***Disclaimer: My dear reader, in this article by the word couple I mean a union of two or more individuals, which includes trouples and other polyamorous relationships with more than two partners.
Our relationship is a growing and evolving being that just like a child, goes through developmental stages, as well as growth pains. We never expect children to look and act the same year in and year out. Growth and change is expected and welcomed. However, somehow we tend to view relationships as static and expect sameness rather than change. In couples therapy I often hear my clients lament “We are not what we used to be… Things have changed.” Of course they have! And they will continue changing throughout the process of relationship. Yes, relationship is a Process. It is not a noun, but a verb. Relationship is the Process or Relating, and how we relate to each other has a lot to do with how we relate to ourselves. The sweeter is our relationship with ourselves, the more supportive and loving is our internal dialogue, the better our connection with our partner(s) and the more loving is our relationship. Conversely, the more critical, insecure and rejecting we are toward ourselves the more of it will be reflected in the relationship. Once we are in relationship our personal emotional becomes a shared baggage. If one partner carries a charge of unresolved anger, for example, it will seed the seeds of anger, resentment, arguments and quarrels in the Relationship Garden. Alternatively, a compromised self-esteem and beliefs such as “I am unworthy” held by one of the partners will create a sense of not enough-ness, inadequacy, rejection and even contempt in the relationship. Once I see myself as inadequate and insufficient, I use this lens of perception not only to gaze inward, but also to look outward, which paints the world around me, including my relationships and my partner(s), in the bleak colors of inadequacy and not-enough-ness.
So far we discussed relationships in general, however, same-sex couples/trouples have challenges that are unique to our LGBT community and to gay men. First, we tend to carry a greater burden of shame-based trauma accumulated through growing up in the world that labeled us as inappropriate, inadequate, less-than, damaged and even perverted. Despite the progress of LGBT community in advocating for our equal rights, and despite the marriage equality, we still have ways to go and true equality remains out of reach for most. Cultural discrimination and oppression is often internalized by us to negatively affect our self-perception. Sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, wrong-ness and inappropriateness are common among the gay men that I see in my Los Angeles clinic for individual counseling, couples therapy and relationship work. This additional baggage adds to the challenges these men are faced in their relationship. Their partner(s) becomes the mirror of the personal baggage they carry and the relationship drama unfolds.
Another unique challenge to same-sex relationship is weakened social and familial context. Each relationship, just like any flower in your garden, has to be embedded in the nurturing soil of social context and familial ties. Often same-sex relationships are not granted same social weight as normative heterosexual relationships. Same sex couples often find themselves lacking the affirmation and validation by the families of both partners and are faced with the task of creating the context for their relationship through weaving together their family of choice comprised of close friends. In a way, many same-sex relationships find themselves lacking sufficient roots to stabilize and nurture the relationship.
There are additional unique aspects to the same-sex relationships. For example, gay men are adept in structuring their relationships in numerous non-monogamous ways in order to experience more flexible and adjustable forms of unions. Also, gay men seem to more frequently form relationships with more significant age differences between the partners. At times the unique aspects of our unions also add additional dimensions of challenges in maintaining a balanced and thriving relationships.
Regardless of the structure of our relationship, it has the potential to bring great joy, richness and fulfillment into our lives, and at the same time, it can be the source of deep pain and heartbreak. Our relationships are reflection of ourselves. Unintentionally we use our intimate relationships to recreate aspects of our primary relationships with our parents/caregivers in order to work through and resolve the attachment traumas originating from our earlier years. If we had primarily harmonious relationships with our caregivers, we will experience mostly harmonious intimate relationships in our adulthood. However, if our primary relationships were marked by abuse, rejection, neglect or abandonment, this emotional baggage will replicate the trauma and dysfunction in our later significant relationships. In other words, the childhood “baggage” will repeatedly re-emerge in our adult relationship, presenting itself for resolution. Its cyclical nature is reflected in our “choice” of intimate partners. We fall in love with partners who are uniquely capable of triggering all of our baggage, bringing it up for resolution.
Now, there is one point I want to make crystal clear. None of these dynamics are conscious. We are never aware of the unconscious process that draws us toward our prospective mates. The attraction and falling in love remain a completely unconscious processes. Regardless of whether we understand the underlying dynamic or not, we are never able to control the process. It is not until after the unfolding of our relationship that we are able to understand the elements that drew us together with our beloved. Nevertheless, all of our significant relationships are with the mates who are able to trigger our unresolved baggage. We are attracted to partners who are best equipped to push our unresolved buttons for us to resolve them and grow.
At this point you might wonder what would be the role of couples therapy or marriage counseling in helping your relationship. After all, the very nature of our attraction is to bring us together with a partner or partners who can trigger all of our stuff. How can couples therapy and marriage counseling help us overcome relationship difficulties? What can couples expect in the process of couples work and what are the benefits that marriage counseling brings?
How can Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling help my relationship?
Previously we talked about the involuntary nature of our attraction and the process in which our attraction brings us together with partners who have the ability to trigger all of our unresolved baggage. The honeymoon period is sometimes jokingly referred to as the anesthesia stage. This stage precedes the more challenging phases of a relationship in which all of our unresolved “stuff” comes to the surface. The magnitude of the challenges we encounter in our relationship corresponds to the magnitude of the emotional baggage we bring with us into the relationship. The greater the baggage, the greater the difficulties. The phase in which our past baggage is brought up for resolution is challenging and hurtful. This can be the time of crisis in which couples often seek couples counseling or marriage therapy, hoping to alleviate the hurt and turbulence in the relationship and establish harmony, connection and peace.
The role of couples counseling and marriage therapy is to help partners work through and resolve their baggage in a focused and controlled manner, preventing the unresolved negative emotions, past traumas and limiting beliefs from creating further hurt and damaging the relationship. The role of therapy is also to help the couple to rebuild intimacy, trust, connection and harmony. Once the couple is able to recognize and resolve the unconscious emotional patterns stemming from their primary relationships and past traumas, the healing process begins. Harmonious and loving intimate relationships are a powerful tool of healing and growth. Through a loving relationship we are able to align with our nature and purpose, to have the courage to be present in our life, to be able to explore what life has to offer and enjoy the security of the loving nest waiting for us in the end of each day. Our relationships have the potential to bring up our old hurts, but they also are incredibly powerful tools for growth and healing.
How does therapy with Dr. Harel work?
In my Los-Angeles based couples therapy practice I have developed a 3 Power-step approach to help my clients restore loving connection and wellbeing - the A-R-C approach:
Awareness – During the first Power-Step we will meet together to discuss what brings you in, what is your current experience in your relationship or marriage, and what is it that you want to experience instead. Here we will talk about the history of your current relationship, as well as your developmental histories and prior relationships. This background information will provide rich foundation for our work together. Here we will uncover the recurrent patterns in each of your life experiences and identify both the problem and the solution.
Release – In the second Power-Step in the counseling process I will meet individually with each partner to address the personal emotional baggage that each partner brought into the relationship. Here we use advanced mind-technology of Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP) and elements of light hypnotherapy to create rapid and profound shift in your experience. Both NLP and hypnotherapy are tools to release the old emotional baggage of unresolved negative emotions and limiting beliefs, and clear the path toward your desires and dreams. The Power-Step of Release is geared toward releasing the personal baggage that each partner brought into the relationship.
Co-Creation – The third Power-Step of psychotherapy is experienced by the couple together and here we resolve the differences and challenges that were created within the relationship itself. It is designed to provide new tools and resources to solidify couple’s gains and establish relationship trajectory toward all the things that the couple desires to experience in their togetherness. During this step we create a vision of your ideal relationship and set you on the path of joy, purpose and fulfillment.
I see the role of a psychotherapist to be similar to that of a guide. When you hire a guide to navigate an unfamiliar terrain, you expect the guide to take you to your destination in the shortest and safest route, while you agree to follow the guide and to do the walking. I can help you find your path and support you in achieving your heart desires, under one condition – you will have to do the walking.
Is psychotherapy for me?
My clinic proudly serves the diverse and multifaceted Los Angeles LGBT community and sometimes I am asked whether as a therapist I can guarantee my clients’ results. This is an important question to answer. Our time, energy and money are important resources and we want to make sure we allocate our resources wisely. When we talk about guarantee, there are two key elements to consider – You and me. As a therapist I can absolutely guarantee that gay couples I see receive absolutely all of my knowledge, expertise, experience, attention and support. I can also guarantee that if my total commitment to your success is met with your total commitment to your relationship or marriage, I absolutely guarantee you will achieve your goals and our work will have a transformative impact on your life.
My 100% success guarantee comes with 3 necessary attitudes on the part of my clients:
Ownership of full responsibility for our life. Knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we are 100% responsible and our life, including our relationship, is our making.
Willingness to let go of the old baggage, including resentments, anger, grief, old beliefs etc.
Full commitment to making all changes necessary to achieve our goals.
This single-minded commitment to your success and wellbeing is the key component of our work. From my clinical experience at my Los-Angeles psychotherapy clinic I can attest that 100% of my clients who showed up with 100% commitment to themselves, achieved remarkable life-changing results during our work together.
Perhaps, despite the pain you are experiencing in your relationship, you are struggling to fully commit to rebuilding your relationship and engage in couples counseling. If this is the case, you are not alone. Sometimes we need a little nudge to help us bring our intent and motivation into a single-minded laser-sharp focus. Consider how a trusting loving intimate connection with your partner could change your life? What it would be like to wake up in the morning to a warm loving embrace? How would it feel to come home to a warm welcome by your spouse? What would time together without arguments be like? How rekindled intimacy would contribute to your wellbeing, career and health? If these pictures create curiosity or even excitement within you, pick up the phone and give me a call. Transformation, empowerment and growth are just a phone call away.