Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Fear of commitment? Why am I still single? You are doing the work that you love for a good salary. Your career is on track. Now, you've decided that you'd like to do something about your personal life. You are thinking about a committed relationship or marriage and maybe children. You are accustomed to articulating your goals and achieving them. You take personal stock. You have a lot going for you. You are attractive, personable, fun, smart and outgoing. You think that you have met Mr. or Ms. Right. You share common interests, common friends and common ideas and, you believe, common goals. Then somehow, much to your dismay, things go awry. You learn that your partner isn’t interested in marital vows. Or worse still I notice that I am getting involved in relationships where the only common thread is that I am being ditched / cheated by my partner, basically my partner is unable to remain committed to me.
Whether you were several months into the relationship or several years, that kind of disappointment is truly hurtful. Its worse, if this is not the first time. This is not something that you want to repeat. So, you talk it over with your closest friends, the ones who you really trust. And, to your surprise, many of them admit that they saw the warning signs but "didn't think that it was their place to say anything", especially because it seemed so trivial incident or because you were so strong on the relationship and didn’t want to hurt you.
You're a little miffed because you wish they would have said something. But, you can understand why they might feel that that would backfire. And too, you wonder, why didn't you see those elusive warning signs. After all, they were apparently obvious to everyone else. You note that you are generally a perceptive person -- can readily see the foibles in the relationships of others. So, what has happened here? And, how can you prevent it from, ever, happening again.
As you talk it over with your friends they each give you a list of "warning signs". "Don't date anyone over 35 who has never been married," one cautions. Don't date anyone who hasn't had a previous long-term relationship another warns. As well intended as they may be, the lists may lead to a mis-focus. Because the real thing to consider here is probably not the "mate-selection" process that is important, rather, it is: why have you, although probably unconsciously, been drawn to someone who is unavailable. Assuming that you are a bright, competent person, this is probably not a problem of the "wrong list". You might think of the problem with "mate-selection" as a symptom of something else that has gone awry. Think of it as the tip of the iceberg. That is, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Fear of commitment lies beneath the surface
If you have chosen a partner who turns out to be unavailable more than once, chances are there's a reason why you chose someone who is unavailable. It's painful to think about. The good news is as painful thinking about it can be: thinking about it, rather than sweeping it under the rug and going blithely along to the next relationship can allow you to understand it. And, understanding it can allow you not to repeat it. You can address and/or overcome it, and truly move toward the kind of relationship that you seek.
So, why are you, in effect, playing tricks on yourself? Although each individual and each situation is unique, odds are, as strange as it sounds, there may be a part of you who truly wants a relationship and another part of you, a less conscious part, who does not. That is, there may very well be a part of you who has a fear of commitment. As a starting point to your self-discovery process, ask yourself a difficult question, "what are the advantages to NOT being in a relationship?" And, in what ways do you have fear of commitment? At first blush, most people see these as ludicrous questions. If the answers were immediately apparent, you would have already dealt with them. Why aren't you in a committed relationship and what can you do to overcome your fears. These reasons may include:
1. You are terrified of intimacy.
People who are terrified of intimacy may not always be, consciously, aware of it. If you grew up in a household in which your parents behaved in ways that were hurtful to each other, to you or to a brother or sister than you may be more afraid of intimacy than you realize. This is an extremely common problem among successful young professionals who often become quite successful in their careers. Without realizing it, they allow their careers to take precedence over their lives. Work becomes to the worker as alcohol is to the alcoholic; balm to soothe the anxiety and fear. Of course, this sort of "workaholism", quite common here in Washington, is highly rewarded. Workaholism can be a cover for a fear of commitment.
2. You don't feel that you deserve a relationship.
This is a close cousin to the fear of intimacy. Many people, who are otherwise successful in life, do not feel that they deserve a relationship. Unfortunately, most of the time, though not always, this belief is unconscious. Thus, it is difficult to learn more about it and to resolve it. Often this type of belief comes from experiences in childhood. The person may feel responsible for something bad that happened in the family such as the death of a parent or a sibling, or the illness or drug or alcohol problem of a parent. Alternatively, the basis for the guilt might be far more subtle such as guilt for resenting a needy or vulnerable parent or sibling. Similarly, individual may feel guilty over outstripping a parent or sibling.
3. You fear that any relationship is destined to end in hurt or failure.
Another cousin to the first two apprehensions is the belief, again unconscious, that any relationship will end in failure or loss. This is a common concern among people who moved around a lot as children, such as those with parents in the military or in an industry where such moves were required. These people often report that every time they began to make friends and become emotionally invested they were, often over their strenuous objections, forced to uproot themselves. For some these moves were so painful that they learned to make only superficial attachments. Also, this is a common problem among individuals who had significant early losses such as a loss of a parent through death or divorce. It is important to note that the loss does not necessarily entail an actual separation, it could entail a loss of a role or status. It's understandable that individuals with this tyoe of experience have a fear of intimacy.
4. You don't know much about what you think and feel. Consequently, you are unable to use your reactions as a guide.
Often times people who come for psychotherapy or counseling know little about what they think and feel. People with this difficulty typically report, "I don't know why I have these problems. I had a very happy childhood". They may have had a stressful childhood but they have denied that to themselves. Such individuals became proficient, at an early age, at turning off painful feelings. They may avoid painful feelings by throwing themselves into activities in which they are busy and successful such as work and sports. Unfortunately, not knowing much about what you think and/or feel has serious drawbacks inasmuch as feelings and thoughts often inform and guide important decisions.
5. You are frightened by the prospect of learning more about some aspect of your sexuality.
Another reason why an individual might select unavailable partners is to avoid learning more about some aspect of their sexuality. An intimate relationship holds the possibility of self-discovery and this can be frightening to many people.
So if you are afraid of a committed relationship, if you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions what steps might you take? How do you go about teasing apart the nature of your fear of intimacy?
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What about an intimate relationship do you feel might be hurtful?
2. What is your worst fear?
3. How did your parent's relationship work? In what ways was it successful? In what ways was it hurtful?
4. What were your relationships with your parents like when you were a small child? In what ways were they loving and supportive? In what ways were they hurtful?
5. Are you, in some way, repeating a script of what you observed with your parents? For example, do you find yourself doing everything and feeling "walked on" like your mother?
The answers to these questions may give you some insight into your fear of commitment. Talk them over with a trusted friend. Sometimes talking with a friend can help us to learn more about ourselves. However, if selecting unavailable people as prospective partners has been a recurring problem for you, seriously consider seeking an consultation with a therapist. These intensive treatments allow individuals to develop the requisite trust to deepen their understanding of themselves so that they can make real and enduring changes.
Why do some people have profound difficulties with commitment while others seem to embrace it? True commitment can come about only when one has a clear sense of oneself. That is, a person knows who they are and what they want and need is more available for a committed relationship. Many single people intuitively recognize this and choose to work on themselves prior to entering into a committed relationship. Also, a committed relationship isn't for everyone. Some who know themselves well find it deeply enriching to take a solo flight. The key here is: just as individuals can remain unpartnered as a way of avoiding a host of painful experiences, they can marry or partner for a host of defensive reasons, such as avoiding aloneness or self-discovery. Self-understanding can help one to recognize when marriage or partnering is a growing experience and when it is a way of avoiding knowing oneself.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Let’s be honest. I believe separation, divorce, and relationship break-ups always have a gift to offer us, but the initial breakup period hurts. For most of us, when we’re in relationship, it feels like we’re on solid ground. It may feel comfortable and soft to walk on, or it may be rocky and painful, but at least you know where you stand.
When a relationship ends, we are inevitably launched into a void or abyss, where there’s nothing solid yet to land on. This is when the emotional rollercoaster goes on overdrive. Falling into the void feels disorienting and we don’t know where or when we’re going to land on our feet again.
Living in the void is a critical time to really dance and flow with our feelings. We feel the grief, sadness and loss not only of the person, but the dreams we had and the opportunities that were not yet realized. This grief is intense and overwhelming. Even those who initiate the break-up are not immune from this, although the degree of their emotional suffering is different than those who were left behind.
Inevitably the conclusion was “You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it. Oh, no! We have to go through it!” Our healing comes from going through and flowing with our feelings, not bottling them up or denying them.
There is discomfort in the void, often bordering on pain. Literally, our hearts ache. It seethes with anger. It curls up in despair. Yet it’s so important to take time in this vacuum. Emotions live on a spectrum, and when we cap the downside risk of pain, we simultaneously cap the up-side reward of joy and love. If we rush the process of grief we risk leaving some unresolved pain and issues within us that will make an encore appearance in a future relationship.
Imagine when a child develops an infection. It stubbornly grows into a swollen, painful abscess below the skin. Eventually the toxins built up to the point where the abscess burst, releasing the infection in the form of pus. It was the release the doctor was hoping for, but it was nonetheless painful. Yet to complete the healing process for the child, it wasn’t enough. The doctor had to make a small incision in the seeping wound to make it bigger. He had to probe within the wound with medical instruments and disinfectant to ensure all the pus was indeed leaving child’s body. The wound had to be intentionally left open for a few days to ensure that everything drained out so that the healing would be complete.
Just as my doctor selected from various medical instruments to probe the child’s wound, here are some recommendations for how to probe gingerly into our own wounds to ensure a complete healing.
1. Practice pranayam
One strategy I’ve been using effectively is to welcome and breathe into my wounded heart. Make sure you take deep, conscious breaths. Shallow breathing doesn’t allow sufficient oxygen to come into the body and creates stress. Deep belly breaths help to quiet the ego-mind that may begin to start racing with thoughts in an effort to avoid the pain. Breathing deeply while having an emotional moment will help you digest the feelings and be able to restore a sense of calm and grounded ness more quickly.
2. Your Journal is Your sponge
A journal is like a clean, sterile sponge for a seeping wound. A journal is a safe place to collect all of those internal thoughts and feelings that must be released. I would even argue that life in the void requires a journal. Otherwise the unreleased feelings and toxic thoughts that are created in relationship break-up simply continue to run rampant within your consciousness. It is also the doorway to connecting with the wisdom and gift of why you have manifested this situation in the first place. There are no rights and wrongs about how to journal properly. Its job is to provide an arena for catharsis and objectivity.
3. The Medicine of Music
Music is a powerful tool to explore and help you release emotion. One particular tune or lyric can touch your heart to either uplift you or stir the pot of sadness and grief. If you feel numb and don’t know how to jump-start the release of your emotions, music can do it.
4. Let the tears flow
No need to bottle them up or keep a stiff upper lip. Talk it out with a friend or out loud to yourself and vent out your emotions. Feelings flow like water. When we bottle them up, resist them or deny them, it’s like we damming up the water. Like the water in the dam also finds its own outlet so do emotions, especially when we least expect them to. Therefore many dams have trickling water which has found its way to the other side and they are called weeping holes as they help ease the water pressure on the dam walls. Similarly expressing emotions in terms of tears just helps us channels emotions in an appropriate manner and releases the tension built up inside us. This in fact prevents unexpected flooding due to dam walls caving away suddenly or inappropriate demonstration of emotions. Tears are not a sign of weakness or neediness, but as a sign you are honoring your heart and growing stronger.
5. Time heals
Break-ups are painful and people struggle to dodge that pain. Sometimes our loved ones, hating to see us in pain, may urge us to move forward quickly and out of the void. But the void is the place where we will find the wisdom of the relationship breakdown, so we need to take the time to do our own inner work.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Leena and Akash had been married for about 4 years when Soham, their first child was born. They had been looking forward to having a baby and believed that the birth of the child will further strengthen their marriage. However, during pregnancy, Leena became irritable and depressed. She was aware of hormonal changes and mood swings during pregnancy and discussed it with her gynecologist as well as with Akash. Akash initially was very supportive but after the first trimester he started working longer hours and avoiding spending time at home. He found Leena’s constant complains and irritable nature difficult to bear. To add to this, he, without realizing, in his want to provide the baby with financially secure environment started feeling justified of his absences and expected Leena to understand. Especially now, that the financial burden was completely on him for a period of 3 years when Leena would be focusing on being a full time mother and would soon quit her work. Akash’s absences however made Leena feel more uncertain and insecure about their marriage, as now she was not only dealing with the physiological discomfort of the pregnancy but also the loss of work life. She desperately tried to regain their marital bliss and in her attempts to communicate this loss, fluctuated between getting angry / demanding with Akash to crying and feeling hopeless and hurt. Both started feeling justified and thought that their spouse was insensitive and uncaring. In the last trimester when the doctor advised that they should refrain from sexual intercourse, her anxiety heightened. Post natal depressive symptoms and the hectic schedule of keeping up with the baby’s demands did not help either. The emotional distance and anger intensified and eventually blew into a full fledged argument on the day Akash attended the child naming ceremony held in Leenas maternal house and forgot to get the return gifts. Leena was to return to her matrimonial house after the customary maternity break at her mother’s house right after the ceremony. Akash’s lack of involvement in the child raising because of the distance and also because of his own anxieties fueled Leenas own anxieties of managing the infant without her mothers help and dealing with their marital discord. Leena very reluctantly returned to her matrimonial house. After her return, she felt all the more lonely and abandoned. Akash’s focus was Soham after he returned from work partially because he missed the first three months of his son’s development and partially because he didn’t know what to communicate with Leena. He felt rejected by Leena whenever he initiated sexual intimacy between the two of them, often as Leena would be tired after a long day and would struggle to catch up with her own sleep while Soham rested. Leena, on the other hand, seemed to have nothing much to share with Akash apart from Soham’s daily activities. She felt worth less, unloved and unappreciated. Motherhood seemed to be her only identity now. She had also stopped taking care of her physical appearance. Without realizing they had made Soham the center of their relationship in their individual attempts to reconnect with each other and deal with their marital crisis. But this only lead to further spiraling down of their relationship as they both felt ignored by their spouses and jealous of whom soham preferred. Their concerns for a helpless infants needs to take priority seemed justified.
When they finally approached the psychotherapist they had a long list of hurts and anger against each other and both wanted to be acknowledged that they were justified in their feelings.
How could couples like Akshay & Leena regain their love and intimacy for each other?
1. “Parenthood As Crisis” typically includes a decrease in positive marital interchange, an increase in marital conflict, and a decline in marital satisfaction. This is because parenthood brings new identities and responsibilities for mothers and fathers.
3. There are often changes in a couple’s sex life and experience a slow down in their sex life. Women often feel differently about their bodies after childbirth, and they become insecure and less comfortable being intimate. Often, women gain a substantial amount of weight during pregnancy, and they have a hard time dropping the excess pounds after they give birth because they are so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a new mommy. This occurs because of the strains, stresses, and sources of conflict as parents adjust to their new care giving roles, responsibilities, and routines—and the gender differentiation therein—amidst depleted resources of time and energy.
4. Many women are known to undergo post natal depression and require more help in the form of attention and care.
5. At times child birth is used as a ruse to get back to your spouse / avoid troubling topics between the two. Often these problems have existed for a long time in their relationship, child birth just give a valid reason to exit mentally and physically from a less satisfying relationship. It is emotionally less straining for a couple to accept that they are unable to spend time with each other because of the child than to say that they have lost interest in each other.
6. Couples have to consciously choose to bring these up with each other and deal with the hurts and anger rather than pushing it under the carpet.
7. Sometimes men feel rejected and unloved by their wives because of the amount of time she is devoting to caring for their baby or children.
8. Some women feel resentment towards their husbands because they don’t feel like their husband is involved enough in taking care of the children and household.
9. Husbands and wives need to understand that they have to work together as a parent team and they also cannot forget to foster and nourish their relationship as a couple.
10. Husbands need to compliment the wife and help her out in the house management as this is a crisis phase.
11. Wives on the other hand need to nurture and care for their husbands as well as their baby.
12. Both need to remove time to make things special between them. Romanticizing each other again by initiating loving acts for each other.
13. Arrange for time off work. Ideally, get at least a week off following the baby's birth. Your wife will need your help and this will be a wonderful time to bond as a family. Plan nothing else during your time off but helping your wife and child.
14. Ask relatives / friends to look after the baby for a while, while the two of you can catch a candle light dinner or cuddle up with popcorn to watch a movie.
15. Remember the heart of happy family lies a happy couple relationship.