Couples, Intimate Relationships, Substance Abuse/Addiction

Couple relationships often seem easy at first but, over time, reality happens and with it the many 21st century challenges to couple happiness. Never before have we counted on our partners to be so much for us—companions, conversationalists, entertainers, lovers, consolers, co parents, cooks, housekeepers, providers, and business partners. And we’re supposed to be all these things while each pursuing often demanding, stressful careers, child rearing, dealing with parents and in-laws, cultivating friendships, overcoming intercultural issues—heavy lifting indeed.

In managing these many stressors, our patterns of communication can take on a life of their own and interfere with getting our deepest needs met. We sometimes have trouble opening our hearts to our loved ones for fear that we won’t be able to stand up for our own needs or desires. Often, one partner thinks that if the other partner “would just change, everything would be fine,”couple (1) while the other thinks, “if my partner would just cut me some slack, accept me like I am, or leave me alone, everything would be just fine.” Is it any wonder that, being human, some of us may want more from our partners while our partners are simultaneously struggling, sometimes unsuccessfully, to make us happy?

If this cycle persists, frustration can turn to irritation, irritation to anger, and continued distress may leave both partners sad, lonely, and hopeless, or so weary of the struggle, we simply shut down.

Managing these challenges requires skills that are rarely taught proactively. But when both partners want to develop their relationship skills, they can act proactively, or, at least, make up for lost time. Fortunately, recent advances in Emotionally Focused Therapy, Systems Centered Therapy™, and neuroscience, have not only helped us understand why these patterns occur, but also have paved the way for us to literally shift our brain states and thereby our emotions, thoughts, and habits, and, thusly, “re-wire” these response patterns. This re-wiring can restore the spirit of generosity, acceptance, and gratitude that the relationship was initially founded upon so couples can meet modern challenges as a team—secure in their connection and love.  

Addiction or substance issues may be another serious barrier to couple connection. Such issues themselves frequently induce avoidance followed by serious conflict over time. The non-using member of the couple wonders if he or she can ever count on the using partner, whether the partner will ever “be there” for him or her. The using partner, on the other hand, may feel hectored, judged, rejected, wondering if he or she will ever be “good enough” for the other partner. Yet these issues, too, can be addressed so as to facilitate emotional healing of the members of the couple. I take a pragmatic approach to such issues, open to what works rather than being devoted to one exclusive treatment model.