A woman we'll call Mary recited a list of grievances that demonstrated how her partner had disappointed her. The list included such events as him not doing anything special for her birthday; he put the children's needs before hers, and he made a major decision and did not include her. Then her partner tried to defend himself by explaining his reasons for not doing what she wanted. A month later, something ignited another argument and she went over the list again.
Maybe to him some of the individual events seem trivial: 'Why does she spend much of our time and energy complaining about them? Why does she keep bringing them up? Why can't she let go of them?'If our partner keeps bringing up the same thing over and over again, it is probably because he or she doesn't feel heard or believes we do not understand how they feel about the event. If our partner is repeating something over and over, instead of accusing them of not being able to let go, we could try saying, 'Evidently, you do not think I am hearing you or understanding what you have been saying. What is it that you want me to hear?' or 'What makes you think I do not hear or understand you?'
The problem in many relationships is that we focus on the event as though it was the problem when the real problem is the issue it represents.
The events, considered individually, may even seem insignificant. Why do we keep bringing them up? Most likely, the event points to a larger issue. There is a theme behind each event on the list.
We can use the analogy of an iceberg to illustrate events and issues. We know that what we see above the water is only a portion of the iceberg. Most of the iceberg is beneath the surface. The tip of the iceberg is the event. Beneath the event is the issue. The problem in many relationships is that we focus on the event as though it was the problem when the real problem is the issue it represents. In the illustration above, Mary's issue is that she doesn't feel that she is very important to her partner.
There seem to be some basic issues that we struggle with in our relationships. In the upcoming articles, we will focus on basic issues. Five of the issues can be expressed in the following statements: 'He always gets his way.' 'Everything else is more important than I am.' 'He never appreciates what I do.' 'I don't know if he will leave me.' 'He always believes I think the worst about him.'
Next month, we will examine the issue expressed by these statements: 'He always gets his way.' 'Why does it always have to be what he wants? Why is she the one who makes the decisions? If we both feel strongly on an issue, who wins or how does it get resolved?'
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700