NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Are You Avoiding the Problems in Your Relationship?

Are you facing or avoiding the problems in your relationship?  Many couples avoid dealing with their problems for years, especially if it has to do with emotional and sexual intimacy.

Whether people face and deal with the problems in their relationship or try to avoid them is often affected by how they were raised to either deal or not deal with conflict.  For people raised in families where the attitude is that it's better "not to rock the boat," they're more likely to avoid acknowledging and dealing with problems.

Are You Facing or Avoiding Problems in Your Relationship?

Of course, just because you try to avoid dealing with problems in your relationship doesn't mean they just go away.  They often get worse.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with no identifying information revealed, is an example where, initially, a couple avoids dealing with their problems and, eventually, gets help:

Jack and Mary
Jack and Mary were married for over 25 years.  Their children were already grown and out of the home.  When they first met, they were very much in love and had a passionate sexual relationship.  But over the years, they spent less and less time with each other and they were no longer having sex.

Are You Avoiding the Problems in Your Relationship?

Both Jack and Mary were raised in families where people didn't talk about their feelings, so neither of them learned to talk about uncomfortable feelings.  When Jack was growing up, he knew that his father was deeply unhappy with the mother's drinking, but his father never said anything about it.  Even though his parents never fought, there was a lot of tension in the household.  Jack also learned not to complain.  He kept his feelings to himself.

When Mary was growing up, her mother always stressed that Mary needed to "put on a happy face," no matter what she was feeling.  This is what Mary's mother did, but at night, Mary heard her crying.

When a new colleague began flirting with Jack at work, although he was flattered, he had no intention of accepting her invitation for a drink.  But when he realized that, for the first time in years, he felt sexually attractive and desirable again, he knew there was a serious problem in his marriage.

Jack wanted to talk to Mary about their marriage and what he felt was missing--emotional and sexual intimacy.  But he felt very uncomfortable.  They were spending little time together.  Mary spent most of the weekend involved with volunteer activities and Jack would spend time in the den alone doing work.  At night, they went to bed at different times.  

Sometimes, Jack wanted to initiate sex, but he felt uncomfortable doing it.  He couldn't even remember when they last had sex.Each time that Jack said to himself that he would talk to Mary, he would have trouble even knowing how to even begin.  So, time passed, and he felt increasingly frustrated, unhappy with their marriage, and annoyed with himself.

Then, one day at an office Christmas party, his flirtatious colleague, who seemed to have one too many drinks, cornered Jack in the coat room as he was getting his coat to leave.  Without warning, she pulled him towards her and kissed him on the mouth.  Rather than pulling away, Jack responded by kissing her back.

When he realized what he was doing, he pulled away, made an excuse and quickly left the party feeling shaken by the experience.  As he was driving home, his thoughts were racing.  He knew he had to talk to his wife before he did something he regretted.  He also realized that he wanted love and passion back in his marriage.

When he got home, he found Mary getting ready for bed.  He hesitated for a moment.  Then, he stammered that he needed to talk.  Mary responded by turning away and asking him if it couldn't wait until tomorrow.  Jack sensed that Mary knew what he wanted to talk to her about, and she was putting him off.  So, he told her that it couldn't wait--they needed to talk now.

It was harder than Jack thought to get the words out.  As he told Mary that he felt their marriage was in trouble, he only looked up occasionally to look at her.  Mary kept her gaze on the floor, looking very uncomfortable and anxious.  But Mary acknowledged that she was also feeling that something was missing in their relationship for a long time.  They agreed to both think about it and talk again in a few days.  They went to bed together that night, and for the first time in years, they held each other.

They both wanted to salvage their marriage, but they didn't know how.  Within a week, they decided to get help in couples counseling.  They learned in couples counseling how their experiences with their families affected their ability to deal with uncomfortable feelings.  Over time, with a lot of effort, they worked towards rekindling the emotional closeness and sexual intimacy they once had.

Getting Help in Therapy 
Avoiding, rather than facing, the problems in your relationship often makes them worse as time goes on. There's no doubt that it can be awkward to address these issues with your spouse or romantic partner.  But you need to weigh this against the possibility that your relationship won't last if you don't deal with your problems.

A skilled therapist, who works with couples, can help you work through your problems.  She can also help you to learn how to communicate more effectively with each other so both of you are able to talk to each other about your feelings and you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.