When Partners Live With Pain

Most people have an amazingly high tolerance for discomfort.  Some of us can even live many years feeling terrible, terrible about our mate and our relationships.  As a couples counselor I am sometimes surprised though, at how much pain a couple will endure before seeking help.

When I see a couple that feels terrible about their marriage or partnership I am always interested in finding out when the problems began.  Sometimes I hear answers like “six years”, six years, imaging feeling terrible about your relationship for six years.  If you are in a happy relationship you might not even be able to imagine it.  But if you have been suffering for a number of years, you are locked in a system of discomfort and it’s possible you may have lost your sense of time.  You may have forgotten about earlier years when the relationship felt better, and you may have resigned yourself to living your current life because that’s “ just the way it is”.

Most people accept “just the way it is” because they don’t know it could be different.  They may wish it was different, but they don’t know what to do to change the circumstances to make life different.  It’s likely both people in the relationship have tried everything they know to make things better, but the efforts fail. When couples get desperate enough, that’s usually the time they come in for counseling.

And when I see a couple at this point the couple is often wondering if I can save or fix the relationship.  I tell them, “I don’t fix relationships, I help you figure out what you want and then I help you get that.  If that is a good relationship than great, I can help you.”

I tell them there is no fix; there is just awareness, intention and action.  Learn about yourself.  Learn about your partner.  Ask for what would make you happy.  Find out how to make your partner happy.  It may sound simple, but for couples who are bruised from living years of unhappiness all these ideas can appear as just words, hollow.

I think the most important thing I can impart to a distressed couple is that there might be another way to relate to one another that could feel better.  And that may be all a couple that’s been in pain for a while can hear.  They might have stopped believing they can even be happy with each other, and they’ve probably accepted their lot in life, one that includes difficulties.

It’s too much for a person in pain to go from discomfort to happy in an instant. But what they might be able to hold on to is the thought that maybe; just maybe they could feel better.  When people start to feel better they become less stressed, less stressed about their problems and the relationship.  Less stress gives the mind a chance to relax and become more welcoming to new thoughts about what may be possible.

Possibilities, ideas, new ways of communicating, hope.  This is what can happen when the mind is relaxed, new ways of thinking and new ways of thinking can lead to a new life.  And isn’t that what distressed couples are after?  Something better, something loving, something hopeful, a new life.

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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Feeling Small

Feeling small.  It’s a condition everyone experiences now and then.  It can occur out of nowhere.  Maybe you are in a conversation and someone talks about something you don’t know anything about.  You might feel small.  Or what about times when someone forgets to include you in something you wanted to be a part of.  You might feel small here too.  Feeling small, it happens.  It happens to all of us.

I think what we’re really feeling though is disconnected from others, disconnected from someone, something or an event.  I think it’s a feeling we get when we are alone and we don’t want to be.  I also think it’s very, very common.  We all feel this “small” feeling at times.

So what do you do about it?  The first thing to do is recognize that it happens and then discover what happens to you.  Get familiar with the feelings inside yourself and start to put words around it.  Maybe it feels like isolation, maybe it feels lonely, perhaps it is sadness, and whatever it is, begin to label it.  What you will be doing is learning about yourself, and your inner world.  These are essential steps to describing what is going on inside yourself.

So why is it important to understand and label what’s happening inside?  First it helps us identify what’s happening with us, so we just don’t feel so terrible.  Second, when we understand what’s going on inside us we can explain it to others. 

So why would you want to describe feelings of loneliness and sadness to anyone, because all these feelings get evoked because you are alone.  You feel disconnected from other people.  If you talk about the feelings, no matter what they are, you will be connecting, which is really what the soul is missing.

I know it’s hard to let people know when you feel these feelings.  These are the kinds of feelings most of us were taught to keep hidden from others.  Many of us were taught to just show happy feelings and hide the hard ones; discomfort, anger, frustration, fear, worry, sadness, guilt, shame.  Few people are taught that these feelings are O.K. to reveal.  Few people feel comfortable saying things like, “I feel angry at you right now,” or “I am full of sadness,” and “I feel guilty about that.”  These are not things that come naturally, but when we can reveal them to others we get rid of the “small” feeling.

When we know what’s happening inside us, when we can identify our feelings, we can then learn how to express them to others.  Usually when we are at this stage we are not yelling, we are calmly explaining what is going on with us.  When others hear what’s happening inside us almost every time they will want to come closer.  A person’s natural instinct is to move toward another when they are describing something vulnerable.  That is what makes us human, our ability to move toward and help others.

So when you experience those times where you just feel left out or “small”, try and remember to turn toward another.  It will lead you toward the connectedness we all crave.

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Why We Suffer

Sometimes when life is too good we wonder if we really deserve it.  If we are used to living a life of struggle this thought might occur to us. You probably believe that you really want to be happy, but your experiences show you that happiness is not possible; your history reveals more experiences of struggle and suffering.

The things we want most; happiness, freedom, ease, all seem to get pushed aside for the more familiar feeling of suffering.  We don’t do this on purpose.  We do this out of habit.

So how do we learn to accept the good in our lives?  How do we find a way to just receive the happiness, freedom and ease that has eluded us all these years?

We start by noticing. Notice when you feel the good stuff. Notice when you feel the other, the struggle and the difficulty.  Notice what is happening in your body.  If you are in a good place chances are you are feeling light and full.  If you are
suffering or in a bad place you might use words like dark or negative, or phrases like, “It feels as if I’m under a dark cloud.”

When we notice these things about ourselves we are gaining awareness.  So why is awareness important?  Because we ultimately want to understand ourselves so we can notice how often we go into the dark place and how seldom we allow the good place in.

Sometimes it feels like things just happen to us, and they do.  But we can begin to understand how we react to things when they happen and begin to become aware of how we automatically, unconsciously play out the same old reaction.

Do we tense up when we feel threatened, angry or in danger?  Do we relax when we feel safe?  These are good things to learn about you.  Once you understand your own reaction to situations then you can begin to explore your patterns.  You might learn that you tense up when you feel unsafe and you freeze.  This is good to know because when you understand your reaction you may want to try something else to see what could happen.  Maybe you want to have a conversation with yourself and ask, “What am I afraid of?  Is there really danger or am I just following a pattern?”  If you observe there is
nothing to be afraid of maybe you can tell yourself the next time, “I am going to (take the action) because there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Many people want to make changes in their lives.  They want to be happy and peaceful.  The first step starts with you observing and understanding you.  Once you become an expert on your patterns and reactions to life you will be able to make the right changes for you. 

How do you know what the right change will be?  You already know.  When the right changes occur, you feel good; your body feels in alignment with the rest of you.  That’s how you know you have made the right decision for you.  Take a moment to understand what good feels like in your body.  Then when you feel it you will know. The right answer and action will send all the right messages to your body.  To know this about yourself you have to study yourself.

But isn’t that something you do already?  Don’t you know more about yourself than anyone?  Why not take the next step for you by taking a stand and telling yourself this, “I want to live a life free from suffering, and I’m willing to learn more about myself in order to do that.”

Send your comments to linda@lindanusbaum.com

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