Nourishing relationships with those we love is the most important thing in life.












  Other books by Benjamin Conley:
The Spiritual Connection: Values, Faith, and Psychotherapy
Taking the Fear Out of Being Close
Success in Marriage
The Meaning of Love
Affirming Feelings




Make an appointment
to meet with Benjamin Conley at his office,
1881 NE 26th Street, Suite 221, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33305

Or talk to him in person by calling: (954) 727-9713

PO Box 4304, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33338-4304
Books about positive values, spirituality, and counseling

(This book can help you pursue the intimate relationship you desire. Please use the text to stimulate your own thinking and underdstanding about the issues discussed, even though you may find somethingsurprising.)

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Excerpt from:
Making Relationships Work
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
Pages 7-14




The personal turmoil and pain that couples bring into my office when seeking help is distressing and often overwhelming to them. I find that the couples who come to me for counseling fall into three broad groups.

1. Those in Pain

One group is composed of those who are not yet married or who have been married a few months or years, and know that something has gone wrong, or may have been wrong from the beginning. They often come to therapy as a last resort before separation or divorce, having done everything they know how to do to reduce their conflict. Sometimes, they have created a conflict that has produced physical injury, yet both want to find other ways to resolve disagreements.

But, limited to what they learned about how to have a family from their own childhood and young adult experience, they repeat both the positive and negative elements they have learned without understanding how either elements operate. They are victims of their own lack of consciousness and self-awareness. They do the best they can, but have not learned how to maintain the space between them in the most positive way.

They may be angry and depressed over a perceived loss of freedom associated with marriage. Or they may be disillusioned over coping with the tasks of negotiating agreements within a new marriage. They may be overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for their newly arrived children. They may be angry and hurt over the limitations of their partner, as if love had leaked out of the relationship.

Luke and Samantha came to counseling because they had lived together four years and Samantha wanted to get married. She pursued the matter with Luke and it became the focus of considerable conflict, yelling at each other, and hurt feelings. Luke at age 35 had his own free-lance construction business, and Samantha, age 33, worked as an office manager. Luke had always been independent, having earned his own spending money since he was fourteen. Samantha had married at seventeen to escape the chaos in her family related to an unpredictable alcoholic father.

Luke and Samantha seldom made agreements. He just said what he wanted, and she talked about what was important to her, and each complied with what the other seemed to want, to a degree. When there was an honest disagreement that was difficult to resolve, they talked about it enough to know what it was, and then either "swept it under the rug" as with the question of marriage, or had a verbal fight, sometimes coming very close to having a physical fight. Neither knew how to listen to the other's point of view; each was preoccupied with defending his or her own point of view.

While this is only one couple's experience, it is a common set of issues, and a common lack of skill in resolving interpersonal differences.

When couples come for counseling as a result of their painful experiences, they usually hope to repair their relationship and recover the positives they once experienced with each other, and make their relationship satisfying again. As with Luke and Samantha, they have the opportunity to learn what their parents were not able to teach them about being independent and emotionally close at the same time.

2. Those in an Uneasy Balance

Another group of clients come to therapy after many years of marriage, having worked out a way of tolerating a relative lack of fulfillment in the relationship until some life event upsets that balance. It is inevitable that couples develop a kind of homeostatic balance that enables them to get on with the everyday tasks of living without having to keep re-deciding what is settled.

The homeostasis may be more or less satisfactory, and when it is less so, some life event may serve as a "wake up call" that something is wrong with the balance that has been established, and the balance is upset. The event that serving as that wake up call may be an affair, a job loss, a move to a new location, a death of a child, some serious health or emotional problem with themselves or with their child, or something else.

One the other hand, a couple may just gradually drift apart until the way they relate becomes less and less tolerable to one or both of the partners, and someone demands a change. The change can be precipitated with intention, actively, by confronting the issue openly, or passively, by drinking, having affairs, or gradually withdrawing emotionally.

Charles and Emily came to counseling because of the crisis caused by Charles having an affair with a female business acquaintance. He was 48, a responsible and successful businessman, so that Emily had been able to stay home and take care of their three children. With the last child in his senior year of high school, Mary was free to do volunteer work and spend more time with Charles, but over the years they had drifted apart, though each still considered the other a best friend.

Charles didn't understand why he was attracted to another woman, just that he was. He didn't understand that he never allowed himself the permission to be fully himself, having learned that being responsible meant organizing his life around caring for others, his wife, his children, his work. So he lost track of himself, until his lover invited him to be his spontaneous self, tapping a hunger in himself that he had denied for years.

Perhaps it was his aging to almost fifty. Perhaps it was his diminished responsibility related to the almost empty nest at home. Perhaps it was the loneliness that his distant relationship to his wife had nourished. Perhaps it was his knowledge that his retirement was more visible. Whatever the cause, he was chronically mildly depressed and ready to reclaim his lost self, and his lover seemed to be the solution to his malaise.

When things get uncomfortable enough, a couple may run out of solutions or find that a solution like an affair just causes more distress, including self-condemnation and much emotional pain for the spouse. So the couple may turn to therapy hoping for some direction from a therapist about how to repair the connection with each other, instead of totally giving up on having a satisfying relationship.

3. Those Who Want to Grow

Clients in the third group are less motivated by pain and personal distress to be involved in therapy. But they know their personal functioning could be more satisfying and that their relationship is "missing something." Each is eager to grow and to learn how to support the other in the process of learning, hoping to use therapy as a kind of seminar in the principles of successful relating.

Psychotherapy or counseling can be thought of as just such a seminar, with the therapist as a sophisticated coach and teacher who can assist the couple in learning ways to resolve sensitive and painful issues and to learn new ways to sanctify their relationship, the "space between them." The principles underlying how to have a positive relationship are not mysterious, and can be learned.

George and Elaine both came from stable, loving families, where their parents modeled how to be mutually accepting or each other and of their children. They helped their children negotiate misunderstandings, deal with conflicts, and were involved in positive ways in their children's lives. They were involved in school activities, discussed matters of importance with their children, and were supportive of their children growing up.

Their parents also had in common that they never let their children see them resolve their own disagreements. So George and Elaine both assumed that the mother and father in any family would be like their own, always getting along without any disagreements. And for the most part, they did get along without major crises. But they were aware of avoiding certain topics because of the difficulty of resolving their differences, and used that awareness to use therapy as a way to learn how to have an even better relationship. "We don't know just what we're doing wrong, but we want to learn."

If you also wish to find new ways to create love instead of pain in your relationship, there is reason to be optimistic. Since we create our own pain, we can learn how to create our own joy. We can use our pain as the motivating energy to learn new ways to communicate with and relate to those we love.

(end of excerpt)

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