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Understanding Projection

Monday, October 1, 2007

posted by Andrew

The success of our lives and relationships rely on our ability to understand and respond to the events that shape us.

How do you respond to situations that are outside of your control?

How do you respond to situations that you can control?

The management tools that we develop through adulthood and marriage are tested in times of conflict, and how we react can tell us a lot about the strength of our management or coping mechanisms, or highlight their complete failure.

What coping mechanisms exist in your life?

I encountered a situation recently where the failings of a group of people were clearly evident, and one where a valuable lesson can be learned. One example of a failed response to crisis is misdirected anger, known otherwise as transference, or more specifically, projection. 

The definition of projection, at least by counseling definitions, refers to the projection of feelings, emotions, or motivations into another person without realizing your reaction is more about you than it is about the other person.

Let's put this theory of projection in context. The situation I encountered recently involved a group of married women that had let themselves and others down by being bitchy and divisive, creating conflict where there needn't be. Have you ever caught a naughty child doing something they shouldn't be doing and observed their reaction? It's quite comical. Looking at projection, a child would throw a tantrum at being caught misbehaving, and the same thing happened to this group in question.

These people were nothing special, just very ordinary people, and the course of action they took in hurting others was unprovoked, spiteful, and morally reprehensible. But looking past their actions, their reaction was more of interest to me. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions like a grown-up would do and apologize or feel remorse for what they had done, they instead went on the attack, blaming others and seeking justification for their actions, choosing to act as though they were victims of circumstances outside of their control. It may have been deliriously convincing to them, but they weren't fooling anyone else. It made me sad to witness, but at the same time made me wonder how happy these people truly are and what motivated them to project their anger outward in such a fashion.

Projection and transference are caused by unmet emotional needs, and this is none more so prevalent when the person in question is in a crisis of some sort, either personal or marriage-related. Creating trouble where there is none may be indicative of a much deeper personal trauma.

Let's take a look at your marriage. Is the same thing happening to you? Is your partner feeling unfulfilled, angry, and you don't know why? Do you feel as though you are getting the blame for things that you haven't done or have no control over?

It's tempting in a marriage to simply take the blame for whatever you have been accused of, apologize, and try your best to move on. In fact, I hear from a number of people, almost eager to take responsibility for the mess, hoping that in doing so they can start healing the marriage. I don't encourage people to do that at all, for several reasons.

The first is that unless you understand what you have done wrong, rushing into an apology has very little meaning. The key to a successful marriage is in understanding what the issues are, understanding the part each of you have played in living through the issues, and to find meaning from your actions, remedy them, and move forward.

The second reason is that your partner's unhappiness may actually have nothing to do with you. Sure, they may be directing their anger towards you, but it may be symptomatic of a personal breakdown or unhappiness at work as much as it may be about the marriage.

Sure, their anger may be directed at you, but is it really about you? It may be about getting older and still being childless, it may be about your partner being depressed and not knowing what to do about it, it may be an unfulfilling sex life that hasn't been spoken about, or it may be about some historical childhood wound that they are unable to let go. It may even be self-esteem issues or a psychosis that needs to be treated.

Whatever the reason, it's important to see that projection may be your partner's coping mechanism or way of dealing with it. Sure it's the wrong way to go about it. That's why it's important to examine the response and look past the initial justification for the deeper, more meaningful issues. Focus on the motivation for the outward display of emotion, not the action itself. How can you help your partner break the pattern of projection?

Start by resisting the temptation to take immediate responsibility for their unhappiness. It may be about much more than anything you could have done.

People who don’t recognize the difference between past and present, between the individual and the relationship, between their own culpability and others can end up in the same twisted cycle, over and over.

Next time you are in conflict, scratch beneath the surface. It may be the first step forward in saving your marriage.

Healing, not Hurting

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

posted by Andrew

When we seek to hurt others, who do we hurt most?

This is a question I pondered over the last few weeks as I considered the actions of someone that is close to me. Instead of celebrating a wedding and making it into an inclusive, intimate, and special occasion, a woman I know decided instead to make her wedding into a political statement and excluded family, friends, and loved ones in order to hurt and embarrass them.

This woman really let herself down, and I have been considering the motivations for such a callous act. What would motivate someone to wound those closest to her? Was it for attention? Was it for revenge? Was it a need for others to feel and experience the hurt she felt inside? Or was it to escape the invisible pressure and expectation she felt at being the last member of her family to get married?

At a time when a family should be celebrating matrimony, parents, siblings, and loved ones are now disjointed and divided, riven with regret and hurt feelings. I wonder if the approach this woman took was wise, and indeed necessary, considering the ensuing fallout that is likely to occur. The hurt she wielded indicated to me a deep vulnerability within herself and her place in the world that she is not yet ready to deal with.

I talk with a lot of people about feelings, particularly people with marriage problems who are struggling to find meaning from what is going on around them. When a marriage starts to fall apart, I am met by people feeling confusion, sadness, frustration, anger, and hurt. Of all these feelings, hurt is the one feeling that we understand the most.

The issue for you and other couples feeling hurt is in finding meaning from this feeling and developing an appropriate response. We can communicate our hurt to our partner or loved one and expose ourselves to vulnerability, or we can suppress our hurt and let it manifest itself in other forms. The issue is that if we choose to suppress our hurt it can manifest itself in a way that damages the relationship. We can choose to let it explode at a critical moment and wield it with such power that it does the maximum of damage, or we can hold it in and let the feeling poison us, or we can use it to humiliate someone at a selected moment.

But who do we really hurt? There is no merit in wounding others. There is no merit in turning your marriage into a competition. There is no merit in turning your hurt into strategy or a weapon. The person you let down is yourself. And the most wounded party is the relationship.

Acknowledge your hurt using "I" statements. Understand why you feel hurt. Has someone deliberately hurt you? Have your expectations of someone been diminished? Has a loved one touched on an issue that you haven't fully dealt with? Has someone touched on one of your fears?

I want your marriage to be remembered for the moments that take your breath away, the moments when you feel so interconnected with your partner it feels as though its crushing your heart. I want your marriage to be remembered for including your partner in your life and your emotional journey. And I want your marriage to be remembered for loving your partner enough to tell them about your feelings, foregoing the temptation to suppress, and to love them enough to expose yourself to vulnerability.

A successful marriage is about exposing yourself to the full emotional spectrum as a couple, and living each moment and emotion to its fullest extent. It's times like that when you are fully exposed and vulnerable that you can be most connected. Next time you see your partner, tell them something about yourself that scares you. Ask them to do the same. At that moment in time you are connected in your most intimate self. It may be your first step towards healing your marriage.

And you both win.

Getting Away From The Playground

Friday, February 2, 2007

posted by Andrew

It’s funny.

Just when you think you have the perfect relationship and you are so different from other couples you know, the ones that squabble and argue over the silliest things, it happens to you.

A look that is misinterpreted, a laugh or a giggle at the wrong moment, a comment taken out of context. All of these are seemingly innocent things that can spark a squabble that bears all the hallmarks of a playground tussle. Screwed up faces, sulking, silent treatment, and seemingly hurt feelings.

It happened to some good friends of mine when I was visiting last night, and frankly, it took me by surprise. Here were two people in their thirties going at it like 5-year-olds. It was quite a sight. The odd thing is that both of them were so emotionally invested in what was going on, they were oblivious to how ridiculous both of them were being.

I guess both of them were tired and had been working long hours, so the problem escalated in a way that it may not have done before. One comment was taken out of context, and following this there was nothing that could be said to diffuse the situation. In fact, the more the guy tried to smooth things over, the more worked up his partner got.

And so it went, round and round, until the guy finally lost patience and started throwing a tantrum too.

It made me wonder… even though we have long since left the playground behind, how much of the playground do we still have in us? The playground is a valuable tool for social development, and much of the behavior we see in the playground is a model for adult life. The interactions and tools we develop for social behavior as children can determine what types of attitudes we carry into our adult lives. Children who were bullied at school will long retain the memories and associations of that, and their social development can be heavily influenced by that moment.

So why are we motivated to revert to childish behavior with our spouses?

Because despite the fact that we are no longer in the playground, we all like to win. We resort to game-playing and childish behavior to set communication traps for our partner that may offer us a competitive edge and show our partner how wrong they were. Foolish reasoning, yes, but accurate when it comes to how many of us settle arguments. Despite the fact that nobody wins when couples are arguing, our competitive nature and the methods we use to win can come straight from the playground.

What can we learn from this then?

They key here is not to lose your sense of perspective. Listen to what you are saying. Are you being rational? Are you falling into a trap that your partner has set for you? In competing with your spouse, do you believe it is a worthwhile victory? If your partner is baiting you, what do you gain from biting? Once you have lost control of yourself and let your anger obscure your judgment, you have already lost.

The key here is to recognize when things are getting out of control and to sit back and take a breather. Go for a walk. Have a cup of coffee. Take some time out, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Then come back and see if either of you can negotiate a compromise that takes into account the values and views of both parties.

It sets a good example for others!

Which Format Do You Prefer?

Friday, February 2, 2007

posted by Andrew

Thank you very much for responding to our survey!  We received many positive responses and will use them to develop the next generation of products for Save My Marriage Today!

The Spirit of Christmas Giving

Friday, December 15, 2006

posted by Andrew

Amidst the rush of Christmas, with looming work deadlines to meet, pressing social engagements, shopping, as well as a host of other things to get done, I took ten minutes today to go for a stroll. When I say stroll, I mean I put my hands in my pockets, whistled, and walked slowly through the streets of the central city, absorbing the energy of what was going on around me, the rush of traffic, the people on the sidewalk, the people in the shops, the sunshine above me, and the gentle breeze on my face. Ten minutes was what it took for me to refocus on my surroundings and the part I play in the environment around me, and I was humbled.

Christmas is a very stressful time for couples, and domestic violence is at its  highest over the Christmas season. Increased pressure, both in demands on time and income, attending office parties, social gatherings, school concerts, and shopping malls, all takes its toll on the one commodity that should be the most precious: your marriage.

Those closest to us often bear the brunt of our frustrations, consciously or not, and it is tempting to let this start a cycle of tit-for-tat bickering or sharing stories of who is more stressed or overworked. And we stress for a number of different reasons! Sometimes it is about making enough time in the day to get all of your tasks done, sometimes it’s fulfilling all obligations to those around you, finding the perfect present, or creating the perfect Christmas meal.

But in doing so, we lose sight of what should be most important. Do you or your partner really want the perfect power tool or designer fragrance, or do you want another shot at a better marriage?

It’s not too late to make a start, no matter how bad things have become, and this Christmas could be a time of redemption for the both of you… provided you really want to make it happen.

So what are a few ways to give your partner another chance this Christmas?

  • The first is to stop whatever you are doing. Turn off the television. Turn off the radio. Spend some time alone. Relax. Meditate. Let your mind let go of the day-to-day stuff that clutters it up. Think about the last time you said something nice to your spouse. When did you last compliment them on something nice they did for you? When is the last time you thanked them for anything?
  • Next step is to light a candle. Look into the candle and spend a while thinking about all the things in your life that you are thankful for. Think of al the people who enrich your life and make it better. Think of all the selfless and thoughtful things people do for you. Think about all the times you are thankful to your partner for the things they have done for you. Think how fortunate you are in comparison to so many others around you.
  • Another idea is to think of a song that is special to you and your husband or wife. What is it about that song that makes it special to you? What special memory do you have attached to that song? Can you remember where you were and what you were doing when you listened to that song together?
  • Are you letting the small things get you down? Write a letter about all of your frustrations, and all the little things that you feel that annoy you. Then write another letter about all the things you love about your life and all the things that make you happy. Now I want you to burn the frustration letter. How does that make you feel? Sometimes the expression of feelings, even in something so simple as writing them down, can help let go of the emotion attached to issues. Fold the other letter and put it in a drawer or somewhere that you can come back to when you need strength.
  • Say "sorry". I recall the story of how the German and British soldiers in the trenches in France spontaneously sang chrismas carols and stopped fighting on Chrismas Eve. Soldiers and officers managed to lower their guns and extend the hand of goodwill, peace, love and Christmas cheer. The legacy of this story is that no matter how difficult the circumstances, the human spirit is capable of love. It is not about who is more right, and it is not about who has hurt who more. Sometimes love is accepting your differences and sacrificing some of your pride. But the reward is truly enriching.

 Let this Christmas be a time of goodwill, peace, and love, and let this prosper in your home and in your marriage this festive season. It is never too late to offer the hand of peace.

Growing in love

Friday, November 3, 2006

posted by Andrew

Looking around at car lots a couple of weeks ago, my partner and I were deciding whether or not to update our car. While for most people it would seem like a relatively simple procedure, I was met my mixed feelings as we looked across the rows of shiny cars, all begging to be taken for a test-drive and taken home.

We both looked closer at a shiny red BMW. To me, it stood out from the silver BMWs in the row alongside it and I pictured my partner and I driving around in the summer, sunroof open and a favorite CD playing. I have a red two-seater convertible I drive during the week, and our four door sedan for weekends together with the dog didn’t seem nearly as exciting, which prompted us to go car shopping.

My partner has a four door sedan, a sensible car, peppy and good looking, but not exciting in the same way that my convertible is. So looking for something new was going to need to be a compromise. Something that was exciting like my car, but also had room in which to grow. The BMW seemed to fit that criteria, but after driving it I still wasn’t sure…

Are we the same in our relationships? Does the person we think we want remain the ideal person once we have them? Are we happy with what we got, or are we always looking to trade up to the next model?

I guess we build illusions in our minds of what we picture the perfect relationship to be, and when this becomes a reality, we freak out and reasess what it is we want. Once we have what we want, are we fulfilled? Or are we still looking for ways that it could be better?

I thought the BMW would be perfect, but once I drove it and had the opportunity to purchase it, I wondered if I really did want it. The moment of indecision I experienced troubled me. It troubled me because I didn’t have the emotional investment in the new car like I did the old. To make it the perfect car I would have to invest in it and make it mine.

Are we the same with our marriages?

I get emails from clients all the time looking for marriage counseling and marriage help telling me that their partners are perfect, but they are not "in love" with them. I guess they assumed that once they got the perfect person that their problems would be over. Real love, the kind of love that exists in real marriages, is not that simple. It takes effort and a willingness to grow.

The point I am making here is that it takes more than the perfect person to create a good relationship. Even if you have a person who possesses all the qualities that you have ever looked for in a husband or wife, making a marriage work still involves effort. Every day of your married life you are called to grow in your love for one another, and to grow in your understanding of what this love is.

The love you feel for your partner in the first year of marriage will be a different kind of love to the love that you feel on your 25th wedding anniversary. And this will be different again to the love you feel for each other on your 40th wedding anniversary.

Your marriage is a journey of love, and on this journey you are called to find new ways of loving and expressing this love for your partner. The bumps you face along the road are reminders to the both of you that changes need to be made. Nothing remains static, and this includes your marriage. Just like changing cars, loving the person you are with involves you investing in them and the relationship. They may still be the perfect person, but in order to have the perfect relationship, you have to always put the effort in. Marriage problems surface when you resist change and refuse to grow in your love for one another. Love is a constantly evolving process, and successful marriages are ones that are always growing in understanding, never staying still.

Are you commited to growing in love together? There is no such thing as a free ride. 

Economic Benefits of Marriage

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

posted by Andrew

When you think about marriage, the images that spring to mind are usually brides in white, churches, rings, house and two children, and the like. But one aspect of marriage is often overlooked and was brought to my attention the other day.

I was reading a document about the economic benefits of marriage, part of "The state of our unions 2006", a report published by the National Marriage Project, based at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The aim of this report, released every year, is to educate people on the social, economic and cultural conditions affecting marital success and wellbeing in America. It is a great read, and full of lots of really great information about what is going on inside our families and marriages.

So in looking at marriages, we often overlook what wonderful wealth-generating institutions they really are. Married couples create more economic assets over a lifetime than single people or cohabiting couples. So why is that?

The first reason is that marriage provides economies of scale in the fact that it is cheaper for two to live together than it is separately. The second reason is that as a couple, each person can specialize in certain areas and in doing so increase efficiency.

Married couples on average save and invest more in their future to secure a stable lifestyle, and married men tend to earn between 10 and 40 percent more than their single counterparts.

In addition to this, married couples qualify for more government and workplace assistance in the form of maternity leave, subsidies, and tax relief as an incentive to build families and do their bit for population growth.

So if marriages are such wealth-creating units, what happens if couples divorce?

Things go downhill economically if a couple decides to end the marriage and divorce, and research has shown that divorce can increase child poverty which significantly increases the cost to society in the form of health and welfare programs and initiatives.

A lot of the information here may seem logical once you consider it, but the actual reading of the impact of marriage and divorce and its associated social benefits and costs makes for very interesting reading. The economics of it may not be interesting for some, but it is a worthwhile incentive in doing all you can to save marriages and decrease the risk of divorce.

The cost to you financially both in the immediate and long-term may come as a surprise. Equally, it may cause both of you to reconsider divorce and re-evaluate the worth of maintaining and saving your marriage.

It is one of many important factors to consider.

Save Your Marriage from Insults

Monday, October 2, 2006

posted by Andrew

I was out for a walk with my dog last night and took a short-cut past my local rugby-football club. While walking past a group of boys in a training session, I overheard someone putting another player down, and it gave me the opportunity to ponder on what had happened. In looking at what motivated one person to put another down in this situation, I contemplated my own experience with put-downs.

My own experience is somewhat different due to my extroverted personality, and this personality attracts a certain amount of attention, both positive and negative. As much as I have a happy-go-lucky type of attitude to life, attacks from others can really get me down.

I guess as part of my need to protect myself from the labels and judgements of others I have created an insular world and group of people around me that lead me to believe, albeit temporarily, that I am accepted wholeheartedly and without comment, derision or scorn.

In doing this, I wonder if I set myself up for a disappointment when those outside of this circle let themselves down and further dampen my hope that wider humanity is as evolved and accepting as the people I surround myself with. As much as I tell myself that I don’t care for the thoughts and opinions of others, one small comment from a complete stranger can still cut deep.

I don’t believe it is often what is said moreso than the way it is spoken. An observation, an insult, or a label is often hurled toward another without feeling and without consequence. Some people would tell me that a stranger’s insult is indicative of their inadequacies, or that their need to put down others highlights their own poor self-esteem.

There is more power to our words than we give credit, and none moreso than when we use our words as weapons. This is especially true when we use words to wound our loved ones. We know and understand our loved ones intimately, and sharing our innermost secrets with our loved ones exposes us to vulnerability. Our trust in our partners allows us to share our secrets and overcome this fear of vulnerability.

Your marriage partnership is in itself an insular environment because of this trust, and an attack on a deeply personal level from within this most trusted environment can be little short of devastating. The person we trust most in the world knows all of our secrets in the same way you know theirs, and hurling an insult at them can be a betrayal of this deep trust you have in one another. The betrayal of trust in your partner by using their vulnerability against them can continue to wound them long after the insult has been forgiven.

So when this sacred trust is shattered, what do we do to undo the damage? 

  • We can ask for forgiveness, hoping that the humility of asking for forgiveness can undo the damage that the insult inflicts.
  • We can recognize the betrayal of trust and vow never to use our secrets as a weapon.
  • We can look at what motivates us to wound others so deep, perhaps in an effort to understand our own wounds and why we hurt others
  • We can take responsibility for the power of our words by stopping ourselves from wounding, even when we are hurt. We can make a commitment to filter our comments and exercise self-restraint
  • We can act with love instead of hate.

What is your opinion? What additional marriage advice can you offer to others when you use words as weapons?

Grated Cheese

Monday, September 18, 2006

posted by Andrew

I was down at the grocery store last week, doing some shopping on my way home from work. Looking down at all the different types of cheese in the deli before me, my attention was directed toward bags of grated cheese. I was astounded!

And it made me wonder… If we are too lazy to even grate our own cheese, how bad have things become? Does this same paternalistic mentality over needing to buy cheese pre-grated follow into so many of our other facets of life? Can we buy houses that clean themselves, cars that drive themselves? It seems they are developing technology that wil enable us to have vacuum cleaners that operate themselves as well as self-drive cars. Thinking on to the next logical step from this, how much do we expect others to do for us? How little do we expect to do for ourselves?

I mean, if we can’t grate our own cheese, clean our own homes, drive ourselves about, then where do we take control of what is going on in our lives?

This mentality follows when it comes to your marriage. There is no product out there that is going to save your marriage for you. The act of buying a book is not going to magically turn your marriage problems around. Reading the book is not going to change your life either. Marriages involve work. Marriage problems require even more work, and a commitment that the effort you make and the heartache you go through in the process of fixing your marriage is going to be worth it. Reading about how to fix a marriage is not going to magically change your life either. This mentality is going to doom your marriage to the divorce basket.

What is going to make a difference is having the determination to read the concepts and techniques that we offer and applying them to your marriage. This also means getting off your backside and taking responsibility for saving your marriage. Because ultimately the effort you go to is going to determine to a large extent whether your marriage survives or not.

I never heard of a person learning to walk again achieve success by simply reading a book about it. I never heard of Christopher Columbus discovering America by buying a book about it and never setting out to sea. I never heard of man landing on the moon and attributing his success by watching a great documentary about it and never reaching space. I never heard of Edmund Hilary conquering Mount Everest by reading a magazine about how to do it and never leaving his armchair. Achieving success in any pursuit involves HARD WORK, it involves dedication, and it involves personal investment by the person with the greatest to gain.

There are no shortcuts. The people who achieve great things in life, sometimes against great odds, are those who are determined to succeed and determined to take action and do something. Others can provide you with the tools, but the hard work and the heartache and the achievement are ultimately your responsibility.

I cannot help those who will not help themselves. Next time you are at the supermarket, buy a block. Grate your own cheese. Clean your own floors, drive your own car. Save your own marriage with my course. Let me help you save your marriage.

Legacy of 9/11

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

posted by Andrew

I am quite excited this week.

My partner and I have booked a house for the weekend over at Lake Brunner, a lazy lakeside village just the other side of the Southern Alps. Brunner is a hive of activity around Christmas time, with families descending upon the settlement with boats, jetskis, fishing rods and children in tow. However this time of the year it is quiet and secluded, and the only noise is the chirping of native birds and insects in the surrounding native bush that envelops the settlement.

It has been a while since we have been away for a break, so it is nice to take a break from the regular weekend routine of shopping, visiting friends, lunching in suburban cafes, and competing domestic chores such as laundry, mowing lawns, and gardening. I love my weekends at home, but a change of scenery and the promise of something different to our usual routine has me unusually excited.

I often talk to couples in crisis about the importance of spending time together, spending time away. A lot of couples I speak with cannot remember the last time they spent a weekend away, some as long as two or three years.

Following the anniversary of 9/11, it reminds us of the fragility of life, and how a single moment in time changed the world we live in and reminded so many of the precious gift of life we have. We survived where so many did not. We have no guarantee that we will have our partners forever, yet in the midst of a marriage crisis we tend to want to hurt them as much as they have hurt us.

The terrorist attacks that took place on that fateful day 5 years ago defined a moment in time for society, and almost anyone you speak with can remember where they were and what they were doing when they found out about it. The legacy to those that died that day should be a renewed appreciation for the many gifts in our lives, especially the relationships we have with others and the wonderful memories we can create.

Our petty everyday arguments seem futile when compared to the much larger issues of global terrorism and the upheaval that the families of the 9/11 victims have been through since they lost their husbands and loved ones. The magnitude of the grief and upheaval that came about as a result of that day puts things very much in perspective.

When is the last time you spent a weekend away together? When is the last time you escaped the monotony of your everyday lives to reconnect as a couple? When is the last time you made an effort to love your partner? Your ability to take time away and spent time alone as a couple will determine whether your marriage is going to work or not.

Now it is time for you to create some wonderful memories. Make it happen today.


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