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Battling an Eating Disorder: When Bulimia Becomes a True American Idol Sized Problem
By Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP
In a People Magazine article, American Idol contestant, Katherine McPhee disclosed that she has secretly suffered from bulimia for the past 5 years.
It was her success in television’s American Idol competition that inspired her to come forward & get help to recover from her life-threatening eating disorder.
Katherine, a vocalist who at her worst point was self-inducing vomiting up to 7 times a day, claimed that she realized her bulimic behaviors were “equivalent to taking a sledgehammer to her throat” & brought herself to treatment.

Glamorizing Eating Disorder Illnesses? Or Becoming an Invaluable Role Model?

Some may think when celebrities like Katherine come forward with such problems it only “glamorizes” the illness & encourages dysfunction in impressionable young people.
In reality, some impressionable youngsters may respond by engaging in self-destructive experimentation, but for the most part, the responses of people like Katherine McPhee provide invaluable role modeling for fans.

Though statistics show that 1% of young females in this country suffer with bulimia, the numbers most likely don't reflect the enormity of the problem, as bulimia is among the most frequently missed diagnoses & only a minority of people with eating disorders, especially with bulimia nervosa, are treated in mental healthcare.
A problem can't be solved until it is defined. In coming forward as she has, McPhee has displayed the courage & intention to achieve her dreams, to become proactive in making her life as healthy, gratified & fulfilled as it can be.
Despite the widely held misconception that “once eating disordered, always eating disordered,” eating disorders are fully curable in 80% of cases where recognized early & treated effectively. In her forthright & courageous stand, this American Idol contestant has become a true American idol.

Uncovering the Secrets of Bulimia Nervosa & Anorexia Nervosa: The Most Lethal Mental Health Disorders

The most lethal of all the metal health disorders, bulimia nervosa & anorexia nervosa are extremely hard to recognize. Highly secretive diseases, they rarely show up in doctors’ offices during physical or functional assessments; even laboratory tests do not show evidence of eating disorders until they're in their most advanced stages.
By their nature counterintuitive, eating disorders typically give victims a pseudo-sense of power & control, creating the illusion of feeling & becoming “better than ever.”
In actual fact, certain stages of recovery feel more precarious & painful than does the disease itself. Making matters even more confusing, many of the symptoms of these lethal disorders lay somewhere along the continuum of normal human behaviors.
Who doesn’t overeat, under-eat or engage in emotional or social eating at times?

Eating disorders, which essentially represent an abuse of food in an effort to resolve emotional problems, transcend a dysfunctional relationship with food to represent the tip of a physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral & social iceberg, with early signs of clinical eating disorders typically evident in diverse life spheres.

8 signs that parents & families may see at home, around the dinner table, in the family bathroom, or the child’s bedroom:

• Erratic eating, eating too much or too little, too frequently or too seldom.

• Dieting & other restrictive eating behaviors (in some instances vegetarianism or skipping meals) that can result in extreme hunger & gorging, irregular menstrual periods.
• Fear of putting on weight, with an all-encompassing preoccupation with food & eating that can account for as much as 80% of an individual’s thoughts

• Hiding food & feeling shame & guilt after eating it. The refusal to eat in the company of others.

• Depressive moods
• Various forms of purging, including self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, laxative, diuretic, or Ipecac abuse
• Disappearances into the bathroom during or following meals
• Impulsive, immoderate & out of control behaviors beyond the realm of eating, that might include shop lifting, promiscuity, cutting, engaging in chaotic relationships, abuse of substances such as drugs, alcohol, nicotine, diet pills, etc.

There's nothing passive about eating disorders. Always on the move, they're either getting better or you can be certain they're getting worse.
Eating disorder recovery can be a long-term process, requiring input from a diverse team of professionals including physicians, psychotherapists, family therapists, nutritionists, psycho pharmacologists & school counselors.
The course of recovery will be as variable, must be as comprehensive & in many ways will feel as convoluted as the course of disease, typically combining outpatient & inpatient treatment milieus & diverse treatment modes.
Victims of eating disorders, as young as age 5 or as old as 60, male or female, individuals alone or living within the context of a supportive or not so supportive family system need help to recognize, accept & conquer these diseases…to become capable of reclaiming their lives, proactively, with steadfast commitment… to fight the good fight for life & life quality.


Signs of a Cheating Spouse...  & how they differ from Signs of Infidelity
By Dr. Robert Huizenga
Cheating is different from infidelity?

Yes, I believe so. Signs of a cheating spouse will be different from signs of infidelity.

In talking to thousands of people embroiled with a cheating spouse or infidelity over the past two plus decades, I've noticed a difference. In our society the word cheating carries different meaning than infidelity.

This is important for someone discerning the signs of a cheating spouse or the signs of infidelity. A person who "cheats" is different from someone who is involved in "infidelity."

Cheating is most closely described in my e-book as someone who "Doesn't Want to Say No." This is only one of 7 kinds of affairs. The other 6 kinds of affairs lean more in the direction of infidelity.

The true cheater is a rather rare bird, but is probably most glamorized & comes closest to our stereotype of cheating or infidelity.

Infidelity, in general, is marked by confusion, pain, doubt, ambivalence & a period of craziness in a person's life.

Cheating is an ongoing lifestyle.

Here are some signs of a cheating spouse: (substitute the word she for he, if you like.)

1. There most likely will be more than one other person. He sees affairs as conquests, usually sexual & not as a place to find intimacy. Actually he lacks many of the tools and the mind set to have intimate relationships. He most likely will move from one conquest to another. His gratification on a basic level remains primary.

2. He'll have little internal conflict about the affair. This differs markedly from the person who can't say no. Your spouse will view the affair or affairs as entitlement. He deserves them. He deserves to be adored. He deserves to have excitement & personal gratification in his life. He has earned it. There's nothing wrong with this. Actually others, perhaps you included, ought to understand this!

3. He'll operate in a world that supports his illusion & behavior. He'll surround himself with those who look the other way or actually encourage his philandering behavior. You'll probably not find yourself welcomed in this world. He & his colleagues & friends collude to maintain their world.

4. You might run into a problem with the other person or persons. Remember the movie, Fatal Attraction? The other person might attach herself to him with specific expectations to be cared for & perhaps married - perhaps part of his strategy in his conquest efforts. When she is "dumped" or the expectations fail to materialize she may pursue revenge. You might be involved.

5. You may not experience a great deal of conflict with him. There's no talk of divorce. Your life might be quite copasetic - unless you rock the boat. He has his playtime & you fill another specific role of quiet support. Keep the balance & life moves along fairly seamlessly.

6. There's one problem, however. The problem of aging. Depending on his social context, you might become a liability as you increasingly fail to project a young attractive vibrant image. He wants those around him to reflect back beauty & perfection. If you fail in this regard you may be cast aside. Part of this depends on the financial cost of such "trade-in."

7. His fragile, illusionary world & yours may crumble if he encounters failure. Failure is his "Achilles heel." Unfortunately, the distortion & illusion he lives under don't always coincide with reality. He pushes & bends the rules to his advantage. He may not pay close attention to the consequences of his behavior.
Those consequences - legal, financial or health - may bite him at some point. He most likely will count on you to be there for him, to cry on your shoulder (perhaps literally) & help him regain his confidence.


Commentary: Our overwhelming need for instant gratification

Daily Record (Rochester, NY) ,  Feb 26, 2009   by David J Kozlowski 

"I want the world; I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket, it's my bar of chocolate. Give it to me, now." 

Veruca Salt in "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

A quick glimpse at a nonfiction best seller list reveals that Americans are on the hunt for quick fixes.

For non-readers, infomercials sometimes fill such a void. Announcers remind us that we want what we want, we want it now and we don't want to work hard to get it.

Multi-level marketing

There aren't many of us who can say money isn't an issue these days - but if you don't want to marry the boss's daughter or get a real job, there are a million get-rich-quick schemes to try. A common program starts with selling vitamins or housewares to your friends, their friends and the sucker, I mean the host of your product party.

If you don't mind attempting to profit by exploiting friendships and harassing your social circle, multi-level marketing is for you! The practice usually involves paying a fee for the right to become a distributor of a product. Once you have paid a company for the right to sell their products, you are free to be their salesman.

But that's not all! The company also allows you to be a human resources recruiter! If your friends and family don't want to buy your product, they can sell them with you and pay the company the same fee you paid. Of course, your social circles overlap, so it's likely they won't be able to sell anything either.

MLM only provides a profit to those at the top of the pyramid, and that's one place you'll never be.

Now you're cooking

So you aren't rich, but at least you can have a good meal. But, darn it all, dinner just takes too long to prepare.

Don't worry. There are plenty of bubbly daytime television personalities who will sell you their secrets to preparing a meal more quickly than their 15 minutes of fame. If you don't like their cookbooks, maybe you'll like their appliances.

The most famous of these - with all due respect to Ron Popeil - is George Foreman, who has been promoting his nifty little grill for more than a decade. At some point, between punches to the noggin and naming of all his sons after himself, George decided to throw his hefty marketing power behind a two-sided grill that takes advantage of gravity to drain fat away from your entree of choice, all while drastically cutting your cooking time.

Is it true? Maybe. But even if it only saves a few minutes, why not take advantage and use the extra time to call your friends about the vitamins you're selling. If you don't mind eating a burger with simulated grill marks that was compressed between two Teflon trays, then the George Foreman Grill is for you.

We haven't found much difference in cooking time, and the grill marks don't fool anyone. But go ahead and use your Foreman Grill; we use ours and the burgers really knock us out!

Diet and exercise

Of course, all that eating is likely to make you flabby. Lucky for you, there are DVDs, machines and books that promise to buff up your beach body or shrink your dress size.

If you are healthy enough - ask your doctor, not us - exercise likely will benefit your health. If you really think working out for eight minutes a day will make you look like the models you see in fitness infomercials, however, you need to read "Critical Thinking" more often.

The models who appear in those commercials are cast thanks to their looks. Most of them work for years, if not for decades, to achieve those six-pack abs. Their bulging biceps and "buns of steel" did not develop during a 30-day trial membership or 30 minutes of Tae Bo.

In addition to workout commercials, we are bombarded with still other ways to lose weight: Pills, creams, liquid diets, low-carb, no- carb, high protein, pre-made meals and more. As we all know, however, the problem with diet programs is that they don't always work out as we expect.

In the interest of saving space, we won't go into the problems of each diet. Medical science tells us that some diets are complete bull - which the Hollywood diet, for instance, is but one. While others show results, none of them are perfect.

The way a body processes food and turns it into energy is an incredibly complex biological and physical process that we still don't fully understand, despite decades of research. If the best doctors and researchers in the world can't figure it out, it's unlikely the guy in the infomercial has. Most diets and gym memberships are very expensive, to boot, so work out if you can and diet if you must, but always talk to your doctor first.

Positive mental outlook

If nothing works and you are unhappy, you can find books that detail "secrets" that will allow you to gain everything you can dream simply by thinking positive thoughts!

Positive thoughts are great. Everyone likes being happy. A positive attitude even may make other people want to be around you, or ease the fact that you have to go to work. It will not, however, advance your career, get supermodels to date you, help you to pick the winning lottery numbers or cause the Jets to win the Superbowl.


Most importantly, positive thoughts do not heal. If your uncle has cancer, grinning like the Cheshire Cat will not make him well.

Positive thinking is not a replacement for modern medicine. If you are sick and want to be positive and optimistic, do it! It may give you a better outlook and make the ordeal more bearable. But sitting cross-legged by a river singing "Shiny Happy People" will not help you.

There's a lot of crazy stuff on television and in books, promising everything from wealth to weight loss. It's a big business, and the promoters of such products and miracles are out to separate us from our money. They know we crave newer, faster and easier ways of doing things, especially when if we can look better or make our friends jealous That is, if we have any friends left after subjecting them to our sales parties.

Remember, Veruca Salt wanted too much, too quickly, and she disappeared down a chute and didn't inherit the chocolate factory. There's a valuable lesson in that.

The authors need to diet and exercise -- too much Foreman Grill to blame -- but they aren't rich, so they can't afford diet foods or gym memberships. They can be reached at dkozlowski@gmail.com.

Copyright 2009 Dolan Media Newswires
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.
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How To Turn The Tide & Make Life Work For You
By Neil Millar - CommunitySoul
Have you ever tried to change something about someone else? Or have you thought about wanting to change someone or wished they'd change?

Have you wished your life was different or wanted to change something? Perhaps you've wished for more money or for Mr Right - or Mrs - to come along!

Almost all of us want to change something. Most often that thing we want to change is some external - tangible - thing that we perceive will create more happiness.

For years I worked in sales, then marketing & PR. We were trained to appeal to the tangible things - the houses, the cars, the money, the career, the relationship, the holidays etc.

The when I hit a life crisis years later I picked up the latest book on ‘Having it all’ & guess what it said? Set tangible goals. But somehow this tangible - material ideal - didn’t do it for me. Beyond the initial rush of adrenaline something was missing & no amount of pumping myself up, or strutting around a room mouthing positive affirmations worked.

Am I saying that people don’t want the tangible? No. That would be wrong. Clearly human beings do get motivated by the tangible - things they can feel & touch & take home, such as a new DVD player - or the insurance policy that covers it when the kids feed it orange juice & chocolate cake thru the slidy, opening drawer.
It makes perfect sense: that tangible provides the opportunity for immediate gratification. Physical objects or even coffee or chocolate can have a short lived positive effect.
But as I found, when I set my goals, the excitement of attaining anything physical dwindles quickly, leaving the feeling of dissatisfaction or the space I came to know as, ‘There must be something more to life than this’.

And I’ll admit it. For many years I’d have been thrilled if all my tangible dreams came true. But thank goodness they didn’t. If that would have happened I’d have missed out on something much more gratifying - the discoveries I’m eagerly waiting to share with you now.

For a moment, turn inward. Put your hand on your heart & ask yourself, honestly, ‘Deep down, how satisfied am I with the goings on I’ve come to call my life?’ You may have many lovely things around you. You’re life may be blessed. Or not. But now look beyond you.
Look out at society. Ask yourself ‘What is our society really like?’ Now ask one more question. ‘Using society as a mirror of me, what do I now see about myself?’

We live in a world where it is common to measure ourselves by what we have, what we do or how much money flows into our bank account. But I suggest to you, that if being human is about gaining such a deep sense of satisfaction from physical possessions, why then do we see so much neuroticism & dysfunction in our society?

Maybe we have allowed ourselves to become tangible harvesting machines that are never satisfied & always searching for more. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. But if we've been become tangible harvesting machines & found no satisfaction, then what’s the answer?

If we’ve turned outwards, looking for external gratification in the tangible & found little pleasure, then perhaps the answer is to turn in the opposite direction - inwards. If we do this we begin to look at our self. Many people are already doing this & they seem to be finding things like - satisfaction, inner peace, more love for their self & more compassion for others.

It seems that these people are tapping into another source, something greater than the physical - material/tangible - world. Some are claiming, we all originate from God & therefore hold a God-like essence & can produce everything we could ever desire.
If that is true then perhaps there's no need for me to write any more on the subject because you can just ‘tap-in’ to your Godliness & create things just the way you want them to be. But let’s be honest, this isn’t the case, is it? You can’t just tap in.

Or can you?

Maybe you can tap in. Maybe you tapped in to your Godliness & created the current conditions of your life. You may well shake your head, or raise an eyebrow or even point a finger & say ‘Pwer! Never!’ I mean, would I really create things just the way they are now? No. That’s crazy! Get away with you man!”

But is it so crazy?

Maybe it's possible that rather than choosing to live like a God we’ve chosen to take the path of losing our way. Maybe this losing our way is part of the plan too.
Perhaps, for a time, we’ve chosen to be ‘off course’ so we can come to know what ‘on course’ is like. Because, if we never got lost, how could we ever experience being found? And if we don’t experience the ‘founding’ we can never come to know our founder-God self.

In the first 37 years of my life I’ve been lost many times. I’ve been married & divorced, co-habited & separated & fought for both of my children’s well-being in Law Courts, at separate times.
I’ve also suffered physical, mental & emotional abuse to the extended that I've been beaten to the state of paralysis & left bleeding & completely stripped of my self-worth.
And if that’s not enough, I’ve endured financial hardship, survived an almost fatal accident, become obese & felt about as low as a man could get - zero self-esteem. Zero confidence.

And I don’t regurgitating this list in an egotistical hope of impressing you with all my failures. But I do hope that by sharing them with you, it will impress upon you that, if your heart is willing, you can take almost any experience you’ve had in your life, up to this point, turn it on it’s head & create an experience of life that's just the way it is meant to be.

Neil Millar

Instant Gratification Is A Huge Part of Addiction
author unknown
Our world today is based upon instant gratification. Taking into consideration all of the technology that allows us to get what we want right when we want it, it’s really no wonder that we are trying to apply that standard to our emotional state.

Think of all the ways that people use drugs or alcohol pertaining to instant gratification. If you are having a stressful day…pop a pill and feel de-stressed. If you are feeling a little social anxiety or lack of confidence in a situation…have a few drinks and get some liquid courage.

By feeding these types of emotional needs with drugs or alcohol we are in a way giving ourselves a quick fix - instant gratification. We are not working on the actual problems but finding an easy way out of them. But since instant gratification in all other areas of life have now become the norm…how are we supposed to delay our need for instant gratification?

For someone who has entered into addiction recovery, life myself, we become aware of our search for instant gratification. We are now given the chance to start breaking down our bad beliefs about instant gratification.

Although we have come to the conclusion that we can’t change the world around us, we do have the power to change ourselves. We need to start separating out our emotional gratification to ensure that we are not searching for the next quick fix to our needs.

Sounds easy right? But when you sit and think about how much of our emotional well being has been dependent on our world around us…it gets a little tricky. But you can deal with a little tricky, you can work with a little tricky.

I’m still trying to figure all of this out. Since I am no longer using drugs to alter my moods I have had to start developing coping skills. These don’t always alter your moods but they begin to let you accept your emotional state and if necessary…ride it out. Riding out an unpleasant feeling is not something that I’m used to doing even now. It takes work.

This subject has been on my mind lately as I deal with my five year old son. I can see that he is used to nothing else but instant gratification and it kind of frightens me. He is not the exception, he is the norm.

I feel like our country is at a loss with how to deal with the growing addiction problems we are faced with. We are trying all kinds of ways to scare our children into not trying drugs. We show them what your life can turn out like, we talk about the health risks and all that. We show them the outcome of an addicts life. But what alternatives are we giving them?

Are we providing them with the life skills and the coping skills to thwart off their desire for instant gratification? No, as a society we are almost encouraging their need for instant gratification.

I’m not pretending to have any answers has to how to deal with it. I was just kind of pointing it out. I’m faced with this question almost everyday when it comes to dealing with my child. But I think that if we can figure out a way to change our children’s need for emotional instant gratification then we are heading in the right direction.

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The Heart of Relationship:
an Overview
posted at www.heartworkcenter.org click here for source page!

Are good relationships possible?

In the troubled, confusing times we live in, many of us long for the deep satisfaction of a fulfilling intimacy - a good marriage or lasting partnership. Yet a glance around at the couples we know - not to mention the divorce rate - suggests that such relationships are most elusive.

No sooner do we enter into intimate partnership than we are tossed on an ocean of painful feelings:

  • resentment
  • anxiety
  • sadness

Nothing seems more calculated to disturb our inner equilibrium. It's almost as though pain and sorrow were the inevitable consequences of being close to another person. But though the feelings are inevitable, the way we deal with them is not. How we respond to the challenge of our own negativity will determine whether it erodes the foundations of love and trust, or instead becomes the raw material for greater understanding and compassion.

What goes wrong

Do any of the following stories ring a bell for you?

"We've been together about four years. After the first two we started scrapping over small stuff, like how I don't get the pots really clean, or leave my clothes around. Then the arguments started getting serious. I began noticing how critical Beth was of every little move I made, and it started to get under my skin. I mean, I'm not perfect, but like if I wash the dishes she'll point out that I didn't wipe the counter.

Always something wrong, you know, something I didn't do just right. Not that I handle that stuff very well. I should just let it slide, but instead I start arguing, and that just gets her going worse. Now we spend half our time fighting. There are still good moments, but they get fewer and farther between. If something doesn't change I don't think we're going to last much longer."

"We've been married sixteen years and have three teenagers at home. Rick has a job he loves, and I'm doing the community mom thing. I thought we had a pretty good relationship, but lately we seem to be drifting apart. Rick has to work a lot of evenings and weekends, which I understand the need for, but the thing is, I sometimes feel he'd rather do that than be home with me and the kids.

When they were little he managed to plug in every day, but now it's just an occasional movie or ball game. And he certainly has no interest in spending time with me. In the house he just wants to zone out - read or watch TV. When I try to talk about it, he acts like I'm the one with the problem for not understanding how stressed he is. If I bring up anything serious, like money, or the kids' school, he goes into a funk and withdraws. Our sex life has about disappeared. I wonder, is he having an affair? If he is, I doubt he'd tell me. I've kind of given up. We just lead parallel lives."

"I really love my wife. She's been a wonderful mother and a great companion all these years. We have lots of friends and interests in common, we enjoy each other's company, and our life is pretty much on an even keel. Now that the kids are grown we should be excited about having more time to share. And yet there's something missing - that's the only way I can put it.

Maybe it's that we're so damn nice to each other all the time. I mean, there are little things that bother me, but I couldn't bear to complain to Janet - she's so good to me, it would seem ungrateful. So I stuff it till the feeling passes. Neither of us likes to talk about anything painful.

When we lost our infant daughter years ago we hardly ever spoke about it again after the first few weeks. We've had some sexual problems, but of course we don't talk about that. It's like we have to stay on the surface all the time to keep things smooth. It's not a bad life, but the terrible thing is, some days I feel I could walk away from it all and not miss it a bit."

"These stories - and the thousand variations on them we've heard in over 13 years working with couples - illustrate graphically the incredible challenge of intimate relationship in today's world. The authors of the above quotes are perfectly fine individuals; they lack nothing in the way of intelligence, good will, and the capacity to love. Yet they - like so many of us - are experiencing the almost overwhelming difficulty of maintaining a stable, lasting, loving relationship.

This raises some obvious questions: Why is this so? What is the force that ought to hold couples together? And why does it not seem sufficient?"

The quest for gratification

There was a time in our society when economic pressure and social/religious convention was enough to keep couples together - regardless of what feelings they had (or lacked) for each other. But the world has changed. Today what most of us ask of relationship seems clear:

to provide sexual and emotional gratification to ourselves as individuals.

One has only to look at the idealized picture of love offered in the media to see the power this idea has over our hedonistic culture. We are all supposed to be adoringly in love every moment of our lives, like perpetual adolescents. And yet to actually enter into intimacy with this expectation is to embark on a path of pain.

We may find steady passion and delight for a time in the early, romantic phase of a relationship. Yet as soon as the reality sets in - that no other person can always please us, or fill all our empty places - that hope turns to disillusionment.

Each partner begins to resent the other for not fulfilling their impossible assignment. A new phase of relationship commonly begins, where both partners experience a growing negativity they are sorely unequipped to handle.

The downward spiral

Whenever our partner shows us a lack of love, we tend - if we are human - to react. The quotes above illustrate a few of the typical ways we do:

  • lashing out in anger and judgment
  • withdrawing
  • hiding resentment behind a false front

Such reactions stem from the deepest patterns of our childhood, which means they are the hardest things about ourselves to change. Helpless to control these reactions, we unleash them on our partner, letting them know, directly or indirectly, how their lack of love disappoints us.

Usually we attribute this to some shortcoming in them:

  • selfishness
  • neurosis... ("You just think of yourself all the time. You don't care about me.")

Does this persuade them to become more loving? Hardly. Rather, they experience our judgments as equally unloving, and the bad feelings start to become mutual. ("You're the one who's being selfish.")

This is the downward spiral familiar to so many of us. Its very essence is that things get worse. Romantic gestures turn to irritability and snappishness. A once-exciting sexuality takes on a mechanical quality. Traits once admired in our partner now seem merely annoying. As warmth and affection give way to arguments and sullen silences, as grievances multiply, as each partner feels more and more misunderstood while at the same time judging the other more and more harshly, it becomes increasingly difficult for each partner to see what in the other initially attracted them.

Left unchecked, this downward spiral commonly ends in the relationship blowing apart. Those who remain together end up either bickering chronically or putting an emotional callous around their negativity - accepting a relationship without joy or passion.

Few couples who experience the pattern avoid one or another of these dismal outcomes; they are the inevitable consequences of viewing relationship as a means of mutual gratification.

A new purpose

Fortunately there is another way to look at relationship, and that is to see it as a spiritual path. Lest that sound like a mere cliche, let us look at what it means. To view something spiritually is to challenge the assumption that we know what is best for us at the deepest level.

It is to release our calculations of petty advantage, which do not take into account our unfathomable bonds with other people and with the rest of the universe. A spiritual perspective tells us that we cannot be so sure what is good and what is bad. It tells us that things are more complex and mysterious than our rational, egocentric minds can comprehend. Most importantly, it says that difficulties, setbacks, conflict, pain, and other negative aspects of our lives can, if seen rightly, become immense opportunities for growth and fulfillment.

What happens if we apply this perspective to relationship? For one thing, we begin to see that the occasions of hurt, confusion, anger, and fear in any relationship are not necessarily bad things. Instead we come to view them as challenges, urging us toward a deeper harmony.

In a sense they are feedback - just as physical pain is feedback - reporting to us what might be wrong or unbalanced in our bodies. This feedback - it could take the form of a fight, a mood of sullen withdrawal, or simply the wish to be a thousand miles from our partner - asks us to confront what is disharmonious in our own minds and hearts. And that, alas, is rarely comfortable.

Beyond comfort

To put other things above being comfortable is a radical step. It means when a problem comes up we might not necessarily need to make it go away - or to blame and criticize our partner for it. We may simply wish to look at it, to investigate its cause. We may even - and here is the critical insight - welcome it as a kind of emotional radar that points the way, that helps us to find and work through whatever is blocking our love.

Once two people grasp this insight, nothing is ever the same. It marks a fundamental shift in the relationship's center of gravity. No longer is our purpose in being together simply the serving of our individual needs.

Our relationship is no longer a bargain of convenience. Rather our joint purpose is to bring honesty and awareness to every aspect of our life together. Instead of being antagonists in a power struggle, we become allies in a journey of exploration. All the problems we have with each other, all the annoyances, all the messiness and rough edges of our personalities, all the pettiness, stupidity, meanness, and selfishness we are capable of, cease to be faults that disqualify us from the fellowship of decent partners, and become simply material for our work together.

Conflicts and struggles are no longer tragic failures, but revelations; all that we learn from them becomes compost enriching the soil. The most difficult times are seen as blessings in disguise.

Psychological and spiritual: finding the balance

How does one apply this perspective to everyday life? Is there some way to "work on" our relationships, to improve them? Historically, our culture offers us two main approaches to this task: the psychological and the spiritual.

Each has its own truth, yet each has its pitfalls. Modern psychology gives us the understanding that we are all full of angry, confused, conflicted feelings left over from childhood, while its handmaiden, psychotherapy, encourages us to explore, or "get out", these feelings.

Such a process can be profoundly cathartic, and can help us identify the true cause of our emotional distress - which, of course, is rarely our partner. The risk comes when we take our negative feelings at face value. If we fail to see them as simply feelings, we can easily identify with them, turning them into judgments against those who upset us, a vehicle for justifying our grievances. ("My parents were monsters!" "I can't stand this obnoxious behavior!")

When we do this, we in effect hold others responsible for our pain. Obviously this does not further the cause of harmony, particularly if both partners are indulging in the same futile exercise.

Tempering this are the various "spiritual" traditions that tell us our angry or judgmental reactions are delusions. We think our partner is "causing" us pain, when in reality it is our interpretation of their acts - as intrinsically bad or threatening - that makes us suffer.

Seeing and releasing this negativity, learning to forgive and accept instead of judge and criticize, can liberate our hearts and produce enormous healing energy. And yet this outlook, too, has its pitfalls. We would like to be capable of always showing our partner unconditional love.

The trouble is, something in us simply does not want to. Some part of us does get upset, is resentful and judging: it's just a fact. And the idea that we really don't mind anything our partner does ("Oh, I just don't let it bother me...") can become a pretense, or spiritual posture: a denial of the dark side. It doesn't work.

The full spectrum of human negativity must be allowed, somehow, for there to be true honesty in a relationship.

Finding the safe haven from these twin perils, steering the course between them, is the basis of our work. To come safely through we must create a space into which everything is admitted:

our partner's troublesome behavior and our charged or hostile reaction to it.

If my partner hurts me with a vicious remark, I want to find compassion for the wounded place in them that makes them lash out. Yet I also want to find compassion for the part of me that feels hurt. Both are equally deserving.

The point is not to quarrel over which of us has more of a right to feel wounded:

 it is to discover together, as allies, how the interaction brings sorrow to both of us. Our path must allow for all our feelings, yet preserve a loving space in which the expression of those feelings is not threatening, in which each partner feels safe.

Sometimes it feels like walking a narrow ridge with a precipice on each side. The challenge is:

can we respond to negativity in a way that neither represses nor indulges it, but transforms it into something higher?

The right use of difficulty: how relationships can change

We strongly believe such a balance is possible. It is not in our power to eliminate conflict and pain from relationship. Yet there is no conflict or pain that cannot be of service to a relationship. In all our teaching we encourage couples to view everything that happens between them as an opportunity to deepen their connection.

The worst fights, the bitterest estrangements, the darkest feelings of despair and hopelessness - all these have their right use, and all can become important steps forward. Each time we make this leap, each time we go from seeing a problem as bad or hopeless to welcoming it as an opportunity for learning, a small miracle happens.

Our hearts begin to open. Strung together, such moments begin to create a feeling of spaciousness in which our differences, our "incompatibility," the ways we grate on each other and push each other's buttons come not exactly to disappear, but rather to fall in proportion, to merge into a larger underlying harmony. In that harmony is our real happiness. By learning to embrace what is painful, paradoxically, we begin to uncover our deepest joy.

This openness, this willingness to explore negativity, is what transforms relationships. We can force neither our partner nor ourselves to change. Real change comes with understanding. We achieve it by letting go our ideas of what must happen and start to look at what is happening.

We learn to hone our awareness when we would normally be mechanical, to open the heart when it wants to judge. We learn to look on all expressions of fear and anger as a cry for healing rather than as a threat to our being or a reflection of our unworthiness.

We learn a new way of communicating in which we release defensiveness in the interest of our true safety. By listening deeply to our partner, by bringing awareness and compassion to our interactions, we cease trying to change ourselves or our partner and become allies in a mutual exploration, making true change possible.

A practical vision

This is the perspective we teach in our workshops and our counseling. Perhaps some of it sounds lofty or unattainable - nice in theory, but impossible to put in practice. Rest assured, this is not the case. The notion that relationship can be a spiritual path is more than a pretty thought; it is a usable tool with immense practical benefits, as countless couples we have worked with have found.

Everything we offer here has been tested on the battleground; it can be applied to every moment in every day of your life together; it works. Yet all the work begins with the same fundamental insight:

that the narrow, egocentric view of relationship we cling to most of the time is illusory.

In truth we are joined by a force that looks kindly on all our needs; to see this at any moment we need only make the simple gesture of opening the heart. A miracle takes place when two people dedicate their relationship to this task. It is the noblest adventure a couple can undertake together.

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