Relationship Recovery Center

“It’s Work vs. It Works”

The idea that relationships take work is a common concept. Sometimes when I am seeing couples one partner will express the idea that if the relationship is really the right one that it wouldn’t take so much work. This idea has validity. When a relationship
“Isn’t working”, when there is alienation, hostility, conflict or pain that seems unrelenting
It can feel like work – plodding through the days hoping for some relief from the
unpleasant feelings.

If we look at this in the context of getting dressed in the morning or any of the other ventures that populate our day like driving a car, as work – then yes it takes work. Sometimes what’s effective and necessary can be seen as work – especially when there are challenges and skills that are needed that aren’t coming naturally.

Michaels and johnson, in “Partners in Passion”, make the point that effort and work are not synonymous and that relationships are not jobs and should not be drudgery. Is driving a car work? Sometimes it is – under certain conditions. Sometimes it’s pleasurable. But it’s necessary to put some effort into it if we want to keep it
going in the right direction. One of the more common cognitive distortions – CBT jargon (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for automatic thoughts that are limiting and not necessarily accurate – is “generalizing.” If we are aware of how these automatic thoughts are effecting us we can substitute a more appropriate thought
that can result in a positive feeling instead of a negative feeling. Putting relationships in the category of work is a generalization that i’m not so sure is helpful. Seeing it that way can bring up feelings of disagreeableness and lack of pleasure. Changing the way we speak about something actually changes the way we think about it.

The effort required of relationships is paying attention. Like getting dressed or driving on automatic pilot, without paying attention – it might result in uncomfortable feelings and being in a place that is not what you intended. Not paying attention to what is important to your partner or how some situations are effecting the relationship in a negative way will almost always have a negative impact.

The practice of mindfulness is, in essence, paying attention, without judging – filtering out the ever present tendency to sort experiences into binary piles of good/ bad, fair/unfair, work/play. In mindfulness practice we don’t make judgments about wheat we are experiencing – we practice “acceptance,” by simply noting our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. One’s attitude is characterized by openness, curiouslity and flexibility. This is not a passive stance – it keeps us from falling into typical thought distortions such as all or nothing, all good or all bad.

The point here is that its much easier to make the effort of being present with mindfulness so problems don’t accumulate – that the work of the relationship is
just really being present in a mindful way and it may just start working, without
a large amount of effort. Brief check ins to see how your partner feels are much more effective than big discussions. I encourage partners to ask more questions – be curious about why your partner is reacting, without judgement, if you notice their mood is not what you are expecting. In the next post I’ll address 3 simple systems that can easily help your relationship stay on track – new possibilities.

Do you think of your relationship as work? What does relationship “work” mean to you?

Staying Together: It’s a Decision

dreyfusspelosiWhen a couple hits the 50 year mark in their relationship and celebrates that partnership, it’s not just chance. Luck does play a role, in the sense that two people cross paths with each other. What happens from there involves lots of decisions. There is the decision to treat one’s partner with respect and to accept influence from your partner. There are small decisions every day to create mutual give and take about issues that are important to your partner. There are decisions about how we communicate needs and preferences so we accept differences and resolve them without conflicts.

Last Sunday’s New York Times ran an article where the actress Julia Louis Dreyfuss and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi sat down for a frank conversation about balancing demanding careers, kids and marriage and they both agreed that making the necessary adjustments to keep the relationship working is a decision.

JLD: “I married the right guy for me, and that was lucky. But my marriage and my family have been a priority. That may sound stupid. Many people would say exactly that. But I worked very, very hard to keep us intact. And it’s been my pleasure, because it’s the only way I could have survived in this business — with my family unit in place.”
NP: ” I think Julia said it perfectly. A successful marriage is a decision. You decide it’s going to work. You can’t always be there, but you have to be there enough. And you have to make sure you are where you’re needed most. Sometimes it’s here, sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s a tie and you have to prioritize. But it’s always a decision. My husband and I met in college. We couldn’t have thought of every possible thing back then. But here we are. We just had our 50th wedding anniversary. It’s worked.”

What decisions do you make that keep your relationship moving forward? There are many decision points throughout each day that effect your relationship. Attunement is about being conscious of those decision points and making the right decision for your relationship. In the next blog post we’ll address the idea of “it’s worked” vs. “it’s work.”

When Your Spouse is Addicted to Porn


Mark and Sophie came to their first therapy appointment in a state of crisis. Sure they had occasional fights — didn’t all couples? But the pornographic images she discovered on Mark’s computer wounded her deeply — and made her wonder about the man she had been married to for 5 years.

In Sophie’s mind they loved each other and had a regular, satisfying sex life. But if that was the case, then why did Mark spend increasing amounts of time viewing these images when she was in the next room? What was their relationship lacking or what did Mark need that she didn’t provide?

But Mark was a sex addict. During the months ahead, Sophie discovered that Mark had done more than just view images on his PC. She found out that he had visited massage parlors and had sex with other women. She was devastated and in shock.

And yet Mark still did love Sophie, wanted to stay married to her, and end his destructive behavior. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting regularly on the story of Mark and Sophie. Come back soon for the next installment.

Living Together Before Marriage – Does it Help Prevent Divorce?

Many people in their 20′s believe that living together before they marry is a good way to prevent divorce.  But is this true?  Current statistics reveal that more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.  The cohabitation effect is the name researchers have given to the fact that couples tend to be less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce who have lived together before marriage than those who do not. Why is this?  An article in the NY Times by Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, says that “sliding, not deciding,” is one of the prime reasons.  The gradual slope of dating, sleeping over and then moving in without clarifying assumptions and expectations can result in two different interpretations of the situation.  It can be a way of avoiding a more serious commitment, testing out a relationship or a step toward marriage.  The author of the Times article states that assumptions about the situation can often differ along gender lines.  If you and your partner lived together before marrying or are currently living together, did you discuss the idea of marriage first?



What is Resilience Made Of

Someone suggested that it would be valuable to write about the hard ecomonic climate we’re all facing. In thinking on this subject I started with the basic concept that informs a lot of my work – that there are events in life (what life throws at us) and the way we react to those events. As AA puts it – “learning to live life on life’s terms.”

How is it that some folks manage to weather the storms with seemingly less effect on their sense of well- being? One key is the way that one regards challenges. Are they seen as hurdles? Or roadblocks? I was so impressed the other day by my daughter’s characterization of a problem as the “hurdles” we’re facing. To me it was an indicator of a strong sense of self and an optimistic and empowered attitude.

In studying resilience psychologists have found certain common characteristics for those who are unusually resilient. The “Harvard Women’s Healthwatch” cites the following characteristics of resiliant individuals – authenticity, willingness to accept responsibility, acceptance of change, responsiveness, faith in themselves, ability to take risks and belief in the transcendent.

These are some of the attitudes and attributes that provide a foundation for resilience. And the good new is that these qualities can be developed. In the next post we’ll talk about how one can further enhance one’s resilience. Here are how these qualities manifest themselves:

1/ Authenticity – A strong sense of self where one isn’t dependent on outside factors to maintain a good feeling about their identity.

2/ Willingness to accept responsibility – Not seeing oneself as a victim even if one is in no way responsible for the situation such as a natural disaster. Viewing the situation as a challenge to be dealt with and taking whatever responsibility one can to take positive action.

3/Responsiveness – being open to what’s going on around one and with others so that one can adapt to changes.

4/Ability to take risks – being creative or entrepreneurial in attempting a course of action.

5/Faith in themselves – not getting blocked by questioning whether one can meet the challenge but simply moving ahead, knowing others before them have faced daunting tasks and overcome them.

6/Acceptance of change – one of the constants in life and viewing it as an opportunity.

7/ Belief in the transcendent – which does not necessarily have to be an organized belief system but can be an appreciation of art, music, nature or humanity itself coupled with the belief that life is worthwhile.