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"Notes" # 13

Here is a great question from a very knowledgeable reader:

Therapy does not solve everything. Some problems are insurmountable. When do you decide as a therapist that the cost-benefit is not worth it? Of course, the couple has to decide that. But if one person wants to work on it and the other doesn't. When is enough, enough? What criteria are used in that case to say something isn't working. Some couples give up too soon. Some stay too long. Some are locked into staying even when miserable.

My response is: I generally err on the position of let's give your relationship another chance-"Are you willing to do that (couple)?" All the while I am aware that battle lines have been drawn and their neuron pathways are fully entrenched in behaviours that will make it nearly impossible to be successful. However, every once in a while couples are able to make some magic happen and they change. That never happens unless they take responsibility for their own behaviours-they need to come with an understanding that it is their attitude, their behaviour, their ability to communicate, that can positively or negatively affect the daily life of a relationship. We can have different thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs and opinions than our partner, but we can't insist and impose on them that "our" way is the best or the only way of seeing the world.

Clients either "climb up" and start using the skills they already know--we just remind them of what they know--or they don't! They start communicating better, make more caring statements, become more thoughtful, kinder, and transparent or they don't! When they don't, one of the couple generally has their answer and change does happen--they leave the relationship and stop coming to therapy.

As for why people stay in relationships that are not working, there are lots of reasons--religious reasons, financial reasons, afraid to be alone reasons, abuse reasons--"He will harm me if I leave him". However, the ones I have the most difficulty understanding are those who are just "miserable" in the relationship. I imagine it is because they have low self-esteem and cannot see any other option to their predicament. Or maybe they stay because they are in some ways addicted to the abusive behaviour patterns of their partner.

How about some feedback from your (reader) experience.


Retread is a previously shared article--sometime over the last 12 years--that I feel is worth repeating. I put it at the end so it can be easily ignored if you have already read it.

If You've Got It-Flaunt It!

     My friend tells the story of going to "Parents' Night" in the gym and the teacher asking if any of them could sing. Only one parent put up his hand, the rest were too shy, embarrassed - perhaps a bit short on self-esteem?
     It reminds me of the daily struggle some people have with self-esteem. They just don't like their lives, or themselves - they are too short/too tall; too fat/too skinny; too dumb/too nerdy. Perhaps early in their lives they missed out on being nurtured by the adults in their life and so don't know/believe they are special, or through some experience, chemical imbalance or character flaw, just can't grasp that they are ok. (I'm OK-You're OK).
     The junior high years can be particularly difficult because everything the young person does is held under a peer microscope and is severely judged. It seems to me that one of the worst labels to have thrown at you at this age, (13-16), is that, "You are conceited". Imagine you think highly of yourself - what an awful person you must be! You are told over and over again by your peers, even by the media, that you are to blend in, look the same, and in essence not stand out, not be special - even if you have special skills/talents. Be humble; don't demonstrate your gift, or you run the risk of being called conceited, which leads to arrogance (or maybe this was just how it was in my jr. high years and it is different today?). Remember, it doesn't matter even if you don't have a special talent, you're still ok. I love the bumper sticker that says, "God don't make no junk". I hope you get the positive message no matter what your belief system.
     Twenty to thirty years after adolescence, jr. and sr. high school, the damage is done. We are still being humble, denying our gifts and not giving ourselves credit/strokes for being who we are because we don't want to embarrass ourselves, appear conceited, arrogant, or just don't feel worthy. We are starving for strokes but we have a message in our heads that prevents us from receiving the strokes we need to improve our self-esteem.

 I believe:   If you've got it, own it (and give yourself positive strokes for it).
                    And then give yourself even more strokes for sharing it!