Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have been dating my soon-to-be husband for over 2 years and we get along fabulously, playing sports together and encouraging each other in workouts and in our work lives. We plan to marry next year (May or June). We have been talking of how we should become formally engaged (he’s already picked out a ring) and our conversations become serious and I found his tone changed and I heard him talk of my duties, instead of talking about us. I heard him say (now) that we’re an engaged couple, I’ll need to dress more conservatively and watch who I am seen with in public and who I go out with. I didn’t want to push the point but it sounded to me that he expected me (naturally?) to stay home when we had children (that is so not me). I’ve now been harboring this sense of dread for weeks. Like I may have uncovered a man I wouldn’t want to be married to. I’m now afraid to ask any more questions, afraid of what I might hear. I’ve been putting him off whenever he talks about the engagement date now. Maybe a lot of my fear is my imagination based on a few conversations. But I’m afraid to ask directly because I guess I don’t think I should force my views on him and make him unhappy with me and (maybe) doom our marriage. Can you help?
Dr. Norquist responds:
I’d suggest that you start by asking yourself what you are afraid of. You seem to be afraid to speak up regarding your concerns – yet this is the man you may be marrying. Are you fearful of his disapproval of your needs or feelings? If so, this is a good time to address this issue, so that you do not end up stifling who you are in order to be in this relationship. The cost of losing yourself in this way is much too high (emotionally and spiritually). You may also be afraid of bursting the bubble of the illusion you’d like to keep regarding whom your fiancé is, and what your future will be together. The future is built through actions in the present. If you and your fiancé have differing opinions regarding the roles and responsibilities each of you will take on once you are married, now is the time to talk this through. Be true to yourself, despite your fear of losing the relationship. A sturdy, enduring house cannot be built on a faulty foundation. If you both cannot comfortably align your visions of the future together in a way that affirms and respects who you each are, the foundation for this marriage is not strong enough to build a future upon.
Gather your courage, express your concerns, find out whether your fears are real or imagined. Know that you will be fine, with or without this relationship, because you can count on yourself to be true to who you are.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I just broke up a three-year relationship, which I can’t do anything about. Can you let me know what I can do to relieve the anxiety attacks and depression that I’m getting? Thank you.
Dr. Norquist responds:
A period of heightened depression and anxiety is normal after a major loss. You need to allow yourself time to grieve. I would be more worried if you had just lost a major long-term intimate relationship and you were going on with life as if nothing had happened. The human psyche needs time to adjust to such a major loss. This means feeling the pain, moving through it, adjusting to the changes this loss entails, and then moving on. This is a natural process. Problems occur if you deny the pain, or alternatively if you get stuck living with the pain and do not move through it. The pain should gradually decrease over a 2 – 12 month period, depending on the depth of the loss. In the meantime, allow yourself to feel your feelings as they come up, reach out to friends and family for a sense of connection and support, talk about your feelings with friends and family, or a professional, and engage in activities you enjoy. Walk through the gray days knowing your heart will eventually heal and the sun will shine in your life again. Make sure you are living a balanced healthy lifestyle (enough sleep, nutritious food, little to no alcohol use and no substance abuse). Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower homeopathic-type remedy) can be helpful for your anxiety. It is available in most health food stores. Observe your thoughts when you are feeling anxious. Do not allow your mind to subconsciously feed you negative, fear-inducing thoughts. Either correct or detach from harmful thoughts. If you are questioning whether or not your life is worth living, or if the anxiety or depression is interfering with your daily functioning, then you must consult with a professional.
We cannot love deeply without being vulnerable to the pain of loss and hurt. It comes with the territory. But, as many a poet and songwriter would tell us, it is better to have loved and lost then to never risk loving. Walk yourself through this time period, and you will eventually find love in your life once more.
Dr. Norquist responds:
I do not believe that God is punishing you. Your question suggests an underlying belief that life is supposed to be “fair” and without too many trials and tribulations. According to the Bible, Jesus had trials and tribulations and sometimes felt forsaken by God. Does that mean God was punishing him? Be careful how you interpret any situation, as your interpretation will yield behavioral and emotional consequences (either helpful or harmful). If you see God as punishing you, you will distance yourself (emotionally and spiritually) from God, thus depriving yourself of vital emotional support and spiritual sustenance for handling your current life stressors. If you see God and your church as standing by you, as a resource and support as you deal with your fears about your current situation, it will be easier to emerge from this situation less scared and battle weary, having grown through the process.
Like children, we have a tendency to think, “If I’m good, Dad (or God) will reward me”. But perhaps it’s not so straightforward. Perhaps what looks like adversity is actually a reward of sorts, a challenge to grow in ways we could not have grown if we were not faced with a certain type of crisis or challenge. Can you see ways in which your current life stresses could lead you to develop your courage, to challenge you to discover a new level of intimacy with your husband, to push you to question your religious beliefs (and thereby develop more complex, more comprehensive spiritual understandings)? Could you use your current situation to learn to let go and accept that your son has his own soul’s journey to follow, and/or to develop talents, skills and interests left behind through 30 years of commitment to one particular job?
Life is here to challenge us to grow, to give, to connect, to develop our gifts, our character, our spiritual awareness, our overall wholeness. Adversity often assists us in the process. I’d strongly encourage you to choose an interpretation of your current life situation that helps you to rise to this challenge.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
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 email@example.com, 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 2002 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center