Protective Patterns in Couple Relationships, Part 1: The Defensive Self

If you’re married or in a long-term, committed couple relationship, your relationship probably began like many others. You couldn’t wait to see each other and share your experiences. As you exchanged your  hopes and disappointments, your partner was just as excited or sad about them as you were. He or she seemed to understand you perfectly. Your stomach fluttered as you imbibed the intoxicating elixir of love. But then . . . something shifted, didn’t it? Over time, a different pattern of relating set in, one marked by conflict, avoidance, or both. It’s not what you or your partner want, so how did it happen?

On (Emotional) Shackles & Freedom

Today, of course, is the Fourth of July, the holiday during which America remembers its adoption of the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776. We celebrate that after declaring our independence from Great Britain, we at last gained hard-won freedom after the long years of the Revolutionary War ended in 1783. Though that war is over, Americans still battle in many conflicts throughout the world.

 

A different kind of conflict, however, churns within each of us, regardless of nationality: Each of us fight for our innermost desires and longings to be recognized and understood in our most intimate relationships.

Your Need to Be Emotionally Intimate with Your Partner—And Your Need Not to Be

Have you ever wondered why people seek intimacy in relationships? What is it about emotional intimacy, anyway? Why is feeling connected with a deeply loved partner so much better than just about anything? As a marriage counselor, I know that partners in an intimate, committed, long-term relationship yearn to know and to be known by each other, and yet for so many couples, such intimacy is elusive. Why is cultivating this kind of connection so hard? Because as much as you want to be connected and close to your partner, intimacy is also profoundly frightening. To understand why, we need to consider our need for intimacy first.

Piglet on the Couch: Anxiety as Inner Conflict

Some months ago, I stumbled across “Winnie the Pooh,” a 2011 film featuring many of my favorite childhood friends, while wading through the vast waters of Netflix’s streaming library. My delight upon being reunited with these characters inspired me to integrate my training as a therapist with my affection for Pooh and his friends by writing about Eeyore, Ashdown Forest’s sad, gloomy, and lethargic grey donkey. In that post, I explained that depression results from one’s inability to manage depressive feelings.

Counseling After Infidelity: Cultivating Healing, Finding Hope

What is an affair? Must an affair involve sexual intercourse? What about a kiss? What about pornography? While almost everyone would feel betrayed if a partner had sexual intercourse with a third person, other amorous, intimate behaviors can be equally destructive—dinner with an old girlfriend, for instance, or flirting in online chat rooms. All of these behaviors may constitute a betrayal of trust. An affair is a violation of trust that destroys the fundamental beliefs that the hurt partner had about the unfaithful spouse and the relationship.

4 Ways to Care for Yourself After an Affair

If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “affair,” you probably think about it as an extramarital sexual relationship. Almost everyone would feel betrayed if a partner had sexual intercourse with a third person, but other amorous, intimate behaviors are often equally destructive––lunch with an old girlfriend, for instance, viewing online pornography, or flirting in online chat rooms. All of these behaviors may be violations of trust that destroy the fundamental beliefs that the hurt partner had about the unfaithful spouse and the relationship.

Eeyore on the Couch: Depression & How Therapy Can Help

A few months ago, I was surfing the vast wave of entertainment in my Netflix streaming application when I discovered a veritable gold mine of nostalgia: “Winnie the Pooh,” a 2011 film featuring many of my favorite childhood friends. In the long years since I had last seen them, I was delighted to find that Winnie the Pooh’s appetite for honey had not waned a bit, that Tigger was still nearly manic with unbound energy, and that Piglet was still occasionally conquering his fears despite being a “very small animal.”

Me & My (Fragmented) Self

Curiosity about the goings-on in my hometown of Holland, Michigan prompted me this morning to visit the website of the city’s newspaper, The Holland Sentinel. As a former paperboy for the Sentinel, I recalled slinging newspapers in the crisp cold of Holland’s winter streets bathed in the hushed light before dawn. As I scrolled through the headlines, I stumbled across Holland’s police log. My first perusal of its records for February 21-22, the most recent posting, showed little of interest. Animal complaint. General public assistance. Traffic. Motorist assist. A closer look was more troubling, however: destruction of property; larceny; miscellaneous crime; more larceny; fraud.

 

Sex, God, and Our Longing for Intimacy (Part 2)

Just as spirituality is an expression of our desire to experience an authentic, meaningful relationship with God, sexuality is the expression of our innate desire to connect with others and to know and be known intimately and completely. Certainly, in our closest, most satisfying non-sexual relationships, in knowing the other we discover more fully who we are.

 

For instance, a woman supports a recently divorced friend by meeting her at a coffeeshop for lunch, and her friend tearfully tells her that she has always been a calm, steady presence in her life. A groom exchanges a silent look with his best man that communicates the depth of his appreciation and love after many long years of faithful friendship. In such relationships, we encounter ourselves while encountering the other in unexpected and sometimes challenging ways that solitary self-reflection does not afford. However, even in these relationships, we, to quote the apostle Paul, “know only in part” (1 Cor 13:12), and we long to know and be known fully.