Loving treatment of those you care about creates safety, intimacy,
and a spiritual connection with each other and the source of all life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Other books by Benjamin Conley:
The Spiritual Connection: Values, Faith, and Psychotherapy
Taking the Fear Out of Being Close
Making Relationships Work
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 understanding about the issues discussed, even though you may find some of the ideas surprising.)

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Excerpt from:
Success in Marriage
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
Pages 5-10

SUCCESS IN MARRIAGE

Introduction

Falling in Love: Our Unconscious Selection of a Mate

You probably "fell in love" with your partner or with someone who was once your partner. It may seem strange to think of "falling" as how we get to be in love, but it does point to a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. The sinking feeling is associated with fear and with excitement, both physiologically very similar.

A particular enzyme is produced by our bodies to create the boundless energy and emotional investment in the person we have unconsciously chosen. God created us so that this powerful emotional "glue" keeps us "stuck" to our loved one, even when all is not going well.

The Emotional Basis of Falling in Love

The connection with our partner created by falling in love is deeply emotional, and expresses the investment we make in the other person. We find in the other person the one who will satisfy our emotional needs, who will satisfy our emotional hunger, who will be the person to fulfill us in a complementary way.

We unconsciously choose to be with others, based on a number of criteria of which we are usually unaware at the time. We tend to choose to be with those with whom we are familiar, "our kind of people," like those with whom we grew up. These people often have values similar to our own, familiar ways of relating to each other, similar responses to life, both positive and negative. We understand the rules for getting along with them, because they are so much like the people we grew up with, even if we didn't like them.

At the same time, we gravitate toward those who treat us as well or better than the people with whom we grew up. We want to do better than our parents, even when we experience them to be very loving and caring. There is usually room for improvement, and loving parents want their children to excel by having an even more satisfying life than they did.

Our Partner's Strength May Stir Our Fears

The qualities we love about our partner sometimes turn out later to be the very qualities with which we are most frustrated.

For example, John loved the warmth and emotional expression of his wife, Maria, but later in the relationship he came to be fearful of her emotional outbursts, and criticized her for being "too emotional." Maria, on the other hand, originally admired John's strength and his ability to solve problems under stress. Later, she thought of those same qualities as an indication that he did not need her, and that he was so independent that he seemed not to care about her.

The Power Struggle

Eventually, a power struggle develops, an inevitable development, as intolerance of the differences between partners create conflict. The conflict occurs as one partner attempts to make the other person conform to his or her wishes, to think, feel, or act in the desired way.

But even reasonable people sometimes disagree about the most desirable way to think, feel, and act. Until each accepts (though not necessarily approving of) the other as he or she is, the power struggle will continue.

One of the reasons we insist on others being the way we want is to reassure ourselves that we will not be hurt as we have been hurt in the past. We learn from experience what it is like to be hurt, and how to protect ourselves from being hurt.

Learning from experience begins at birth, and includes what it is like to be connected to our caretakers, our mother and father, to be nurtured or not nurtured, to be treated well or badly. Life is a combination of what we are offered and what we do with it. Long before we have the ability to use words to think and speak, we learn what it is like to be loved. In fact, it seems that we all know intuitively what we need in order to grow into the people we are genetically designed to be.

That intuitive understanding is shaped in a number of ways, perhaps most clearly objectified in our understanding of God. We all have some sense of the way things are supposed to be, the way people are created to be, the way the universe is structured.

We can see our ideal image in other people who are more or less like our ideal of the way we would like to be. A clear example of an ideal is the biblical image of Jesus Christ, who was affirmed by the early Christian church as fully human and fully divine. Theological insistence on the humanity of Jesus provides an understanding of the direction in which all humans can grow.

But we don't get everything we need to grow most fully into the persons we are designed to be, so we learn to live with less than ideal caretaking in a less than ideal world, beginning with the world of our childhood. We use methods of surviving and "getting along" as best we can figure them out, in order to maximize the loving warmth that is available from our caretakers and to minimize the punishment, criticism, and withdrawal of love we may also experience.

We are inevitably socialized into the limited world in which we grow up, a world composed of concentric circles, beginning with our nuclear family. Unfortunately, we may be socialized to some degree to not be ourselves, to "bend ourselves out of shape" in order to be accepted and loved, rather than punished and rejected. We may develop a kind of "false self" that is applauded and loved by those around us.

We may lose track of positive qualities in ourselves, like our spontaneity, strong feelings, sexuality, or taking initiative, especially when we are punished for having them by those who are close to us. We may cut off those qualities and feelings in order to be loved, developing a kind of "lost self" that we long to reclaim.

Sometimes the ones who are closest to us seem to require that we not be our honest selves. Then, in order to be accepted and not rejected, we struggle to get that person to be the nurturing person we need by conforming to his or her demands. At the very least, we might learn to act in ways meant to avoid the others' disapproval.

Creating New Experiences

We learn about relationships all our lives from our experiences, resulting in our decisions about: 1) how to be emotionally close and 2) how emotionally close to be. As adults, we can use all our adult experience, including our religious experience, as a means to create new, positive decisions to improve on our previous ways of thinking of ourselves and others and then acting on that new understanding.

We can learn how to be authentically ourselves, and reclaim our "lost selves," those positive qualities we renounced as children, even though to do so may seem awkward, not natural, and even wrong. We can re-learn how to be self-affirming in ways that we gave up as children, and give ourselves permission to pursue positive goals that we renounced in the past.

Since we all learn and grow in relationships, our contact with other individuals and small groups can be a very nurturing source of strength. A mentor, friends, and a religious community can help to maintain our own process of growing emotionally and spiritually.

When other efforts fail to maintain the loving spirit that both persons in a relationship want, psychotherapy can be a useful means to learn how to create the warmth and intimacy that we all desire in a loving relationship. We can learn how to correct the honest mistakes made throughout our lives, learn how to change our beliefs, and learn how to do things differently. We can find ways to heal our wounds from the past. We can reclaim the positive qualities in ourselves that we may have put aside (without intending to or even being aware of doing so). To reclaim our positive qualities dissolves our alienation from ourselves, from others, and from God, who, after all, created us to be fully human.

Sometimes, the power struggle in a relationship reaches an impasse, and the same disagreement occurs over and over again in different contexts. For example, a husband may experience his wife as telling him over and over again what to do, as giving him directives. He is then offended and angry. Or a wife may experience her husband as ignoring her over an over again and not being interested in what is important to her. She is then hurt and angry. A couple who have been together for some time will be able to trace a common theme in their arguments and conflicts, analogous to those described above.

When in such an impasse, a couple may find marriage counseling helpful, not as an admission of failure, but as a means to move beyond the impasse. Imago Relationship Therapy is one form of counseling that has been of great help for some couples. Using this methodology, the couple learns concrete methods to create the safety and nurture in the relationship. Creation of safety (the absence of danger of being hurt in ways sometimes similar to the injuries of childhood) and a sense of nurture in the relationship is essential to moving beyond the impasse and (re)establishing the warmth and closeness desired by both. Counseling can be understood as a kind of seminar in learning some fundamental concepts and methods to create a more loving relationship.

(end of excerpt)

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