Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bert’s therapy (#5): Four choices

 

 “Pick your poison,” you said.  What’s that mean?

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 It means you face a choice of symptoms. 

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What choice?

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The anxiety of having relationships, or the loneliness of avoiding them.

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Oh.  Great.

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Is there a third choice?

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 Some people think so. 

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Who? 

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They’re called addicts.

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bert (6).

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They try to avoid both the anxiety and the loneliness.

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And?

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And they end up with both.

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Great.

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Is there a fourth choice?

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 Yes.

 …

 

 Really?  What is it?

 

 

This.

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

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Bert’s therapy (#4): Poison.

  We didn’t talk much at home.

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 When you were a kid.

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Right.

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What was that like?

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Quiet. 

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As in, peaceful?  Or lonely?

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Lonely.

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 And now?

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Still lonely, I guess.

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Hmpf.

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What’s “hmpf” mean?

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It means you’re screwed.

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How so?

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Talking makes you uncomfortable.  Not talking makes you lonely.

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Lose-lose. 

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 I see. Any suggestions?

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 Yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

Pick your poison.

 

 

 

 

 

***

Want more? 

On second thought, maybe a silent home isn’t the worst thing in the world:

Bad words

Warning: This episode contains adult language!

In this episode, The Untroubled Couple address the confusing issue of inappropriate language in a relationship. Learn more about what you should avoid calling your partner, thanks to Larry & Linda!

PS: This is satire, guys.

 


Bert’s therapy (#3): Communication

 

Felicia says I don’t communicate.

 

How so?

……………………….

……………………….

……………………….

I don’t talk, she says.

 

 

I see.

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I don’t listen either.  She says.

 

 

And how do you see it?

 

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I think she talks too damned much.

 

 

 

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I think everyone talks too damned much. 

 

 

 

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Why do we have to talk about everything?

 

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The world needs less talk. More peace and quiet, I say.  You know?

 

 

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You know?

 

 

 

 

……………………..

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Hello?

 

 

 

 …..

…..

……

 

. . . . .

 

 

  

 

 

 

You’re making a point here, aren’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

***

Want more?

“Untroubledidity, or relationship bliss, is the inherent goal of every relationship.”

 

Meet, Larry & Linda, The Untroubled Couple, as they endeavor to guide the world’s troubled couples toward Untroubledidity™, or relationship bliss.  3:09 video.

PS:  This is satire, guys.

 ***


Bert’s therapy (#2): Felicia

 

                                       

 

 

 

So.  Your wife sent you.

 

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[1]

[2]

[3]

Yes.

 

 

Why? 

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[1]

[2][3]…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

.

 

I have control issues, she says. 

 

 

What’s she mean?

 

[1]

[2]

[3]

  

 I have no idea.

 

 

She doesn’t say what bothers her?

 

……………………….

[1]

[2]

[3]

 Nope.  She’s a bit crazy, my wife.

 

 

 I see.  What’s her name?

….

 

[1]

[2]

[3] 

 

  

Felicia.

 

 

 

Maybe we should ask Felicia in to tell us herself.

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…..

[1]

[2]

[3]

 

 

 

 

How’d you feel about that? 

 

 

[1]

[2]

[3]

 

 . . . . .

 

 

 

[1]

[2]

[3]

  I’ll tell you everything.

 

 

 

 Thought you might.

 

***

Want more?

 It all boils down to how you view what goes on within your relationships, specifically your significant ones.

       First and foremost, marriage is designed to help you grow up.  It’s not about happiness. It’s not about becoming more complete, despite what Hollywood and popular press would like you to believe.  Marriage is about growing.  Happiness will accompany you at times along the way, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

       And second: your growth – your responsibility; your spouse’s – theirs.  When you keep this in mind you realize that all you can control in a relationship is yourself.

Click here to read the rest of Corey Allan’s “Relationships are easy.”

***

 


Bert’s therapy (#1): Captain

 

                      

I shouldn’t be here.

 

 

Why not?

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Only weaklings need therapy.

 

 

 And you’re not weak.

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No.  I’m a grownup.

 

 

What’s that mean to you?

 

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I don’t need anyone’s help.

 

 

 

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 I stand on my own two feet

 

 

 

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I am the master of my fate.

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 I am the captain of my soul.

 

 

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So why’d you come? 

 

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My wife made me.

 

 

 Good reason.

 

 

***

 

 


Monkeyships, part 5: Scratch a codependent

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, in a narcissistic mood.

This is the last of a five-part series.  The first four were about how control warps relationships [Monkeyships], how controlling backfires [The more you try to control somebody], how control blocks healthy communication  [Can we talk? No, damn it], and “split-level” relationships [Me first. / Yes, dear].

Bert speaking:)

Family session today.  Sally brought her two kids to meet Steve. 

The girl is twelve, the boy fifteen.  Sally’s worried about their reactions  to her new boyfriend.

The girl’s depressed, the boy angry.  The boyfriend is an active alcoholic.

Steve meets with the kids alone.  He asks how they feel about the boyfriend, whose name is Tim.

“I hate how she acts around him,” the girl says.

“How does she act?” Steve asks.

“Scared.”

“I hate how he won’t let her finish an effing sentence,” the boy says. 

“You can curse here,” Steve tells him.

“He won’t let her finish a fucking sentence,” the boy scowls.

None of this surprises Steve, who met Tim last month when Sally brought him in for couples counseling.   At the time Steve diagnosed theirs as a classic narcissist/codependent (or split-level)  relationship, with Tim firmly in the driver’s seat.  Sally did seem scared of displeasing Tim.  And Tim often did interrupt Sally in mid-sentence.

He pointed this out to them.  They never returned as a couple.      

Now he asks the kids, “Have you told Mom how you feel?”

Both shake their heads.

“She won’t listen,” the boy says.  “Tim’s all she cares about.”

“Let’s bring her in and talk about it,” Steve says.

When Sally joins them, Steve tells her the kids have something to tell her, and asks her to just listen.  She nods.  They start. 

Sally cuts them off.  “It’s really hard for me,” she says. 

Steve again asks Sally to just listen.  Again she nods.  Again the kids try. 

Again Sally interrupts.  “Kids, here’s what you don’t understand,” she begins. 

The girl drops her eyes, and sinks back into the sofa cushions.  The boy bites his lip and frowns. 

Sally, oblivious, talks on. 

She has morphed into Tim. 

*** 

Steve, I don’t get this.  I thought Sally was a codependent.

She is.

Don’t codependents put other people first?

Well, that’s how it looks on the surface.

But with her kids she acted like Tim.  Why?

Scratch a codependent, find a narcissist.

Excuse me?

I know, it’s confusing.  I’ll explain.

Codependents only seem to put other people first.  What they’re really doing is trying to get their own needs met.  They just don’t think they can do it in an open and honest way. 

So they people-please and caretake and enable in hopes of getting something backSally defers to Tim in hopes he will reciprocate.  She hopes if  she makes him happy he’ll eventually love her in return. 

But underneath she’s as self-preoccupied as Tim is.  And that underlying narcissism is what came out in the session with her kids. 

 So she doesn’t love Tim?  Or her kids, for that matter?

That’s a good question.  The answer depends on how you define “love.”

If you’re talking about love as a feeling, yes, Sally would probably swear that she loves both Tim and the kids.  And since it’s her feeling, who am I to disagree?

But if you mean love as behavior, then I’d say, no, she can’t really love any of them.  Because loving behavior requires a kind of respectful awareness that narcissism doesn’t allow.

How so?   

Narcissism is like trying to drive a car that has a mirror instead of a windshield.

You look out over the dashboard and you see, not streets and traffic and sidewalks and pedestrians, but only your own preferences, feelings and needs.

You’re so preoccupied with those things that you’re don’t see where you’re going, or who you’re running over to get there.

That’s why it’s so painful to be in relationship with a narcissist, either the covert type (like Sally) or the overt type (like Tim). Because both types will run right over you and not even notice the bump.

That’s not what I call love.  More like hit and run.

Want more?

We are all aware of the term “King Baby.” Although the image conjured up by this phrase is someone who’s arrogant, snobbish, demanding, and aloof, the truth is that these are the very men who feel painfully inferior inside. In fact, the more a person displays this “kingly” behavior, the more second-rate he feels.

From Rokelle Lerner’s article “Narcissists and their relationships,” an explanation of the sort of overt narcissism some alcoholics display.

 

To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must crave to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must actively seek relationships with narcissists and only with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel empty and unhappy in relationships with any other kind of person. 

From Sam Vaknin’s desciption of the sort of codependent — what he calls “The Inverted Narcissist” — who is attracted to relationships with the King Baby type. 

 


Monkeyships, part 4: Me first. / Yes, dear.

 

 

 

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left.  No, we won’t say which.

This is the fourth in a series of posts on control and relationships.

Steve speaking:)

Anyone who wants a healthy relationship must struggle with two questions:

How can I have you without losing me?

How can I have me without losing you?

They’re not questions anyone can answer, finally.  No matter.  We have to struggle with them anyway.

Why?  Because they represent two essential needs each of us brings to any relationship worth the name:

Connection and freedom.

Security and integrity (a.k.a., personal wholeness).

Acceptance by another, and self-acceptance.

A real partner, and at the same time, a real self.

Most people I meet are convinced they can’t have both at the same time. Most came from families — alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional — unable teach them how to balance connection with freedom.

What they learned instead was that having one meant losing the other.  That winning love and approval from their parents, for example, often meant sacrificing important pieces of themselves, like the freedom to disagree or express feelings.

The family is where each of us finds our own personal answer to the two questions.  The answer we find grows into a crucial (though usually unconscious) part of our basic view of life and relationships, what I call our Plan A.

Some of us decide, “Well, since I obviously can’t have both, I’ll have me, and to hell with you.”  Shrinks call this the narcissistic answer.

Others of us decide, “Well, since I obviously can’t have both, I’ll have you, and to hell with me.”  This is the infamous codependent answer.

So the narcissistic partner says “Me first,” and the codependent replies, “Yes, dear.”

And the two personality types end up together with remarkable regularity. (Remember Archie and Edith Bunker?)

Watching such couples interact, one is struck by their weird predictability. In almost every situation the narcissist finds a way to say “Me first,” and the codependent finds a way to reply “Yes, dear.”  It’s as if they sat down and signed a contract at the start of the relationship.

And in a way, they did.  Their complementary answers to the two questions probably account, in large part, for why they felt attracted to each other.

In any case, the vast majority of couples I see for marital therapy follow this pattern — so many that I felt the need to give them their own name. I call them split-level relationships.

Split level relationships work for a while, but almost always break down. Eventually one or both of the partners realizes that they’re just not getting what they need.

Codependents usually notice first.  (Remember when Edith stood up to Archie?)  When the codependent partner is female this can lead to the syndrome called the Walk-Away Wife.

But narcissists tend to be unhappy too.  They often complain of loneliness, no sense of connection to their codependent partner, or admit guiltily to feeling a lack of respect or affection.  They often feel impatient, frustrated, irritated or resentful.  Sometimes they drink, drug, overeat, rage or cheat, and then feel bad about that.

All this happens because this pattern is essentially unhealthy.  Familiar, sure.  Comfortable, even, in the way the predictable may come to feel.  But not healthy.  The unbalanced answers on which split-level relationship is based simply cannot fill the emotional needs of two adults.  So both partners end up feeling deprived, often without understanding why.

What does recovery for such a couple look like?

Put simply, a sort of role reversal.  Codependent partners must practice standing up, asserting themselves.  Narcissistic partners must practice stepping down, deferring.

Not easy for either of them. 

Just necessary to life on the same level.

***

Want more?

Photo by Jay Town/Newspix /

 

In a relationship, takers operate from the belief that “You are responsible for my feelings of pain and joy. It is your job to make sure that I am okay.”

      Caretakers, on the other hand, operate from the belief that “I am responsible for your feelings. When I do it right, you will be happy and then I will receive the approval I need.”

Another take on the narcissist/codependent dynamic by Margaret Paul, PhD., who calls them Takers and caretakers.

 

And finally (just for fun*) two free self-tests: 

 

Are you narcissistic? 

 

 

 

 Are you codependent?

 

 

 

*Note the disclaimer at the bottom of each. 

***

 

 


Monkeyships, part 3: Can we talk? No, damn it.

 

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve  is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left.  We won’t say which one he is. 

Bert speaking:)

Once upon a time a dad brought his fourteen-year-old son to Steve for family counseling. 

He said he wanted the two of them to be closer, to talk more. 

The session started this way:

DAD:  Go ahead, buddy.  This is a safe place.  You can say anything here.

SON:  I want to go home.

DAD:  No, damn it.  We’re doing this.  Now open up. 

(He actually said that.)

Steve was professional.  He took a breath, fought down the urge to roll his eyes, and tried to explain to Dad how he was sending what Steve called a “mixed message.”

My reaction was simpler.  I wanted to strangle Dad.

He reminded me, I suppose, of all the times I’d witnessed some adult coerce some kid into something for their “own good.”   

And all the times some wife or husband sat on Steve’s sofa and demanded “openness” from their partner, only to wither them with criticism when the other finally dared open up. 

And all the times one partner justified withering another with “I’m just expressing my feelings.”

And all the times I saw teachers coax students into participating in discussions, only to reward them with humiliation.

And all the times I saw parents demand honesty from their kids, only to punish them for telling the truth.

All the times, in short, I watched one person verbally mug another and call it “communication.”

See?  Getting mad again.

Steve, give your professional opinion.

I think you can have communication, or you can seek control.  But you can’t do both at the same time.

And I think that, to the extent any party to a conversation seeks to control it, healthy communication becomes impossible.

Which makes healthy communication pretty rare.

What’s “healthy” communication?

The sort that permits people to give up control — to risk being honest, vulnerable, spontaneous, authentic — without fear of the consequences.

Not easy.

Not easy at all.  

And it can be terrifying.  

Why is that?

Because we’ve all been burned by unhealthy communicators.  

If,  for example, you grew up in a family where words were used to coerce, wound or manipulate — forget it.   Not only would opening up scare you, you might not even believe that safe communication is possible.  Why should you?

That’s the case with many people I work with.  When I talk to them about “healthy communication” I might as well be speaking Martian.  They simply have no internal model for what I’m describing.

What do you do about it?

I help them learn a new model.

For example, most people don’t know how to listen.  I mean, really listen.  (Often they mistake listening for merely waiting their turn.)

So I may teach a couple Monologuing, which asks one partner to sit and pay attention while the other lists feelings for five minutes.  Then the listener plays back what he/she heard.  (Which always contains surprises.)  Then they switch roles.

Another problem:  Most people don’t realize how often and how casually they hurt others with their words.  

So I teach them to distinguish between You- and I-statements  — how, for example, there’s a world of difference between saying “You’re an idiot” and “I’m mad at you.”   Then I teach them to abstain from the former and practice the latter.  Which most people find really difficult to do.

 Not easy, as I said.

No, it’s not. 

Just our only hope. 

 For what?

For really connecting with another human being. 

* * *

Want more?

Coming soon, to a chat room near you: 

 

(No, it won’t really cost 5 cents.  You’ll just need to subscribe to Monkeytraps.)

***

Talk more, not less.

You’re also invited to join my new LinkedIn group, About Control.

Created to provide a place for us to discuss this important, neglected idea, the group will explore, among other things,  

~ Control as an emotional problem. Compulsive controlling as a cause of anxiety, depression, addictions, dysfunctional relationships and bad parenting.

~ Control as a clinical problem. The struggles of client and therapist to control both the client’s symptoms and what goes on in the therapeutic relationship itself.

~ Control as a spiritual problem.  Controlling that grows out of seeing reality as dangerous, and an inability to trust in anything larger than one’s individual ego.

~ Control as a cultural phenomenon.  Controllling as an attempt to pursue both happiness (as if it were something you could hunt and chase down) and freedom (usually price-tagged) from all pain and suffering.

Interested?

Come join the conversation.

(Not a LinkedIn member?  It’s easy to join.  Click here: LinkedIn.  Once you’re a member, go to Groups and type in About control in the search box in the upper right corner.  That will take you to a Join Group button.

See you there.)


Monkeyships, part 2: The more you try to control somebody…

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

This is the second in a series on control and relationships.

Steve speaking:)

“All happy families,” wrote Tolstoy, “are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Not in my experience.

In my experience, unhappy families — unhappy marriages, especially — are remarkably similar.

Consider:

~ Heather wants to marry Ian, who’s scared of commitment.  So she pressures him to propose, which scares him, so he backs away.  This scares her, so she steps up the pressure (“Why won’t you marry me?”).  Which makes him back away further and faster.  And so on.

~ “He never talks to me,” is Jane’s main complaint about Kevin, who grew up in a family where no one talked to anyone about anything.  The more she begs him to talk, the more inadequate Kevin feels.  The more inadequate he feels, the more silent he becomes.  Which angers Jane, which makes her beg harder.  And so on.

~ Lisa is a people pleaser who gets anxious when Mark is unhappy.  So she knocks herself out putting his feelings, needs and preferences ahead of her own.  Mark — who enjoys this and doesn’t want it to stop — finds he can keep Lisa motivated by remaining unhappy.  The unhappier he becomes, the harder she tries.  The harder she tries, the unhappier he becomes.  And so on.

~ Nancy: “If you didn’t drink, I wouldn’t nag you.” Oscar: “If you didn’t nag me, I wouldn’t drink.”  Rinse and repeat.

~ Both Patty and Ron grew up in families that didn’t acknowledge or respect feelings.  Hungry for emotional validation, they now seek it from each other.  Unfortunately each takes the position, “I’ll validate you after you validate me.”  Since neither validates first, no one gets validated.  Ever.  So their childhood deprivation continues.  Indefinitely.

Notice a pattern?

All these examples (and the variations are infinite) illustrate what I call the Second Paradox of Control: 

The more you try to control somebody, the more you force them to control you back.

This is the interpersonal version of the First Paradox of Control, which we explained here several weeks ago: “The more control you need, the less control you have.”

 This Second Paradox grows out of a fairly obvious fact of human nature: 

We all want control, and we all resent being controlled by others.

That’s just what is being played out in these examples.  Each of the ten partners is trying desperately (if often unconsciously) to transform the other into the partner they want.  And each of the ten is resisting the transformation as hard as they can.

You might call it control addiction a deux.

Or you could use the catchy term explained here last time: monkeyships, relationships bent out of shape by control issues.

Some of this goes on in all our relationships, because at some point every relationships turns monkeyish. 

It has nothing to do with how much we love our partner. 

It has everything to do with how much control we think we need. 

And we can expect it to continue unless we learn alternatives to monkeyish behavior.

 

Want more?

Typically, the co-dependent person came from a dysfunctional home in which their emotional needs were not met. Their parents were not able to provide the attention, warmth and responsiveness which kids need in order to feel that their needs count….

The need to re-play the childhood drama and TRY, TRY, TRY to achieve a different ending is so intense, that it determines even the type of person the co-dependent is drawn to. A person who is kind, stable, reliable and interested would not be attractive, typically, to the co-dependent person…they would appear “boring.”

From Patty Simko’s article “Co-Dependency” at the Planet Psych website.


Monkeyships

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Bert speaking:)

Steve’s seeing more and more couples lately.

Not sure why, since he never trained as a couples therapist and doesn’t advertise himself as one.  But couples apparently like his approach, because they keep sending him new couples to work with.

Which at one time would have pissed me off.

Because I hated couples work. 

It scared me.

It scared me for two reasons.  First, there was too damned much going on in the room. 

Steve, explain.

Well, work with couples means paying attention to many levels and variables at once.  Like

~ what the partners say, and what they don’t say;

~ which feelings they express, and which they feel they must hide;

~ which of their goals and motives are conscious, and which remain out of awareness; and

~ what’s happening between them here and now, as opposed to  whatever past experiences (often buried, usually painful) are getting triggered.

Right.  All that felt overwhelming.  It was just too much. 

Too much to control, you mean.

Yes.  Couldn’t control it mentally.  Couldn’t organize it in my head.

And then I hated the tension.  Many couples were so angry at each other that sessions with them felt like watching someone juggle live hand grenades.  I kept waiting for some emotional KABOOM to blow the whole office into matchsticks.

You couldn’t control the emotional situation either.

Right.  I couldn’t control either their feelings or my own feelings about not being able to control how they felt.

All of which explains why, for years, whenever someone called Steve to request couples counseling I’d immediately climb up onto his shoulder and whisper Just say no over and over.

He didn’t listen, though.

Well, we had to make a living.

I know.  Didn’t care about that.  My priority was not feeling scared. 

But I’m glad he didn’t listen.   Because over time he learned something important about how to help couples.  And I even started to feel safe. 

Both these things happened after he came up with his Monkeyships Theory.

Steve explain what a monkeyship is.

It’s any relationship that becomes dysfunctional because both partners are struggling for control.

And the theory?

Simply that most (maybe all) relationship problems are monkeyship problems, since at one time or another all relationships turn, well, monkeyish.

This theory helped me feel safer with couples work in two ways. 

First, focusing on the idea of control helped me to observe and organize what was happening in each session, like a magnet rearranges iron filings.  

Yes.  Noticing how people try to control each other really clarifies how they get into trouble in the first place. 

More importantly, it gave Steve a way to help them get out of trouble.

 I realized my job wasn’t so much to fix or change any couple’s interaction as to help them notice how they were trying to get control.  I did this by pointing out what I was seeing and hearing.

Once they could spot their own patterns, the next step was to teach them the three alternatives to control — surrender, responsibility and intimacy (see the end of “What you damned well better know about control”).   And then get them to practice.

This sort of therapy is no quick fix, and it works better with some couples than others.  Its success depends mainly on how willing they are to stop playing blame tennis and look hard at themselves. 

For those who can do that, the alternatives offer a path out of monkeyship and towards what relationship is meant to be: a place where both partners can be themselves with each other, and where both come to see that what’s good for their partner is — surprise — also good for them. 

(To be continued.  This is the first in a series of posts on control and relationships.)

 

Want more?

“Did you know that of the over one million marriages that will end in divorce this year, two thirds to three quarters of those divorces will be filed for by women?

“What is this so-called, ‘Walk-away Wife’ syndrome all about?”

Click here to read “The Walk-Away Wife Syndrome” by Michelle Weiner-Davis, taken from her Divorce Busting website.  

Describes a pattern I’ve seen again and again.  Essential reading, especially for husbands in unhappy marriages.


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