A rocky marriage may be filled with dramatic, emotional ups and downs or manifest by slowly
and silently draining the vitality of you and your partner. Marriage problems that end in divorce
are associated with some of the highest levels of personal stress, just behind that of a spouse’s
death. Couples marrying today have an approximately 40% chance of getting divorced and an
even higher rate of divorce during a second marriage.
A marriage’s demise can do lasting and devastating damage to spouses, children, family, health, and finances. Seemingly intractable problems like poor communication, infidelity, financial conflicts, substance abuse, anger issues, differences in child-rearing styles, and sexual difficulties can lead to the undoing.
Solution? If you have even a partially willing spouse, try to work it out. We are attracted to each other based on conscious, but more importantly, unconscious wishes, desires, and expectations. This is why we tend to repeat the dysfunctional marriage choices or relationship cycles even though we initially believe that the new prospect is “different.” Once identified with the assistance of an experienced therapist, the internal models that dictate unhealthy relationships can be changed. So too, can dysfunctional conscious behavior and communication styles. Even though positive outcomes improve significantly when both partners are committed to repairing a marriage, significant changes can be made without a partner’s direct involvement.
An experienced therapist can help with the pitfalls of marital conflict by interpreting their underlying meaning and purpose while offering more appropriate coping and communication
styles, thus setting the stage for an infinitely happier and more mutually satisfying relationship.
Good relationships involve people who are aware of their partner’s individual needs and, when disagreements arise, seek to accommodate, and compromise in the interest of relational harmony. Relationships can be challenged when partners cannot empathize with each other’s needs and therefore have little incentive to compromise or accommodate. In such relationships, the partner is not seen as a unique person in their own right but comes to represent family members. This unconscious equating one’s partner with family members or other significant people creates an environment of animosity, conflict, and confusion that wreaks emotional havoc producing the feeling that one is always misunderstood. The origin of his dynamic is usually associated with the most problematic family member, which is projected onto one’s partner.
Individuals caught up in this relational pattern experience great suffering, often punctuated by periods of sometimes-euphoric joy. They long for intimacy with another person but experience significant anxiety when they get too close. People in high conflict chaotic relationships often have little insight into the cause of their relational difficulties setting the stage to repeat the same issues in new relationships.
They struggle with anxiety, depression, and anger and have difficulty tolerating their own
emotional experiences. Their emotions can be so intense that they seek to relieve themselves of
the pressure by engaging in behavior that is often impulsive and self-defeating. These behaviors may include bouts of heavy drinking and drug use, indiscriminate, high-risk sexual behavior, reckless behavior such as participation in dangerous sports or driving, excessive spending, angry confrontations with employers or co-workers, binge eating, self-cutting, or other forms of self-harm, to name a few.
They tend to have a dim view of their own identity and often experience a sense of inner
emptiness and boredom. Such individuals tend to see themselves and others as either all good or all bad and react very strongly to abandonment. They are often intelligent and can be socially engaging, loving, and generous but may become immediately volatile and unreasonable under stress. These individuals long for stability but have a limited capacity to modulate powerful emotions. Childhood, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are often a part of the picture, but not always.
While anger is a normal part of the repertoire of human emotions, wrath, rage, or anger is one of the “seven deadly sins” for a good reason. Usually rationalized as warranted by a particular circumstance, extreme outrage is associated with explosive verbal or behavioral outbursts that are frequently experienced as irresistible. Other times a burning, seething ongoing sense of anger pervades one’s mood and may be associated with irritability, biting comments, and passive-aggressive acts against others. Excessive anger is responsible for untold misery and has been the downfall of many decent people.
Angry outbursts are frequently experienced as automatic, thoughtless, and may be out of the person’s control. Physical corollaries to excessive anger include increased arousal and energy, decreased energy, agitation, heart palpitations, headache, and stomach problems.
Substance abuse and other forms of self-medication are often used to regulate angry emotions.
The sense of relief commonly felt after an angry eruption can be quickly followed by anxiety and, sometimes, deep regret and remorse.
Excessive anger can be self-reinforcing. A person may feel powerless, but will temporarily feel powerful, often getting their way in a given situation after an angry outburst. Sooner or later,
however, anger issues lead to increasing self-destructive behavior, seriously diminishing any short-lived mild positive benefits.
Excessive anger is often the result of unconscious injury and deep pain and requires an open-
minded, non-judgmental exploration and reprocessing of long-standing feelings associated with loss of control and problems regulating emotional states.
For some people, what best describes their relationship with the world, themselves, and others, is one of anxiety. Typically, such individuals have no idea that their daily life is enveloped in a state of global “free-floating” anxiety – it is “normal” for them. This state is frequently described as the experience of being “nervous” or “worried” all of the time.
Individuals with generalized anxiety often have unconscious fears that they will, in some way, do something to compromise their moral or ethical standards or lose control of something valuable. Others obsessive fear losing someone important to them, and still, others have concerns about losing their sanity. Such individuals have limited coping mechanisms and are unaware of what is producing their stress, which often occurs when there are no obvious life stressors.
Teletherapy is the online delivery of a counseling session and is typically used to supplement
traditional in-person therapy when in-person office visits cannot be made.
This way of relating to oneself and the world is associated with regular feelings of sadness, self-
criticism, hopelessness, and a need to be perfect for some. When faced with painful life problems such as being rejected or mistreated, these individuals feel it must be their fault.
The underlying assumption is that when bad things happen, they are bad, or there must be
something wrong with them. Their focus is on trying to be what they think other people want them to be in the hopes that they will no longer feel that they are bad.
The self-worth of such individuals is typically very low, and they are highly affected by loss. Often, there is a vague sense of emptiness and a general feeling of inadequacy that shows little improvement irrespective of how much they do for others or how accomplished they may be.
A similar form of depression involves strong reactions to losses or separation from significant people. These individuals respond to separations with extreme anxiety and a deep sense of meaninglessness and incompleteness. They have great difficulty trusting that their relationship partner will be there for them and are overly self-critical.
People with these depressive styles are usually very nice people who often do a lot of good for
their loved ones and those around them, but deep inside, they believe they are fundamentally flawed.
This internal experience negatively affects relational intimacy because they fear that if someone really gets to know them, they will discover their hidden badness, which will result in painful rejection. Such individuals often avoid potentially more functional and satisfying relationships because of a sense of unworthiness.
Addictions and substance abuse are symptoms that can become causes. An essential aspect of
addiction and substance abuse is the need to self-soothe, often alone. Even though the substances or addictive behavior may be used or occur in a social context, their use represents a private mechanism to deal with emotional pain and dysregulation within oneself without the benefit of someone who can actually help. Genetics plays a role in addictions and substance abuse but never outside the context of one’s environment and personal emotional orientation.
The emotional dysregulation associated with these forms of self-soothing results in behavior
such as excessive shopping, eating, gambling, dangerous sports, etc., and are frequently born out of early experiences where the individual learned that no one was available, or was able, to
provide the necessary emotional caring they needed at the time. They discovered that they could
alleviate their pain, at least temporarily, by themselves and therefore bypass the need for others and the massive disappointment associated with having needs. While this strategy can provide short-term relief, its long-term consequences can be devastating.
One of the most frustrating life experiences are those related to the inability to fall asleep in a
reasonable amount of time, waking up multiple times or at three or four in the morning, and being unable to fall back asleep, nightmares, or the need to sleep excessively.
The causes of sleep issues range from medical or substance-related sleep problems to those
associated with significant life stressors, such as trauma, or those resulting from long-standing emotional factors that have not been adequately processed.
Sleep issues are often associated with emotions such as helplessness, frustration, anxiety, anger, and depression. Daytime concentration is often compromised, and mental confusion is common. Agitation, irritability, and fatigue are also constant companions of the sleep-deprived. Relationships also suffer as others struggle to cope with their sleep-deprived loved ones.
Fortunately, most sleep difficulties are not tied to severe medical disorders and can be effectively treated by addressing life stressors and emotional factors that fuel sleeplessness. While uncomfortable and disturbing, sleep issues should be viewed as important barometers of the state of one’s emotional (and physical) health and, like any symptom, should be taken seriously.
Proper diagnosis of possible medical issues and therapeutic intervention focusing on emotional triggers, if primarily psychologically driven, can significantly improve, if not eliminate, sleep problems.
When talking about the self, we generally refer to a unified identity – the self recognized in the mirror each morning. In actuality, we all have multiple selves. In the best case, these selves (or aspects of ourselves) generally work as a cohesive unit to address specific life needs. For
instance, we have an adult self that requires that we wake up in the morning to go to work even
when we are tired and ensures that we maintain our cool when our employer unfairly criticizes us or when an inconsiderate driver cuts us off. Usually, our more mature adult aspects do their job with excellent efficiency and go unnoticed. However, problems arise when our adult side is hijacked by parts of us that are much younger.
These younger or more childish parts of ourselves generally use the language of emotions or
certain behaviors to make their presence known. These emotions are often expressed at
inappropriate times and situations and result in actions that are counter-productive such as inappropriately challenging one’s boss, acting out through road rage, or calling in sick for work when one’s presence is needed because you are too “tired” (depressed) to go to work. These misunderstood and usually unrecognized infantile parts are at the core of self-destructive
behavior and often go unseen until the damage is done. They may manifest themselves in
obvious self-sabotage such as risky or addictive behavior or may find more subtle expressions in a pattern of relationship failures or job stagnation.
Very few choices in life will have a greater impact on your future and lifestyle than your career
choices. Whether you are experiencing career dissatisfaction, looking for work, thinking of changing jobs, or feeling you are in the wrong line of work, counseling can help provide insight into your particular circumstance and provide a more coherent career path. Often, an employee’s performance on the job reflects their personal life. Work-related problems such as absenteeism, lack of motivation, and negativity can be eliminated by offering employees a place to work out personal issues before they escalate into serious work-related conflict.
Family dynamics profoundly influence the way we interact and communicate with others. Family therapy focuses on each family member individually and as a group. The specific treatment plan will depend on your family’s unique circumstances. Treatment includes defining and reinforcing constructive aspects of a relationship while at the same time identifying the destructive elements of the family system.
The family system may benefit from family-centered treatment when undergoing challenges that
strain other members, such as loss of employment, divorce, substance abuse, depression, domestic violence, or even the death of a loved one. In family therapy, relational dynamics are identified, interpreted, and alternative coping measures are discussed in a safe and non-judgmental setting.
- Parenting struggles
- Marital/relationship difficulties
- Financial hardship
- Anger management
- Substance abuse
- Communication issues
- Academic performance problems
- Stress management
- Work/life balance problems
- Life transition issues
- Grief, loss, bereavement
- Extended family circumstances and difficult decisions
Depth psychological approaches may employ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a means to modify potentially self-destructive behaviors, including anxiety, depression, grief, eating disorders, sleep disturbance, life transitions, and work-related difficulties, by focusing on changing cognitive aspects of dysfunctional thinking to produce greater mental clarity and emotional control.