Many of us find intimate relationships very challenging. We want connection and independence, and are not willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of harmony. It no longer works to fit our relationship into a standard formula such as traditional marriage. And so, we find ourselves in unexplored territory, with no map or compass to give us direction. When conflicts arise, we often don’t know how to approach the situation so that our emotions and needs, and those of our partner, are addressed with care.
There is no longer a simple model to follow for a happy marriage, and many of our habitual ways of relating to a partner seem to result in increased conflict, and more distance between us. The social structures that minimized tension by assigning specific roles, and designating one person as the decision maker, do not work for many of us. We are entering a new paradigm of partnering that requires us to question our most basic assumptions, and find a new approach to intimacy.
The traditional format for marriage required that we sacrifice our individual feelings and needs for an outward appearance of unity. This formula kept marriages together at the cost of individual growth and creativity, and is no longer a priority for many of us. We want to be ourselves, and be connected with another person. We are looking for a partnership of two equals with a deeper love that allows us to flourish as individuals. And so, necessarily we are going to be faced with conflicts that were largely ignored or denied, just a generation ago. We don’t yet know how to be intimately connected to another, and be ourselves, at the same time.
The nature of a primary relationship is to expose parts of ourselves we have kept hidden, even from our own awareness. When these shadows surface unexpectedly they can be very difficult to respond to, in ourselves, or in our partner. A predictable aspect of this process is that our hidden wounds often correspond to our partner’s wounds in a way that automatically hooks each other, and can result in extreme reactions. These reactions can escalate and create an immense downward spiral of attack and defense that can destroy the trust and love at the foundation of the relationship.
In the old paradigm of marriage, this kind of conflict is something to be avoided at all cost. We learned to deal with it through submission or withdrawal, or blaming our partner, and trying to force them to change. In the new way of relationship, conflict is approached with care and recognized as a means to further personal growth and deeper intimacy in the relationship. And a constructive resolution of conflict is one where both people are able to meet their needs and have their emotions recognized.
To maintain a primary intimate relationship today requires a new vision. Instead of a new model to try to fit ourselves into, this new way may involve learning simple tools of constructive communication with which we can address conflicts in a way that increases intimacy and strengthens our integrity. It may also include support from someone who can witness the uncomfortable places in your relationship without judgment, and offer a safe and supportive environment for you to bring these into the open and address them directly.
My work with couples is based on the simple idea that bringing these hidden wounds into awareness, and becoming familiar with the corresponding negative patterns between partners, defuses their potential for destruction. Once we can name a wound as individuals, or a pattern between us as a couple, it no longer can control us as it has in the past. By bringing these hidden forces out into the open, we can deal with them directly, and once we become aware of their negative effects, we can more easily choose to let go of them.
I am trained in mediation and conflict resolution and teach communication skills in various formats. I worked for 10 years as a divorce and family mediator and learned first hand some of the dynamics that force couples apart. I also have a background in meditation and spiritual exploration and have worked with couples and individuals trying to bring more awareness into their lives. I am committed to using my experience and skills to support couples in staying together, and strengthening relationships through consciously addressing our different needs, values, and emotions.
These sessions usually begin by focusing on a current issue in your relationship, from one partner's perspective. With direct coaching the person expressing the concern is encouraged to explore their basic feelings and needs, while the other partner is taught how to listen from a neutral place and offer support. In the process of exploring specific conflicts, both of you learn how to express your emotions and needs in a way that offers the best opportunity for resolution. You each also learn how to listen to your partner supportively, without reacting or debating.