to the situation, there is probably a ghost present.
(2) There are certain land mine topics that explode every time you touch it--so you may have learned to stay away from these topics.
(3) There are topics about which your partner does not or refuses to talk about--so you may not know much information about certain incidences or periods in his/her life
(4) Your partner behaves differently (maybe more withdrawn, silent, sensitive) when around particular people
Although these tips may give you more insight into when these ghosts are at work, it still remains difficult to resolve them-often because they are associated with deep-seated emotions. Professionals such as Joanne are helpful to get underneath these. But, one of the best things you can do on your own when you recognize a ghost may be present is to be patient and reassure your partner that you are there for them. Don't try to force everything on the table in one or two discussions. Give it time.
I have given four signs that ghosts may be present. But, I'm sure there are others. What can you add to this list from your experience?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Ghosts (Joanne’s response)
Carolyn is a good therapist. She knows that ghosts haunt relationships. She knows it will be a colossal waste of time to try to convince Celia that Rob really, really does want to be supportive and not controlling. While she can help Rob speak and behave in ways that make this clear to Celia, until they get underneath Celia's response they won't move forward. As a therapist I look for ghosts when a client's reaction seems out of proportion to what's happening in the present. Rob really did come through at Christmas and I understand why he thinks Celia's doing a one-eighty on him. Rob's curiosity about Celia, which Carolyn coached him in stating, will help Celia get to this. She may not even know herself why she reacts his way. I'm curious where DM's readers will take this one!
Monday, January 19, 2009
Rob and Celia are in a tough session with their therapist,
Carolyn, following their holiday trip together to Celia’s family. Rob is angry that Celia waited until
therapy to share her insights with him about the trip; Celia still fears Rob
will tell her what to do.
“This was why I went home
with you, so we could begin to make decisions together on this stuff,” Rob
said. “I don’t want to tell you
what to do. I just want to help. I feel like we’re moving backwards
right now.” Rob was actually
shaking and took a sip of water from a paper cup on the table.
Carolyn stepped in. “Celia, you explained very honestly
about your reasons for keeping this inside until our session. Rob, thank you for your response. There’s a lot going on between you two
right now. Rob, what are you
Rob drained his water cup
and put it down. “Hopeless. We’re not getting anywhere.”
Carolyn turned to Celia
expectantly, silently asking the same question. “I feel bad that Rob is upset, but this feels OK to me, like
we are getting somewhere. I think this is good.”
“What’s good about it?”
Carolyn asked her.
“Because if Rob is angry
about this, that means he cares about what I’m thinking,” Celia said. “He really wants to know, not to
control me, but to help.”
“I don’t get why you
didn’t already know that,” Rob said.
Carolyn stepped in
again. “Rob, I’d like you to ask
Celia that question again, but turn toward her and try to ask it
differently. Try to soften your
words. That will help her.”
Rob could be impatient
with Carolyn’s little psycho-babbly exercises. With a smirk at Carolyn, who knew this, he shifted on the
sofa toward Celia. “Celia, we have
been doing good work here. We got
through your Christmas concert just fine without Carolyn’s help. Why are you still afraid I want to
control you? I don’t want to
control you. I just want to – love
you.” He turned to Carolyn for
validation that he had done this well, and she nodded her support.
“Celia, how did those
words feel?” Carolyn said.
“They felt good. Like he means it.”
“Why wouldn’t I mean it?”
Rob said, anger rising again.
“Rob, I want you to slow
down for a moment. Perhaps Celia’s
reactions to you on this point don’t actually have anything to do with you,”
Rob looked at Carolyn,
Reader, you determine what
comes next. What is the reason
this has nothing to do with Rob?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Couples’ Therapy (Joanne’s Response)
This week's chapter shows just how differently Rob and Celia process -- Rob is logical and analytical, and Celia is more emotional and intuitive. While we often assume these are traditional gender poses, they are not necessarily, and neither is "better" than the other. Both ways of being in the world enhance one's effectiveness in relationships and wise folks will learn to speak both languages. As a therapist, there are times when I tell clients that one is speaking Farsi while the other speaks Mandarin, and each speaks more loudly and angrily when they are not being heard. Translation is necessary. Often that's where the therapist comes in, but a couple can learn to do this on their own. I don't think Rob's regressing as much as he's just confused. He thought they were speaking the same language.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Couples’ therapy (Harold’s response)
As I think on Rob's negative reaction to just hearing about Celia's insights in the therapy session rather than earlier, I'm reminded of Joe Friday's famous line from the hit show Dragnet, "Just the facts maam". Rob, like many of us guys, often look for three things: (1) linear thinking, (2) rational explanation, and (3) the bottom line. And, it is WAY beyond Rob's comprehension how something he considers a major revelation would have not been disclosed to him in one of the many opportunities that Celia and he had together over the holidays. It just doesn't make sense to him. So, we can see that in Rob's mind the real issue is not even the content of what Celia is saying. Rather, Rob is questioning the process--why didn't she tell me earlier (probably a control issue--but we talked about that in an earlier post).
I can hear the wheels turning in Rob's head. He wants to recreate all of the instances over the holidays where Celia could have told him this. He wants satisfaction that Celia's decision not to tell him is not an indicator of some deeper issue. And, here is Rob's bottom line...does this mean we are closer or farther away from marriage?
If I'm gauging Rob's thoughts right, I see him as regressing in his emotional attunement with Celia. Last week I was so pleased to see the degree to which he was able to be emotionally present with Celia. This week he is back in his own insecurity--a clue to which may be evident by his use of the word "audition" to describe what he apparently felt like in the company of Celia's family.
Here's what I want Rob to do...Chill out! Let's hear why Celia wanted to wait until the therapy session to disclose this information. Let's trust her. And, let's accept her explanation for why she needed to do it this way--even if it doesn't seem rational to us guys. Some things we will just never understand-smile.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Celia was already feeling particularly close to Rob when he joined her family in Canton for New Year’s week. Celia, her mom, and her sister Catherine all responded surprisingly well to Rob. While part of Celia was a little weirded out by the impact had by the mere presence of a man in her home (for the first time since her parents’ divorce a decade ago), there was something exciting about seeing things change on every front of her life.
Rob and Celia were in their first session of couples’ therapy of 2009 with their therapist Carolyn. As Celia expected, Carolyn was all over her experience of how Rob’s presence impacted her family. Celia was particularly hopeful about how her mother’s chronic low-grade depression seemed to lift with Rob around, although she knew they wouldn’t be living with her when they were married. Celia and Carolyn talked about this for several minutes as Rob listened, until finally Rob broke in.
“Why didn’t you tell me this while we were there?” he said to Celia, as if Carolyn wasn’t present.
Carolyn flipped immediately from the content of Celia’s holiday experiences to the process right now between the two. “Rob, are you hearing about Celia’s perspective on all this for the first time?” she asked him.
“What’s going on for you?” Carolyn asked Rob.
“I just don’t know why I’m hearing this all now. We spent an entire week together in Canton, and we were together, alone, all the time. Then we had this long car drive back to Columbus, and she just sat there the whole time. ” He turned to Celia. “Why didn’t you tell me this stuff before now?”
Carolyn stepped in. “So, Rob, you seem confused that Celia has been having all these significant thoughts and feelings about you but didn’t tell you about any of them.”
“Yes. Why am I hearing this now?” he said again. “I felt anyway like this whole trip was part of my audition to get you to marry me, so you’re thinking all these things about me. Don’t I have a right to hear this from you, like when it’s happening?”
“I’ll bet Celia has a lot of good reasons for waiting to talk about it here,” Carolyn said. “Celia, what do you need from Rob right now? Turn and tell him.”
Celia turned to Rob. “I need you to believe that what Carolyn said is true. There are good reasons, not the least of which is I’m overwhelmed about it all and needed to begin to make some sense of it myself before I could tell you about it.”
“But I can help you make sense of it!”
Celia paused before choosing her words carefully. “You could. But I’m also afraid you’ll tell me what I’m supposed to think about it and do about it. That’s exactly what I’m trying to get away from in our relationship.”
How might Rob respond to this statement from Celia?
Friday, January 09, 2009
Holiday Reflections (Harold’s response)
Yeah Rob! I'm so proud of him. In this episode Rob surprised me with his act of giving. Rather than wallowing in his own stew, Rob made a decision to prioritize Celia. At a moment when he could have said, "I told you so", he chose instead to show empathy.
Rob may not have realized it at the time, but this was one of those classic instances that all relationships experience. It is the moment where a decision is made for self or for other. If Rob had made a selfish decision, he would have significantly hampered the growth of his relationship with Celia. By genuinely being there for Celia, he actually changed the paradigm that they had been operating under. When any relationship is kinda stuck in the mundane or "business as usual" mode, it takes something out of the ordinary to change things. To Rob's credit, his extraordinary act was simply empathic listening--earnestly trying to put himself in Celia's shoes. Honestly, I think Celia was surprised by his action. Because Rob changed his stance, he indirectly (and unintentionally) changed Celia's thinking about a long-term relationship with him. But, it didn't stop there. Rob's empathy carried over to his visit with Celia's family. In fact, his presence transformed a sullen Christmas time into an enjoyable time of bonding.
There is an important lesson here. When we make a decision to care for others without selfish intent, we strike a deep chord (particularly in intimate relationships). If you are experiencing a period of "stuckness" in your own romantic relationship, try doing something out of the ordinary. Surprise your partner! You may be surprised yourself by the direct and indirect impact of your act of giving selflessly.
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