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In the last section, we discussed becoming aware of intimate discontent. A technique for becoming aware of intimate discontent that I implement in my practice consists of three steps. The three steps to becoming aware of intimate discontent are experiencing feelings and defining what is wanted, and rediscovering old strategies.
In this section, we will discuss hidden sources of knowledge. Our discussion will be based on four principles for identifying hidden knowledge. The four principles we will discuss are most criticisms have some basis in reality, many criticisms are disguised statements of your own unmet needs, some criticisms may be an accurate description of a disowned part of the self, and some criticisms may help identify the lost self.
The technique in this section... is intended to help male clients like Gerry find his partner as a source of knowledge instead of seeing his partner’s differing views as a source of conflict. "What are you seeing that I am not seeing?" "What have you learned that I have yet to learn?" Marriage provided Gerry with the opportunity to be continually schooled in his own reality and in the reality of his wife, Julie. I stated to Gerry and Julie, "As you add to your growing fund of knowledge, you are creating reality love, an intimacy based on the emerging truth of yourself and your partner, not on romantic illusion."
Julie asked, "What type of knowledge should we be looking for?" How might you have responded to Julie? I stated, "You need to become more aware of the hidden agenda you bring to marriage, of your disowned character traits, of your partner’s inner world, and of the healing potential of your intimate relationship."
As you might find with your clients, acquiring this information depends to a large degree on the client’s willingness to value and learn from each other’s perceptions. Once a couple demonstrates a desire to expand individual conceptions of the world, would you agree that the details of everyday life become a gold mine of information?
Let’s take a look at this example from Gerry and Julie to see how much information can be gleaned from one chronic, emotional complaint. Gerry routinely criticized Julie for being disorganized. Gerry stated, "You are always disorganized! I can never depend on you!"
When Julie demanded some specific examples, Gerry retorted, "You are terrible about planning for vacations. You never remember the kids’ birthdays. And you always leave the kitchen a jumbled mess when you cook!" Not surprisingly, Julie’s automatic response to this cluster of accusations was a blanket denial followed by a counter-criticism. For example, Julie stated, "That’s not true. You’re exaggerating. You’re more disorganized than I am!"
4 Principles for Identifying Hidden Sources of Knowledge
By going through this simple analytical process, Gerry determined whether or not Julie’s behavior brought back any strong memories from his childhood. Gerry stated, "My parents were always disorganized and didn’t pay much attention to me." Not surprisingly, when Julie acted in a similar manner, Gerry was filled with the same fears he had as a child. Buried in his criticism of his wife, therefore, was a plaintive cry from Gerry’s childhood: "Why can’t someone take care of me?"
♦ 2. Many Criticisms are Disguised Statements of Unmet Needs
I suggested to Gerry that he keep in mind that the way in which he was disorganized may be quite different from Julie’s. He may keep an immaculate kitchen, for example, and be a whiz at planning vacations—the areas where she has difficulties. However, Gerry revealed that he had a hard time prioritizing his tasks at work and managing the family budget. With this new insight, Gerry was able to determine whether or not he was attempting to exorcise a disowned, negative part of himself by externalizing it, projecting it onto his partner, and then criticizing it.
Gerry stated, "I guess I need to allow myself to separate my own negative traits from Julie’s. I am disorganized in this specific way, while Julie is disorganized in that specific way." As you know, in psychological terms, Gerry was "owning" and "withdrawing" his projections. Jesus said it more poetically: "Cast out the log in your own eye so that you can see the mote in your brother’s eye."
This leads us to a third observation about criticism.
♦ 3. Some Criticisms May Be an Accurate Description of a Disowned Part of the Self
Similarly, when partners criticize each other for being too energetic, too sexy, too playful, too dedicated to their work, they are often identifying undeveloped or repressed areas of their own psyches. Now we have our fourth and final principle:
♦ 4. Some Criticisms May Help Identify the Lost Self
Think of your male intimacy client. Do you have a Gerry? Could playing this section benefit your client in accessing hidden sources of knowledge?
In this section, we have discussed hidden sources of knowledge. Our discussion will be based on four principles for identifying hidden knowledge. The four principles we will discuss are most criticisms have some basis in reality, many criticisms are disguised statements of your own unmet needs, some criticisms may be an accurate description of a disowned part of the self, and some criticisms may help identify the lost self.
In the next section, in a technique called the Stretching technique, we will discuss how clients can take the knowledge gleaned from mutual criticisms and convert it into an effective, growth-producing process. In my practice, I break the stretching technique down into six steps. The six steps of the stretching technique are identify grievances, identify underlying desires, make a specific request, share underlying desires, rank requests, and exchanged lists.
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