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Women and Relationships

In January 2007, our guest expert in Le Club's Ask the Expert segment was Joyce Curry, MSW, RSW, a psychotherapist with the Brief Psychotherapy Centre for Women.

This is a community-based Centre affiliated with Women's College Hospital, providing women with time-limited, goal-focussed therapy from a feminist, Relational-Cultural model. Joyce is part of the research team, which completed a successful outcome study of the psychotherapy model practiced at the Centre.

Her professional background has focussed on women's issues, abuse trauma and family violence. She has extensive experience in family assessments regarding children in custody disputes, and has a particular interest in self-image and relationship dynamics.

Here are Joyce's answers to your questions about Women and Relationships.

Q: I am currently on Celexa for depression I that have had for many years. I have only been on it for about four years. Can you tell me if there has been a good model for treating depression, the type which seems to stem from lack of self-esteem, as well as a tendency to not be able to let go of past errors or hurts?

I tried treatment many years ago and it helped me stand up for myself more. I have developed quite a few medical problems which cause pain. I guess I am having problems being proactive towards doing something to help myself. Do you think group therapy or one-on-one is better?


A: It is good to hear that you have found therapy to be helpful in the past and so are ready to engage in another round. It is not unusual to do a piece of therapy work and then to go back out into your life to use what you’ve learned and changed, and then at a later date to be ready to attend to other issues. All therapy — whether it is for four sessions — four-months, or four years, constitutes a piece of personal work.

Regarding which modality of therapy is best suited to dealing with depression, it is far more important to find a therapy model that is suited to your own needs and personality. In order to have a good experience of therapy, it is crucial to find a therapist with whom you are able to develop a good connection. I do of course invite you to contact the Brief Psychotherapy Centre for Women where I am a psychotherapist. However, I must caution you that there is a waiting list.

Just a note regarding your medication and the pain you are suffering. There are some antidepressant medications that are also effective at mitigating pain, so it may be helpful to you to reassess the situation with your doctor.

 


Q: How can I get my spouse to be more sensitive and compassionate? Psychotherapy has failed me...twice, and where I live — in the Muskoka region — there are no clinical psychologists or clinical social workers, and I can't afford to see a private specialist.

A: No one can change another person unless he wants to change and is willing to do the work himself. Society has historically given the message that is women’s responsibility to the make the relationship work, and as a result too many women have accepted less than satisfactory treatment within their relationships. Women often suffer in silence, feeling both ashamed and inadequate that their emotional and communication needs are not being, met while being unable to make their partner take steps.

A good relationship is one where both parties are actively engaged and responsible for maintaining the relationship. By definition, a good relationship is a mutual one.

It can indeed prove difficult to find accessible and affordable therapy in your area. I suggest that you look at the website for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. They will have a listing of psychiatrists and doctors who are covered by OHIP doing therapy throughout the province.

 



Q: Why do women like to date guys who treat them badly?? I mean not guys who abuse women, just guys who are insensitive.


A: I don’t believe that any woman sets out to be treated badly. It is more often a function of staying in a poor relationship. This can be due to low self-esteem:  “I don’t deserve or won’t get anything better,” or perhaps growing up witnessing or experiencing abusive behaviours, and therefore having developed a higher tolerance for poor treatment which has been normalized.

Society has often given women the message that they must be in a relationship “no matter what,” and so they sacrifice their own needs and wants for fear of losing the relationship. The social myth of “the love of a good woman” as a cure-all may — with the best of intentions — foster a sense of being overly responsible in a woman who mistakenly believes that if she just works hard enough, she can change her partner into the sensitive man that she hopes he could be.

The best way to avoid being in an unsatisfying relationship is to have criterion for what constitutes a good relationship. Here at the Brief Psychotherapy Centre for Women we have developed a tool to help you evaluate relationships. It can be found on this website in A-Z Health Topics under Self-Image: Helpful Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating Your Relationship.

 


Q: Hi, I'm a 40-year-old woman. This time six months ago I was planning my wedding with the man I love and looking forward to starting a family. However, three months ago, he informs me that he doesn't see children in his future. (At all!)  He said he would still marry me if I agreed: no kids. We have been together for five years.  He has always known that eventually I wanted to try for at least one child.  But I was patient and tried to let him pursue his dreams first.  He kept saying when we/I just...then we can.

So here I am with no impending marriage and quite possibly no baby. My question is how feasible is it for a 40-year-old women who has a history of fibroids and such (women problems) to have a baby?  Are there lots of cases of women over 40?  And how do I get over the anger at him for betraying me this way????? Right now I really hate him! Thank you.

A: I am unfortunately unable to comment on the medical issues and so would refer you back to your doctor to address these. However, you clearly express your sense of anger and betrayal, which is totally understandable. The intensity of your current feelings, although difficult, is both unavoidable and healthy given what has happened. You will likely follow the anger with a period of sadness in grieving the loss of the plans you had anticipated. The good news is that this intensity will lessen over time.

It is admirable that you have stuck with your bottom line of wanting to try to have a child. You have been clear in what is important to you and have had the courage to remain so, even in the face of your ex-fiancé’s behaviour, which has resulted either from his lack of clarity or merely avoidance of the truth.

You have had the courage to make a very difficult decision rather than give up your dreams. It is unfortunate that his dreams took precedence over yours for the past five years, but as women we too often have been socialized to put the happiness of others first.

While I am sure that you have always been clear about what you have intended, I would like to make a general comment on couples planning a future together and especially planning to parent. While people still neglect “nuts and bolts” discussions of future plans in favour of romantic fantasies, I believe that parenting is one of the most neglected and also one of the most important discussions to have.

First of all, it is important to have an honest discussion regarding personal values and visions regarding childrearing and what it means to be a parent. I mean not only educational plans and philosophies of disciplining but actually and very specifically who does what and when. For example: Baby cries in the middle of the night. “Who gets up?” This discussion must involve all areas of childcare.

Parenting is rewarding but also difficult and exhausting — and, truth is — not everyone is willing to make the sacrifices to their lives that are required. Better to know the truth ahead of time than to find yourself both resentful and exhausted, carrying most of the responsibility with a partner who has minimal participation.

Fortunately, more and more men are both committed and involved fathers. But given historical social realities, we cannot make assumptions and avoid important and potentially difficult discussions.

 


Q: I realize that after almost 24 years of marriage that my relationship with my husband is that of a brother and sister. I don't NOT love him but I’m certainly not in love with him. At this juncture, what do most women do? Stay for the duration, or leave and seek relationships that offer love, affection and intimacy. I am 49, very good looking and have my own business, and my husband is 60. I am torn as to whether to leave or not. If he was really bad to me, it would be easy but he is not — mostly just indifferent. What does a woman do in this situation?

A: You describe yourself as both attractive and also able to support yourself financially. This is a strong position as it means that you have choices. Staying in the relationship for “the duration” means the rest of your life, and so it is obviously an important decision. The loss of both physical and emotional intimacy in a relationship happens insidiously over a long period of time. We just notice it one day.

The truism “relationships are hard work” is indeed true, and further, they require both monitoring and attending to throughout our relational lives. First task in tackling this decision is to ask the question: “if things could improve, am I willing to try?” 

If you are already determined to leave the relationship, then it is best to be honest with yourself. If not, then this decision becomes a family problem rather than your responsibility alone. How does your husband see the relationship? Is he unhappy? If not, he had better understand that the relationship is in crisis and attend to it immediately.

It is unclear whether there is any physical reason that your relationship has ceased to be sexual. If so, medical help is available.

If the problems are purely emotional/relational then the assistance of a couple’s therapist for the two of you will be helpful. Attending therapy as a couple is not only important when intending to salvage the relationship, but is also helpful to facilitate separation with least damage possible both emotionally and practically. Separation is always painful but it need not be a disaster.

Both you and your husband have potentially long lives ahead of you. If one has choices, then striving for connection and intimacy are core to a satisfying relationship.

 



Q: I am a 50-year-old divorced woman who is content in most areas of my life with good friends, good relationships with my children and family to whom I'm close and an established, fulfilling career with financial security. BUT...I want a loving relationship with a man.

I thought I had found a good man who I saw for eight months before I broke it off in September 2006. It was a decision I made with my head, not my heart.

My decision was precipitated by a belief that he would not be there for me when and if I needed it. I came to this belief after I was involved in a car accident in mid-August, which left my car undriveable, and me bruised and with a concussion.

At the scene of the accident I called my boyfriend; he did not ask if I needed him to come or offer to do so.  He told me he would call me after his softball game that evening.  I felt abandoned.

I tried talking to him about this; he later said he'd thought about what I had said and he wouldn't change anything he did. That I'm a competent woman and should have been able to go to a rental car agency and drive myself home.

After much agonizing and re-evaluation of our relationship, I told him I had decided to end it. He was surprised and appeared genuinely sad. Almost immediately, I regretted the decision and a week later contacted him, told him how I felt and asked if he would be willing to see me again.  But he's "moved on."

I haven't, and have continued to feel very sad, mourning the loss of him, what was good about our relationship and the dreams of a future together. (He had talked of a future together.) I don't feel like I'm “moving on.”

My head tells me that I made the right decision; my heart still hasn't let go.  How long should it take? What can I do to get through this? 

A: My compliments on making what must have been a very painful decision but one rooted in a solid sense of self-esteem. The temptation to make choices on using “our hearts” can at times be a recipe for future unhappiness. Wisdom is a combination of heart and mind together.

The behaviour you have described on the part of your boyfriend concerning the accident must have been a terrible shock to you given the traumatic situation, which left you without a car and injured. Your expectations were totally reasonable. It does not bode well for his capacity for empathy nor compassion. His immediate ability to detach and move on is also concerning.

It will take some more time to grieve what was obviously an important relationship to you. You spoke of envisioning a future together. A large part of grieving is experiencing the sadness for the loss of the dream of what could have been if things had developed as one had hoped. An emotionally developed person has the capacity for deep connection and so also deep hurt.

It is a risk of being in relationship, but despite the emotional risk, it is well worth it. It is because of your own capacity for deep feeling and connection that you are taking this time that you need to move on. Having said this, it is important to proceed in your life by seeing good friends with whom you can share your process. You may also find therapy useful in facilitating this transition.

It may be helpful to you to revisit thinking about events during the relationship. Reconsidering it in this more balanced light may reveal some “red flags” that you had previously ignored. Finally, your wish to be in an intimate relationship is a healthy one and a reasonable one, but you had not yet met the person worthy of your commitment.

 



Q:
I have been married for 24 years.  I love my husband and I am sure that he loves me, but we have grown apart.  Due to his work (entrepreneur) we, or at least I, have grown apart. I am married, but in essence I feel single and lonely. I want to break away and “find myself,” but I don't know how to do it.  Most importantly I feel scared. (Can I make it on my own due to financial reasons?)  Equally important, I feel guilty after all these years. I feel that I have been the foundation of our marriage and have kept the family united and solid. Is there help for me? Thanks.


A: Feeling lonely within a longstanding relationship is so very sad and yet it is a situation that women describe far more often than you could imagine. It sounds like you have worked hard all of these years to keep the family intact, while not being attended to yourself. It is at this time after many years of marriage when children are grown and homes have been bought and at least partly paid for that women have the time and energy to take stock of their own lives. Prior to this the focus has been on the needs of others.

It is unclear to me (and perhaps to you as well) whether or not you wish to save the relationship. You are clear that you and your husband love one another and so it is worth a try to improve things. Speaking to your husband about your need for more connection in the relationship is a start and should not be taken as a criticism by him. He may also feel out of connection with you, but as men tend to do, has tried to ignore it while putting more and more of his energies into his work.

Couples therapy can facilitate this reconnection quite quickly so long as both parties are committed to making it work. A good resource is the book by Terrance Real: How Can I Get Through To You? Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women.

No matter what the future of your relationship, you can focus on regaining your own lost sense of self. Making new friends and reconnecting with old friends is important as the growth of our self-esteem occurs through our connections with others. Individual psychotherapy for you can also enhance this process.

You mention being scared of the possibility of being on your own financially. A discussion with a financial advisor at your bank can be a good start. In order to do this it is a good idea for you to have a general picture of the family finances. Far too many women are at a disadvantage as they do not know anything about it. Even in the best and most solid of relationships, both parties should be aware of finances.

Finally, while understandable, guilt need not play a role in your decisions. You are as important as anyone else and have the right and responsibility to yourself to have a fulfilling life. A technique which I find useful to gain clarity without guilt is to ask yourself the question; “If I had a daughter in this situation, what would I want for her?”

 



Q:
Why do so many men seem to have a mid-life crisis and feel they have to get out of a long-term relationship to be fulfilled?


A: As men age they are face issues of self-esteem, attractiveness, desirability and performance issues both in and out of the bedroom. It can seem a quick-fix solution to leave one’s marriage or long-term relationship in favour of a new and often younger woman. This behaviour is both devastating to their partner and totally unnecessary.

Middle age need not be a surprise nor a crisis if one lives mindfully and in touch with feelings.  Unfortunately men are still largely socialized to do neither. The caricature of the man saying to a potential new woman “my wife doesn’t understand me” may or may not be true, but if so, is largely his doing and also applies to his own lack of introspection.

Traditionally, women have been given the role of being the “feeling” one in the relationship and so also having responsibility for the emotional happiness of family members. Men are encouraged as doers but unfortunately not encouraged value their inner lives.

An ideal relationship is one where both members of the couple take responsibility for the ongoing happiness in the relationship. It is up to both partners to express their own feeling and needs and to make sure that they are understood and responded to by the other. If a man is dissatisfied with his relationship, he is responsible to communicate this to his partner and to take steps to remedy the situation. Likewise it his responsibility to discuss his feelings about aging and any accompanying self doubts. Unless men can talk out their feeling then they are doomed to act them out, often with disastrous effect.

 



Q: After numerous disappointing experiences dating, I'd like to know what types of things could I do to begin to trust men again?


A: Getting hurt is no fun. The risks and possible disappointments of dating are not for the faint of heart, and many people vow not to be vulnerable again. However, in order to find a partner one has to risk.

A good way to learn to trust men is to get to know them in other ways, i.e. as friends. Men in non-dating relationships are “just people” and thus allow you to be privy to their own struggles and ways of being. It is both supportive and helpful to be able to discuss dating conundrums with male friends.

With regards to your past disappointments. It is always useful to examine your own relationship patterns. Learn from the past. If you can learn from it then nothing has been a waste of your time. Who we are attracted to and how we engage (too quickly?) is all useful information.

The early stages of dating should be a combination of fun and interviewing. It is important to establish a man’s values, intentions and relationship patterns. While true that men may mislead, they will often tell the truth early on. The guy who says, “I’m nothing but trouble,” means it so pay attention.

 


Q: My partner lost her previous "love of her life" 19 months ago to cancer. She is, of course, still grieving and has a grief therapist. I sometimes don't know how to feel about the waves of grief that wash over my partner. She becomes distant/detached which triggers some of my insecurities. Do you have any suggestions?  Any good books for new partners of a grieving woman?  Thanks.

A: It is very difficult to go through this process with your partner. Because it is about her lost relationship with her ex-partner it may feel like she is in relationship with her, while you sit watching on the sidelines. Have patience. She is grieving, but is now in a relationship with you.

Grief has its own lifespan and cannot be hurried. It may be helpful for you to see a therapist together to help you understand what she is going through and to help you explain you own feelings to her.

 

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