Throughout the course of a successful marriage or long-term commitment, the two people in the relationship may shift in and out of various roles. For example, one person in the couple may support the other person going back to school. In order to do this, he or she steps into a supporting role, setting aside certain goals or aspirations in order to provide a stable base from which his or her partner can launch in a new direction. There are many gifts of learning inherent in this role—from having the opportunity to embody a nurturing stance to feeling the pleasure of seeing a loved one thrive. When our partner expands his or her horizons, ours expand, too, and we gain access to a world that would otherwise remain closed to us.
However, there is also much to be said for having a turn to be the one stepping outside the box, perhaps taking time to attend to our personal healing, spiritual pursuits, or other interests. In order to maintain balance within our relationships, it’s important that we address these issues each time one person steps into a supporting role so the other can try something new. When we are conscious about acknowledging that one person is bearing a bit more of a burden so that the other can grow, we stand a better chance of making sure the ebb and flow in the relationship remains fair and equal.
The most important part of this process is open communication in which each person has a chance to express how they feel and come to an understanding about the roles they have agreed to play and when they expect them to shift. Each time a dynamic shift occurs, a ceremony of acknowledgment can lend an air of distinction to the moment. This can be a simple dinner date or an elaborate ritual, depending upon what works best for us at the time. Perhaps the most important thing is expressing gratitude to the person in the supporting role and encouragement to the person moving in a new direction. When the flow of feeling and communication is open, a healthy closeness develops that allows each person in the relationship to have a turn at each of these important roles.
Lee Ockenden, M.A. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Davis, California, working with couples, families, individuals and adolescents. Lee has been in practice as a psychotherapist for 11 years. Lee is also the Assistant Director of Behavioral Medicine at the Institute for Restorative Health(4irh.com) in Davis.
“Using a direct and empathetic approach, I believe the best therapy is collaborative and respectful—fostering empowerment and growth. Unlike traditional therapy, by accessing an individuals own intrinsic source of understanding and healing, new perspectives emerge allowing for change to occur through choice.>
“Working with couples is an emmense privilege. Regardless of ‘their’ history, resolving resentments and creating opportunities for intimacy allows for choice and growth towards trust to emmerge.
On Anxiety/ Depression and Trauma:
“The field of psychology has grown so much in the last 20 years. We have access to methods to facilitate healing at a rate that is sometimes astonishing…even for the facilitator. Both EMDR and Neurobehavioral Programs are effective, non-invasive and gentle for the client.”
Who we are and how we relate to the world and others is dictated by the meaning we give to our past. But if we choose to find the purpose in our experiences instead of the pain, we find new resources, giving us the catalyst to change, grow, heal and pursue the life we desire and deserve.
Traditional therapy was founded in psychoanalysis with the assumption that an individual’s growth and change process was hinged on gaining insight and into their behavioral patterns by processing, free-associating and reflecting on their past. Inside this traditional “treatment culture,” it is not uncommon for a client stay in treatment long periods of time, lasting anywhere from three to seven years or more, including multiple sessions per week.
I believe that traditional therapy can foster dependency and create barriers for lasting change. I often hear from new patients who have been to therapy for many years that they felt their last therapist(s) were too passive. Rather than embracing a “backward looking—coping” approach, I embrace a “forward looking—thriving” approach by focusing on resolving barriers to change, identifying solutions and creating choices. This approach, inside a safe supportive and consistent counseling environment, encourages clients to use their own innate resources to heal.
In addition, I am also clear that my clients will ultimately find their support and accountability through their partner, family or community and I encourage my clients to create a healthy support system outside the office.