Journeys

Alan & Susan

Emotionally exhausted, Alan and Susan came to the office in a state of siege alternating between withering anger and icy distance.

Susan had discovered that Alan had been maintaining an emotionally intimate relationship with a former girlfriend. They tried to manage their crisis by seeking help from their rabbi, who suggested therapy could help them.

During an emotional first session, each described how they were desperate to stop their cycle of pain. Both felt they were at their last stop before divorce.

Over the course of several stormy sessions, Alan and Susan revealed how each had experienced some significant, emotionally painful situations in their families, before they had ever met.

Alan was raised in a household where his father raged after coming home from work. As a young child he sought refuge from his mother, who, withdrawn, repeatedly pushed him away. Susan's parents divorced when she was ten. She would cry herself to sleep, hearing each blame their anger at one another on her. These early family experiences acted as explosive "triggers" for their relationship.

Over time, Alan and Susan learned how to explore and understand one another through their childhood stories. As they did this, they began to see how each contributed to the destructive cycle between them. Susan began to see how she withdrew from Alan out of fear of being blamed by him. They began to understand how this in turn activated Alan's anxiety that he was not loved. 

As he looked at hard things in his life story, Alan slowly began to realize how he tried to maintain manipulative control of relationships to avoid being emotionally vulnerable. As Susan looked, she began to see how she withdrew from Alan as her way of attempting avoidance of pain from rejection. Over time, they each began to see how they contributed to their cycle of pain, and how their reactive erosion of trust in one another cooled the warmth and intimacy they once shared.

Both began to see how Alan's infidelity was his attempt to cope with his inability to soothe his own pain. In his case, he sought to do this by seeking nurturing attention from someone else without risk of losing control or being vulnerable. 

Through hard work in sessions, as well as practicing their assigned work and exercises between sessions, Alan and Susan began to learn how to emotionally support themselves and one another while at the same time listening to each other's pain. They learned about how to tend to their own emotional wounds while hearing one another more deeply with intentional, mindful compassion. As their insight grew, they practiced new behavioral and relational skills on how to better come alongside one another. As each changed their responses to their cycle of pain, so did their relationship. Slowly, healing began to blossom. 

After 11 months of weekly sessions, Alan and Susan learned how to more effectively and consistently create the conditions they needed to help both of them feel secure in their relationship. When conflict did occur between them, they became more effective in recognizing how to work through their problem in a way that deepened their love and respect for one another. Equipped with new skills and insights, their relationship was yielding renewed trust and deepened intimacy. Their state of exhausted emotional silence and despair was replaced with a purposeful, resilient tenderness that brought them together. 

Please note: The above is montage representing various cases. It does not represent any actual case. No case can be considered typical. Details have been modified and the names used are fictional. Any resemblance to any person or couple is coincidental.

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Staying Together:
What Successful Couples Do
(That Troubled Couples Don't)
Life can sometimes be difficult.
Love doesn't have to be.

Jeff Kisling, Ph.D., MFT
couple counseling • sex therapy