Marriage and Intimate Friendship

I just finished a phone interview with Lee Rosen of the Rosen Law Firm for their useful website Stayhappilymarried.com .  This site is one of their several, free information resources around marriage and family issues.  Our interview will be permanently available on that site, likely next week, and I’ll summarize briefly here what we discussed.

It took me decades to realize that people tend to choose and relate to spouses very differently than  how we usually form close friendships.  Without the limited and distorted models and expectations of marriage offered by the culture, movies, songs,TV and our parents, if we get to be really close friends with others, it’s because: 1]we simply enjoy being together, and 2] we pay careful attention to protecting and nourishing  each other’s feelings and values.  We generally accept our differences simply as differences, without requiring the other to think & value and behave just the way we do.  We’re also willing regularly to forgive ourselves and each other about our differences.

When we’re “In Love”, in the first stage of courting, science shows that our brains are bathed in neuro-chemicals which prevent rational thought about the beloved.  We don’t usually postpone marriage for the couple of years necessary for these chemicals to dissipate [allowing us to perceive the other realistically], and we rationalize away crucial information we will notice Much more clearly later on.  (Sometimes I think “In Love” is one of the very few socially acceptable psychoses.)  As we live together in the early years of marriage, most folks learn we’ve not found the perfect partner, often leading to disillusionment and deep disappointments.

In the third stage of Marriage, people are often aware of deciding whether:  1. To settle for the very disappointing marriage we have,  2. To split,  hoping to find that perfect partner, or 3. To do the hard emotional work of emotional intimacy – finding and changing My 50% of the responsibility for all that’s good and all that’s not good in our relationship.

In my experience, there are three critical, practicable and learnable “emotional intelligence” skills necessary for genuine intimacy, i.e., close friendship.  About my real self (what I really think, feel and value/ what I want and don’t want), I must practice:  1. Openness – the opposite of closed-ness,

2. Honesty – not deceiving by omission or commission, and

3. Directness – not expecting the other to do the impossible/read my mind; asking directly for what I want and saying what I don’t want.

People tend to hide their authentic selves, deeply fearing, often unconsciously, losing the other person “if they Really knew me”.  Among the consequences of remaining hidden are defensiveness based on deep, continuing fears of being found unlovable;  the fact that the other doesn’t Really know me, so we Can’t be close friends; and loss of safety and comfort together which come from realizing that I’m deeply known and accepted, despite all my human limitations and flaws.  Daring to be this vulnerable requires great personal courage and is so hard and risky and time consuming that it would be unwise, if not impossible, to practice with more than a very few, trustworthy people with whom I’m strongly willing and wanting to be deeply emotionally intimate.  I’m certainly not suggesting we “let it all hang out”.  That doesn’t work either, & there are a very few things

every couple learns need not be further brought up because it’s too painful and never going anywhere good.  It’s also true that nearly everything can be framed and said diplomatically enough not to cause an earthquake.

Hunting and finding the right guide/coach is also a daunting challenge.  I suggest two criteria for finding the best therapist for a particular couple: 1. Word-of-mouth/friends’ recommendations and/or website evidence of strong experience and competence; and 2. Trust your intuition, because this adventure requires the kind of rapport/”emotional chemistry” with a therapist leading to the credibility, trust, safety and support necessary for taking the risks to explore and discover how to improve the most important relationship in our lives.  I’ll be glad to arrange 20 minutes with an individual or couple without charge, very briefly to assess what options to consider and if I’m not the right helper, who amongst the many therapists whose work I know well might be a good match.

Two last considerations — First, being married for nearly 30 years to a fine writer and coach/consultant to writers (the NY Times agrees, so my view is not based exclusively on my biases Peggypayne.com), I’ve learned why so many books are disappointingly unfulfilling of the blurbs and reviews on their covers.  Those descriptions are simply advertising/marketing, designed to attract sales and make money.  In my experience, most Self-Help books are not very helpful in the long run, because they’re published primarily to make money from people’s  search for expert help with the painful problems that accompany being a human animal.  Two books I have found very useful in understanding and improving marital relationships are both available in paperback:

1. The Seven Principles for Making  Marriage Work by Dr John Gottman,  and

2. The Marriage First Aid Kit by Dr Bryce Kaye.

And finally, in addition to individual and couple therapy and training other therapists, I’ve led several weekly psychotherapy groups and yearly All Day Groups for the past 35 or so years for several reasons — because they offer the unusual opportunity to discover how we’re actually experienced by other people;  because they are safe “laboratories” for using the most powerful (experiential) ways to learn and practice the openness, honesty and directness necessary for emotional intimacy with friends or family;  because they’re efficient and cost effective;  and because they’re usually much more fun than individual therapy.  The last of this year’s 3 All Day Groups meets Friday, October 26 at my cabin in the country.  The theme for that Workshop is ” Love Skills : Hypnotically Enhanced Intimacy”.  You can find further details about that workshop in the menu under “Workshop Schedule”, and “Group Therapy”  on this site.

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Marriage and Intimate Friendship

  1. Friend of Spock says:

    For myself the biggest issue is the restoration of trust and positive feelings that have very slowly diminished over years of time.

    My solution has been to actively look for one good thing every day in my partner AND to make it known that I like/admire/appreciate what they’ve done/who they are etc.

    By looking for the good stuff, I spend less time noticing the bad stuff.

    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hello Friend of Spock, I’m pleased to hear your wise idea. Sadly, your situation is not uncommon.
      Your resolve and creativity Are uncommon, and should help build back the “Trust Account” between you, and also help you focus more and more on what’s positive rather than on things that distress you. Your tactic reminds me of very useful exercise in Gottman’s Seven Principals… book — a very specific and detailed seven week program for either partner to build/rebuild trust and positivity between them.
      The maximum commitment for you could be to decide not to deceive your partner again in any way. It’s a demanding discipline which greatly strengthens self-esteem and over the long term will help clarify to what extent the disconnection is repairable. Sometimes a determined practice by one partner can improve things enough to draw the other into a similar choice. Marital therapy could help, if both partners decide to give it their all. I do hope your efforts bring increasing closeness. Dr B

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