By Dr. Sallie Norquist
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have been dating the same man for 6 months. At times, I feel like I hate him because of our constant arguing. We can’t get through the week without bickering over foolish things. We really care about each other and always try to make things work. We have never taken a break from each other, because we were afraid of the flame dying. It is impossible for us to separate but we are in desperate need of help for making things work and becoming happier. I know you can help. How can we develop and maintain a healthy, loving relationship? Thank you so much.
Dr. Norquist responds:
You say that it’s "impossible to separate", and you have a "desperate need to make things work". What is the root of this desperate need? You do not need each other to survive (although emotionally it may feel that way). What do you expect to get from each other (or from the relationship) that you need so very much? Do you feel like your boyfriend is the source of the love, and the security you so desperately need? This kind of need will snuff out the flame. You must satisfy these needs yourself through your own self-esteem, competence in your daily life activities, and connections with friends/family/God/yourself.
It is probable that this need to get something (love, security, etc) from each other is one of the major sources of the bickering between you. There is an inherent vulnerability we feel when the source of our love and happiness lies outside of ourselves. This leads to a need to control the other (an impossible task) in order to feel secure. Other issues that often underlie frequent arguing are resentment regarding some prior situation, not feeling respected or considered, and struggles for power/dominance. Try to ferret out the real issues underneath the "foolish issues" that you argue over.
For some, arguing and intimacy are linked because of an earlier history. Was arguing frequent in your childhood relationship with either of your parents? Did you experience your parents’ marital relationship as consisting of similar behavior patterns? The anger/closeness association may be familiar to you, and may even be seen as a sign of caring. Perhaps the bickering in some way is a sign to you that the flame is still alive, i.e., a certain sense of connection that arises through the familiarity of bickering.
Healthy, loving relationships are based on mutual respect and consideration, a solid foundation of trust (that is consistently maintained), good self-esteem (on the part of both partners), sexual attraction, similar lifestyle/values//goals, good communication skills, and the ability of each partner to comfortably stand on ones own, without leaning on the other.
I hope you can use this response to determine which areas you and your partner need to work on, in yourselves and in the relationship, to build the strong, healthy loving relationship that both of you desire so much.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am so unhappy and mad at myself lately. I find myself irritable, pushing my family away, complaining about everything. I had a stroke last spring, and all these problems have happened since then. I’m so afraid now of having another stroke, and dying. Also, because of the stroke, I can no longer do what I used to do. If I need to go out, I have to ask someone to go with me and help me. This is so humiliating. In the past I was always so busy with friends and traveling and classes. I used to walk everyday for exercise. Now just getting dressed is difficult. My children and grandchildren try to be helpful sometimes, but they don’t understand how hard it is for me. Just speaking clearly takes a lot of effort. My life feels miserable. I don’t know how to feel better. Do you have any advice for me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
You have been forced to deal with changes that would be difficult for anyone to readily accept. Stripped of many things that most of us take for granted (the ability to easily walk, speak, dress ourselves, and go out on our own), loss and limitations are frequent companions now. You must allow yourself to mourn these losses and come to accept what is.
Through this experience, you can learn how you are much more than your physical body. When our bodies are healthy and strong, we spend most of our time focusing on doing. We think attaining material goods or fame is important. We also spend our time "doing", to avoid feelings such as sadness, boredom, or loneliness. As a result, we gradually lose touch with ourselves. We no longer know the sense of fullness, and peace that exists in silence within ourselves. When we are struggling with physical limitations (as you are), we are no longer able to spend most of our time doing. Instead, we have to face our restless minds, feelings of uselessness, unfulfilled desires, dependence on others and helplessness.
To attain any true relief, any peace, you have to rely on your own internal resources. This is the opportunity you have before you now. Stop and be with yourself. Embrace what is. Turn within for your strength. These limitations force you to look elsewhere for your happiness. They can help to re-orient you in the right direction. Ironically, these limitations can help you to experience a much richer and deeper sense of contentment than would have been yours had this situation not entered your life.
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700.Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding and treating physical symptoms and health-related concerns. Practitioners of the following techniques are available to answer your questions: psychology, acupuncture, therapeutic and neuromuscular massage, yoga, meditation, spiritual & transpersonal psychology, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Alexander Technique Ó 2002 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center.