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Work, love, and play...the three big human activities. All three of them usually involve relationships in one form or another. And it is in relationships that we often find our greatest joy or disappointment.


Relationships bring out a side of us that may not be seen otherwise. It is surprising how a person who can successfully manage a large business can be very immature in the managment of his personal relationships. Strong competence side by side with strong incompetence--it can be mind boggling! Relationships are complex and difficult.


In terms of romance Hollywood has done us a great disservice by projecting an image of love and romance that is so all-consuming that two people can live happily in isolation from the rest of the world. Extreme, isolative pairing in relationships puts a tremendous strain on the resources of both partners and sets up the relationship to have trouble.


Our understanding about relationships is improving. The emphasis on attachment in the field of therapy has strong benefits for working with relationships, because important relationships are primary attachments for us. Sue Johnson's work on this (see column at left) has become well-known.

What brings couples in for marital or couples therapy?

Several presenting problems come to mind:


  • Inability to communicate with one another effectively
  • One partner has been unfaithful or has a sex addiction
  • One partner is using alcohol (excessively) or drugs.
  • The couple has come to feel like strangers and are considering divorce.
  • One partner has decided that their mate is not the person they thought they married.
  • One member of the couple has experienced tremendous personal growth...but the partner has not kept pace and distance has grown.

What can be done in these circumstances?

Lots. Communication skills are important in all relationships. Listening is deceptively difficult. Most people do not do it well. All sorts of presumptions are often made about the meaning of a statement made by a partner, and strong reactions result.


Sometimes couples have to learn to "think the best" about one another rather than jumping to conclusions. This takes practice, but saves lots of heartache. Taking the time to understand and affirm one another is also important.


A therapist also can play the role of referee in conversation, clarifying the needs and wishes of each party and helping communication to be honest, straightforward, and good-willed. Many couples misunderstand basic aspects of forgiveness and do not know how to respond after an affair, even if they want to forgive and move forward. Trust must be earned after it has been violated, and this is a delicate task.


Sometimes couples need to go back to what brought them together in the first place. Often a kernal of what continues to be important in their relationship is found there. It can be a good foundation for rebuilding.


However, not all relationships work out. That is the way life is. Couples have trouble when it becomes obvious that the members have very different values from one another. Though specific differing beliefs and attitudes can be irritating, different basic values can leave a relationship without a foundation on which to exist.


When this is the case, or when the relationship has been damaged beyond repair, then the loss of the relationship must be faced honestly--preferably without hatred and bitterness. For some couples the last phase of their therapy involves the process of dissolving a relationship in the most constructive, respectful way possible.


When alcoholism or drug abuse intrudes on a relationship the sober partner has a very difficult decision to make--how much she or he is willing to tolerate before terminating the relationship. This can lead to some very difficult choices.

If you're looking for a relationship...

The percentage of adults that are single has grown significantly in recent years. If you are single you may be wondering where to meet someone interesting. There is not one right way to do most things, and that is certainly true of finding a relationship. Results are wherever you find them.


Many people who find themselves single in their 30's and 40's experience a deep feeling of loneliness that can overwhelm them. It is important to acknowledge that feeling, but not to let it get the best of you. One of the best environments in which to meet someone is when you are involved with others in the process of following your own independent interests. Make the heroic effort (at times) to get involved with your passions and they will lead you to others--both for friendship and romance. If you do not know what you feel passionate about, then by all means find out. You have far more interests than you know, and they may be far more important in giving your life direction and meaning than you realize.


Your passions are meant to give your life direction. I can't say enough about the importance of pursuing your passionate interests, whether they be for art, sports, political pursuits, writing, or cooking.