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Celebrity Divorce Creates Anxiety in Shaky Marriages

The heralded splits of Tiger and Elin, John and Kate have made many marriages wrought with conflict seem in doubt of surviving. Try to remember that celebrity marriages are no different than yours, we all tend to fall in love (the easy phase) with an idealized view of our partner. It is exciting, changes our neurochemistry, and lifts our spirits tremendously in the early going.

The early phase, which I call Image Love, is partly based on our longings at the time. Most often these longings represent insecurities in ourselves we unconsciously hope to resolve through our new found love. Of course, as time progresses disappointment can set in as we discover the real person in front of us. He or she can’t possibly make up for our past hurts and doubts. Some couples don’t realize this is happening and they think they have fallen out of love. Not realizing this phase is the juncture of where true, mature love begins.

If we have the courage to take responsibility for our own shortcomings we can begin the process of healing and changing. If we blame our partner we find ourselves disillusioned and extremely discouraged. Our eyes start to drift to the next new love that can solve our life long problems.

My wife and I are in our 30th year of marriage. We have had our ups and downs and have had major disagreements over time. As the initial “falling in love” phase slipped away and the real relationship began we struggled to a degree as all couples do. The early physical attraction and ability to connect verbally was our beginning foundation but not enough to make for a sound, resilient love.

What happened over time that made the relationship as powerful as it is today? Falling in love progressed over time to loving each other’s character; the person deep within was discovered and revealed. I can remember seeing my wife care for my dying mother, caring for our very ill oldest daughter, delivering her mother’s eulogy with grace and wisdom, loving my dad as he became depressed after my mother’s death. I have watched her sing to her father in a nursing home, as he lies motionless and unresponsive. I marvel as I view her excitement for our adult daughter’s careers, her unselfish love for them along with the inordinate interest she takes in all aspects of their lives. Her support and belief in me has always been a constant. Even the care and love she has shown to our puppies is unselfish and devoted.

When my mother died my dad said her funeral was like the “league of nations”. People of all religions, races and ethnic backgrounds attended. My wife is the same way, she makes friends from all walks of life and she loves diversity. She abhors prejudice and bias and is deeply affected by human beings mistreating others. She can sense arrogance and opportunism miles away.

At this moment she is planning for Christmas day, my favorite day of the year because she makes it a wondrous experience. I share all of these experiences to say that my love for her is greater than ever, not because we agree on every major point, we do not. Not because she is idealizing and adoring of me, she is not. Not because she needs me, she does not. But my love has grown to its depth because of who she is, her essential character.

If you’re going to work through difficulties in your relationship you must develop love for each other’s character, the essential person deep within. It is always revealed at the most difficult times, not the days at the beach.

Don’t be threatened by hearing of the stars marital demise, even though the pundits spin stories daily we have few actual facts about their lives. Don’t be threatened if there are days when you question whether you made the wrong decision. It is normal to have doubts. It is also critical to express your dissatisfaction, to address conflict directly, with tact and empathy for your partner. When we love with all our hearts we get hurt, it is often not intentional. Try not to personalize every hurtful encounter, try to understand the perspective of your partner. And most importantly work hard to identify the areas of difficulty you brought into the marriage. He or she is not responsible for your past, but if you take responsibility for your own shortcomings your spouse is more likely to help you work through your sensitivities.

Always remember marriage is more work in the beginning and more joy as years go by. As understanding of yourself and your spouse is increased your relationship can become a great friendship and one that many will admire. A wonderful benefit for your efforts is that your children will have a model for love and conflict resolution that will guide them in their relationships throughout their lives.

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The Recent Fall of Professional Athletes

Andre Agasssi’s open admissions, Tiger’s transgressions and now the tragic death of pro football player Chris Henry have rocked the sports world. We in America tend to idealize are sports hero’s and assign them personal attributes that have nothing to do with their athletic prowess.

I have not had any personal contact with any of these athletes so please appreciate I am generalizing to make a point of how we tend to idealize performance and extend its meaning, especially performance in the world of celebebrities.

Many in our culture are afflicted with what I call Performance Addiction – the belief that perfecting appearance and attaining status will win love and respect. This belief system is hardwired early in life and reinforced by our culture, one that places enormous value on achievement, if not over-achievement.

We then mistakenly feel surprised when we realize those who are able to perform on the highest levels, achieve what few only dream of, are not particularly balanced and may have a fragile sense of self.

It seems impossible that such high achievers can be so troubled internally and ultimately turn to drugs, sexual addictions and impulsive behavior. We have bought into the common belief that if you achieve and perform with excellence everything else will fall into place.

I have worked with professional athletes, media celebrities, lawyers, doctors and Ph.D. scientists who didn’t know the first thing of how to establish and maintain an intimate relationship. Although they excel in a narrow aspect of their worlds it certainly doesn’t mean they possess the interpersonal abilities necessary for personal success. They often choose love partners who idealize them for their notoriety and status rather than who they are, a superficial love based on the exterior social self. This tendency completely underestimates the necessary interior character qualities that deepen love.

I never met Chris Henry but his death is yet another example of a young life ended due to apparent love gone badly. From this point on in your life work hard to discover the interpersonal abilities you need to acquire and foster what we all want- lasting love based on who we are not just on what we do. In the weeks to follow I will do my best to highlight the skills necessary for personal and professional success that are tested and true, not based on surface talents that will not allow you to experience the depth of true love.

We are met to love and connect, when it happens and endures it allows us to go out into the world and achieve for the right reasons, our potential is unleashed as we feel the support of those who truly know us and value our character. Were free to achieve without the obsessive fear of failure, if we don’t meet our expectations we still have the love in our life because it’s not based solely on what we do. This is truly a liberating experience!

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Healing from an Affair

Contrary to what many believe recovering from an affair can actually make a marriage stronger. It is unquestionably a devastating experience that takes much time and work to overcome but I have witnessed several marriages that have reached a deeper level of love when both parties learn a great deal from the pain caused by infidelity.

Of course this positive outcome does not always occur. If the individual who has had the affair is not deeply regretful and willing to have the courage to absorb the anger, frustration and pain of his or her spouse there is little hope for resolution. A poor outcome is quite likely when the cheater continues to blame his or her spouse. Let’s face it, there is no excuse. Many people are miserable in their marriages and they seek help, they tell their spouse how unhappy they are and they open the door to doing the work necessary to form a deeper bond.

We all become disappointed in our long term relationships at times, it is perfectly natural. In our fast paced lives we often take each other for granted, store resentments and then if we don’t know how to communicate directly and honestly we find ourselves drifting into despair.

I had a wonderful experience with a couple earlier this year after an affair. The husband, a very successful businessman, was over-worked, stressed to the limit, feeling unappreciated by his wife and children and one night, late in the office he and his administrative aid ended up kissing. From there an affair began that had an anti-depressant effect on his mood, he was feeling younger, more desired, and of course she listened to his woos about his marriage with undivided attention. Eventually her husband, feeling suspicious of her late work hours, checked her phone messages and was able to retrieve text messages that were filled with sexual talk and love statements. Everything unraveled thereafter and when I met my patient he was living in a hotel feeling confused, sexually attached to his young lover but feeling tremendous disappointment in himself for his actions. He didn’t know if he loved his wife, he felt so much excitement with the younger woman and could not resist talking to her regardless of the fact that his business and marriage were failing.

Even though he is quite bright his ability to express directly was very limited. He could manage work conflicts but when it came to expressing his deeper feelings to his wife, friends, children he felt very inept. He grew up in a home where achievement was a stringent requirement. His father, a surgeon, and his mother, a divorce attorney, showed little warmth to their children or to each other. When his father died he felt little emotion, his mother did not shed a tear and re-married 12 months later.

As we returned to what I call the scene of the crime we discovered how distorted his views were of success and in particular of intimacy. He learned early that to gain love you must achieve at all costs. He was worn out, somewhat depressed with his existence despite his affluence and he found a way to stimulate himself out of the monotony of his life through the affair.

We tend to reenact the roles we saw in our parents marriages without much awareness. If we received little empathy growing up we don’t really know how to share with others in a deeper, more meaningful way. My patient longed for closeness but if it didn’t come easily he retreated into work, never letting his wife in, or allowing her to understand his disappointment. His views of mature intimacy were extremely limited. Most importantly he began to realize how he over-rated his closeness to his lover; the excitement of new sex gave him relief in an addictive fashion. It wasn’t based on truly knowing another person.

Over time he felt less and less attachment to her as he and his wife discussed openly the disappointments they had in each other and with my help, we discovered the negative stories about themselves that both brought into the marriage. They gradually increased their understanding of each other’s histories, their empathy for each other grew and at the same time their feelings of love were uncovered and deepened. She still has a long way to go before she regains the trust she previously had but the process is evolving.

Today my client participates in one of my group coaching sessions; he is most respected by members as a person who tries valiantly to understand others and himself. An experience he had never witnessed in his own home. He has apologized to his children and he has become an emotionally involved dad rather than a dad always trying to motivate his children to achieve more and more. His wife recently commented that he is actually fun, not as serious and intense as in the past. He is no longer exclusively pre-occupied with achieving and performing to win love. He has learned that the most important ability for sustained success in love and in work is to be able to employ empathy to listen and understand others. In the process we learn more and more about ourselves. So today a man who sought a secret affair for solace can’t wait to go home, play with his children and actually give his wife a real, passionate kiss rather than the perfunctory peck he gave in previous years.

He is liberated internally by increasing his ability to relate assertively, even when he is about to express dissatisfaction. We all need to continually practice expressing when we are in conflict, if we don’t the emotions won’t go away, they come out sideways. Thus the formula for being vulnerable to an affair.

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