Robert Hirsch has worked as a counselor for 26 years, and is one of the founding partners of Kirkland Whole Life Clinic. Below, he reflects on what it takes to be present and vulnerable in all our relationships.
The feeling of betrayal is one of the most common destroyers of relationship. In my work with couples I see it again and again whether related to sex, money, drug and alcohol addiction, or any of life’s challenges. The pattern is invariably the same: one partner feels wounded and the victim of betrayal typically lashes out with aggression or withdraws in a sorrowful or martyred mood, while the other is ridden with guilt and shame (or sometimes denies culpability altogether) and reacts with anger, self-loathing or some other defensive or self-destructive posture.
How do couples get off this merry-go-round of suffering? Obviously it’s not easy – as divorce statistics attest – but it is possible to heal ourselves and our relationships if each partner is genuinely committed to change, willing to be brutally honest with themselves about the life they have created, and willing to allow and take responsibility for all feelings that arise. Our patterns of self-possession are tenacious and it requires great intention to move beyond them. But the rewards of such commitment are self-authenticating, leading to richer, fuller and more productive lives – lives in which love can truly begin to flourish.
My role as a therapist is to help clients get in touch with and to allow the feelings they resist as well as to take responsibility for the suffering they have created for themselves and others in their reactivity to feeling. Sharing feelings of betrayal, shame, self-loathing, sorrow, rage, loneliness, guilt, anything they resist or cling to, and identifying situations that are the catalysts whereby these emotions are triggered allows them to stop being at war with themselves and loved ones and to finally relax. This is how partners can learn to respond thoughtfully rather than to react unconsciously to life’s challenges. As their understanding grows so too does their ability to communicate more straightforwardly and compassionately with everyone, handling all their relationships with more ease and maturity.
From February through April, all new counseling clients are eligible for half off an acupuncture, massage or private yoga session when this blog is mentioned.