Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.
Holding on to our sense of self in loving relationships is a tough act. The process of individuation is the key to our emotional maturity and renders us able to balance our desire to please another with our drive to do what feels right for ourselves. Family dynamics either hinder or support our individuation. Think about it: As a child, were you encouraged to think, feel, and act as an individual? (Do not confuse independence with individuality). Or did your family demand for the most part that you cooperate and that you please them in order to be accepted and loved?
If this balancing act were not difficult enough in our families of origin, it becomes more precarious as we move into adult relationships with partners and spouses. As our partner grows in importance to us, so does the struggle to cooperate with him/her and stay true to our sense of self discovery and innate need for expansion. It’s easy to understand this dilemma when we recognize that of all the needs we have, loving relationships are the most critical for our happiness and well being. We are social beings who desire and require connectedness with others to thrive.
The struggle to remain connected while holding on to our sense of self can cause great confusion for couples because they are unaware of what is transpiring. When one is repeatedly succumbing to the needs of the other for the stability of the relationship, the toll can be physiological and emotional. In truth, the “pleasing” partner is out of integrity with him or herself because cooperation is taking place at the expense of individuality. A therapeutic term for this kind of relating is fusion or emotional dependence – not to be confused with love. The more emotionally dependent we are on our partner, the more we are going to be threatened by their potential rejection.
What makes this dynamic even more complex is the fact that we tend to choose a partner who possesses a similar level of emotional maturity to our own. One partner may predominantly acquiesce; one may predominantly control; and both may frequently disengage, but all these behaviors reflect an emotional dependence that slowly erodes the relationship.
If this is sounding like you or your relationship, take a breath. With awareness and the willingness to take action, change is always possible. The following are some ideas to consider if you recognize your weak sense of individuation is hurting your relationship and requires work:
1. Learn ways to manage anxiety/hurt instead of running away from it or putting oneself/another down.
2. Become aware of tendencies to catastrophize and awfulize situations. Check out your motives for doing this.
3. Look at your boundaries. Are they healthy? Are you able to speak up for yourself in a respectful way and state a difference of opinion?
4. Get to know yourself better – your values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses — and see them as opportunities for expansion.
5. Find ways to increase your self esteem.
6. Practice communicating your needs with others – friends, family, and your partner.
7. Stop taking what your partner or another does personally – then you can better understand what’s going on.
8. Become aware of tendencies to withdraw in your relationships and explore what’s happening—what emotions are coming up for you when you do this.
9. Consider your childhood experiences and how some of those may be triggered today – especially with your partner.
Welcome the difficulties that arise in relationships – don’t panic. They are your indicator and opportunity for growth and personal transformation.Take responsibility for becoming a better YOU — you’ll be amazed how your partner and others around you change as a result.
January 5, 2020
Where we put our focus may lengthen our lifespan
Growing research suggests a “cup half full” philosophy may improve our physical and emotional health and even our life expectancy.
One of the largest such studies out of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from 70,000 women who answered questions about how they viewed their future. Data analysis showed that women who scored higher on the optimism scale were significantly less likely to die from several major causes of death over an eight-year period, compared with women who scored lower. Numerous other studies duplicate these findings—indicating that to promote our optimal health and wellbeing it pays to be optimistic. (link below)
5 Simple Ways to Embrace a more Positive Perspective
Tune in to gratitude
Where you put your focus grows. Put a jar in your kitchen or somewhere visible. Think about something you’re grateful for that happened that day or a good memory and write it on a slip of paper that goes in the jar. This can be your own jar or The Family jar. Watch it fill up.
Tune out the negative
When you find yourself habitually focusing on negative situations or possible negative future events, stop that train of thought, acknowledge your negative thinking with curiosity and choose to turn to something that you enjoy – go for a walk, call a friend, turn on favorite music that you know lifts your spirits. Note – this may take persistence and practice.
Tune in to self care
Self care is not about being selfish but about being responsible for our bodies and minds. That means eating healthy, getting exercise, ensuring we get regular sleep, reaching out for help when we need it. It also means having fun!
Tune in to self compassion
Practice becoming more aware of the critic within you that may try to beat you up with overly high expectations. Be your best champion and show yourself forgiveness when you make mistakes.
Tune in to your local community
If you have time, look to make a small positive change in your neighborhood and feel a greater sense of belonging. It could be helping a neighbor, volunteering, baking cookies for a charity drive. Esteemable acts build self esteem and to be positive we need to have healthy self esteem.
Tune in to mindfulness
Mindfulness is akin to awareness of the present moment. Nature is particularly powerful as a means of tuning in to everyday miracles. Watch the sun set or rise, smell the roses in your garden, sit by the ocean, star gaze. When we purposely focus on the present moment and feel it fully, we nurture our capacity to deal with stressful events.
Harvard Study: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/optimism-premature-death-women/
September 14, 2019
While the divorce rate dropped 18% between 2008 and 2016 and is currently around 32%, divorced individuals meeting new partners continue to come together with their children and attempt to “blend” families. Though best intention may be at the heart of the desire to bring two families together, successful outcomes seem few and far between (with more anecdotal than hard research data available). As a therapist who does work in the area of grief and bereavement and has a blended family, I feel the complications in trying to unite two families are mostly tied to themes of loss.
The potential pitfalls that blended families will have to navigate are complex. Here are the top 10:
- Conflict over differing boundaries – what is and isn’t okay in each family.
- Confusion and anger about differing rules and consequences.
- Loss related to the definitive ending of a child’s original family constellation is triggered (children usually hold out hope that biological parents may unite).
- For children to embrace a stepparent may feel like a violation of loyalty to the child’s biological parent.
- For children whose parents have been divorced for some time, the introduction of a new spouse may feel like another loss and bring up fear that they will be loved less (children tend to think of love as finite). Anxiety and depression may manifest.
- Sharing of one’s home, personal belongings, community space, bedroom may trigger anger and further feelings of loss for children.
- Children may feel pulled in many ways in terms of their role as they go back and forth between biological parents and try to navigate different households.
- Parents may struggle to form attachments with their step children and stepchildren may struggle to form attachments with their stepparents.
- Relationships with ex-wives and ex-husband’s take on another degree of complexity for adults that affect the children.
- Financial equity of all children may be especially difficult when ex- spouses are involved.
My goal in highlighting these difficulties is not to deter people from attempting to blend families. The blending of families can benefit children in many positive ways and provide stability and a healthy environment that was previously missing from their lives. However, what most families fail to do is enter counseling prior to blending in an effort to anticipate and resolve many of the issues above, which may be further complicated by children’s ages, ethnicity, and cultural and religious factors. Instead, couples forge ahead hoping that love and patience will be enough.
Hopefully, this blog will help adults have a deeper understanding of the potential issues that may arise. If you’re contemplating blending your family, I encourage you to work with a mental health professional who has experience in this area and who can help guide you and your loved ones in a way that will support the best possible outcome for everybody. Anticipating issues, talking them through, and figuring how to handle them before they arise is key.
Reference: University of Maryland; The Coming Divorce Decline, Philip Cowen, https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/h2sk6/