Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #75:

“My wife wonders why all women do not seek anglers for husbands. She has come in contact with many in her life with me and she claims that they all have a sweetness in their nature which others lack.”                                                                  Ray Bergman, author of Trout, and Just Fishing

John and Nancy initially came to see me to get help getting closer together until I convinced them this was not such a worthwhile goal. Instead, I chided that they were actually too close, and that they needed to obtain some emotional distance in order to be able to stay physically together. This may seem paradoxical.

I’ve spoken of this in the past how many couples are too close – emotionally speaking. This kind of closeness prevents them from being able to see each other as each truly is. This togetherness – this emotional too-closeness – causes each to project their respective reactions onto the other, and pre-vents a healthier way of seeing the other. It also blinds them from discerning their partner from their unresolved parental issues. By gaining some emotional distance the couple is then able to stay together. Otherwise they have an emotionally stuck togetherness of blaming the other for causing him/her hurt feelings. This is not sustainable.   

There’s an old adage that goes: “only the self can take care of the self.” This rings especially true regarding relationships and it’s a necessary component for couples to have a successful relationship.

Couples with enough of a developed Self are more capable of remaining together. This is because they are less likely to get caught up in immediate emotional reactivity that stems from childhood wounds. Generally speaking, the folks that do this best are the ones that take time to take care of himself/ herself.

Based on the above fishing quote one can ask the following questions: Does angling or fishing make one a more gentle – sweeter – person? Does this sweetness seem to be a basic characteristic of a mature adult?  

Spiritual teacher Mirabai Starr has this to tell to us: “We are all called to not only tolerate others, we’re called to actively engage the love that transmutes the lead of ignorance and hatred into the gold of authentic connection.”

There are many ways to achieve such a state of love that transmutes the otherwise destructive forces of hatred and ignorance. Perhaps fishing is one way to learn to become an authentic source of loving, but certainly not the only way. All major world religions convey different traditional approaches to God. Each of us must find our way.

There’s something else here; men that show up as being very nice – or have a sweetness in their nature – are not necessarily to be trusted at face value. Each one needs to be checked out as being real and authentic. There are far too many husbands who are not happy yet do not speak up or out. They may have attempted to do so at one time and tried to tell their wife. But eventually they found that they are not taken seriously or were misunderstood. These men may have, in fact, implied or said things indirectly, and this did not and does not work. Yes, these men may have poor skills regarding how to effectively deal with conflict, and so they may have readily given up – withdrawn into a zoned out state – and left emotionally.

Their spouse could have easily misread their non-conflictual stance or passivity as satisfaction. These wives may have then gone on assuming things are “ok.” Then, down the road these dear, sweet husbands leave! They bail out. In their minds they’ve rehearsed their flight many times, have already participated in various forms of disconnection, and at a certain point they just quit. Vanish.

Some with suitcase in hand announce they are departing and then walk out the door. Some go to a nice enough girlfriend’s place; some just go to live some place on their own. These men are called runaway husbands. What they do seems rash or sudden to their partner, and many a wife is caught unaware.

These husbands appear to be making an abrupt and radical move; but the truth is they have been planning on leaving for a while. They have already left mentally, and now they’ve reached their tipping point and leave physically, as well.

Some are seen as having a mid-life crisis, and that’s certainly one way to look at it. Some are aging and are afraid of dying. Maybe they’ve had a serious life changing event (a job loss, serious health issue, death in their family, etc.) and feel desperate to seek out a happier life.

The spouse is shocked and often she can’t see what part she might have played in this drastic turn of events.  I am certainly not excusing the husband, but I do think the wife needs to also own her part – large or small – in regard to how their relationship became so unsatisfying. Likely it happened slowly over a long period of time.

Most relationships are nowhere close to such a drastic situation. There are many, however, that operate in a high level of toleration with a low or zero satisfaction. The problem with chronic problems is we usually do little or nothing about it. If you have a dent or hole in the living room wall and don’t fix it immediately, overtime you stop seeing it. Perhaps you hang the calendar over it. But, rest assured, the hole is still there.

I call such a chronically tolerated, unhealthy marriage an arrangement. I’ve stated before that the biggest obstacle to having a great marriage is a good marriage. These so-called good marriages appear to be doing okay or so-so, as each partner is afraid to rock the boat. So they put up with unpleasantness, keep quiet about unresolved issues, and tolerate their overall cumulative dissatisfaction until eventually they kill off the entire relationship.

Their chronic toleration and general putting up with disappointments builds up so that what might have been resolvable earlier when these things were at a lesser stage of irritation, or when they were less embedded into their overall upheaval, now undermines any possibility of creating a life-giving relationship.

The lament of many a counselor called into the couple’s eleventh hour problem is often “too little, too late.” The couple has no willingness to do the work required and nothing to suggest they have anything worth fighting for. The fundamental problem seems to be that people are not good at dealing with conflict. There is a great misconception in our society that conflict reflects either personal or relational failure. On the contrary, it can signify intense caring and regard. In other words, people can care a great deal and still show irritation and anger.

The existence of conflict is not necessarily a relationship failure. Ignoring it becomes a problem. Problems arise when people don’t know what causes them to be truly upset with others – not just not knowing what to do about it. I have a great book I purchased several years ago titled: Conflict Means I Love You. The author contends we interpret what our partner words and/or actions mean from our learned perceptions that are never questioned and these perception are what upset us.

Our thoughts affect our feelings, and our feelings affect our behavior. The fundamental problem we all have can be summed up this way: we each suffer from a thought disorder. We create thoughts that cause us to feel bad, and when we feel bad this affects our behavior.

Love is the possibility of possibilities. However, all the love in the world will not bring us happiness or make a relationship work. That requires skill. These relational skills are quite attainable. Practice can make us nimble enough to dance together with grace, however bashful we may be at the beginning.

All of us learned to experience love differently, but for most of us there are five aspects that are key to our experience of love. We feel loved when we receive (1) attention, (2) acceptance, (3) appreciation, and (4) affection, and when we are (5) allowed the freedom to live in accord with our own deepest needs and wishes. In childhood, we need enough of these five A’s to develop self-esteem and a healthy ego. They are the building blocks of our identity and are the fundamental aspects of our coherent human personality.

Intimacy, at its best, means giving and receiving these five A’s, the joys and wealth of relationship. These five aspects of love also describe our destiny of service in the world as mature spiritual beings.

So those men that fish and are found to be genuinely sweet and gentle, as well as others that slow down and build a life practice of contemplative living, are likely to discover ways to become more capable of love, with all its dim anguish and glowing rapture. They have likely found enlightenment that points them toward making their lives with others smoother, but not perfect. They have learned, perhaps, to relate to life’s inevitable roughness with humor, ease, and generosity. They are people who do not take themselves so seriously.

They are people that have awakened their heart. They therefore approach intimacy as being on a spiritual path. What is worth noting here is that this personal, relational work, as a bonus, can also help heal the wider world; our world that is so desperately in need of healing.