Courage in the Face of A Monstrous Act

December 22nd, 2012

As a grandfather who is a marriage and family therapist, I refuse to shy away from feeling agony in solidarity with the Newtown community. This is a time for collective grieving over those who were killed and the pain of their loved ones. It is high time to cry out in support of change in our gun laws to prevent further senseless violence.

Standing up to violence takes enormous courage. It cost several teachers their lives. But, in their honor, what can we learn from their instantaneous protection of the children in their care? What about our “little” verbal assaults on those closest to us? Don’t we often do violence in our most important relationships? Isn’t violence on a continuum so that even every-day examples, often overlooked or minimized, can be seen in relation to monstrous acts in need of change?

Change isn’t easy. It takes courage to acknowledge when our anger gets out of hand. It takes courage to face our shame and pledge better behavior and then show it by our actions. It takes courage to face new missteps and ask for trust yet again. To really be in solidarity with Newtown’s courageous community, we all need to change by looking in the mirror at our own behavior. We are all responsible for the violence in our society.

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Turn An Extra-Marital Affair Into A Healing Crisis

September 14th, 2012

Turn your marital crisis into a healing crisis by using it to learn and grow. Find a trustworthy professional who knows how to be on both of your sides to walk you through to a deeper love. Couples have much to learn about how to express and hear each other’s feelings—fears, hurts, angers, hopes, and dreams. A couple needs to develop real emotional connections and that can happen in the face of an extra-marital affair. Reclaim the intimacy that was in your marriage and got lost, or find what you never had and move on in an informed and healing way.

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Committing to Monogamy Prevents Infidelity

September 14th, 2012

Committing to monogamy prevents infidelity. Infidelity is a symptom, not a cause. Feeling remorse and “good” shame are how you know you’ve crossed a line. Then you realize you’ve gone against yourself and hurt your partner in the process. What kind of a commitment is necessary? If your commitment is so your partner won’t stray it won’t work because you can’t control someone else’s behavior. You can only be in control of your own. Committing to monogamy is a commitment you make to yourself. When both of you do this, the maturity required provides a safety-net for the vulnerability to learn how to express and hear each other’s feelings—fears, hurts, angers, hopes, and dreams. That’s emotional intimacy that can combine with sexual intimacy in a growing relationship.

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There Really Is Hope: Relationship Advice for Baby Boomers

September 14th, 2012

As a couples therapist, I often happily see Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. I know their needs and sensibilities. I work with them to save their long-term marriages. Sometimes they find a way to grow in their marriage. Other times they finally divorce and are single again, seeking to find new partners, and re-marry. They allow me to dig in deep with them to find different pathways to wholeness. They know that there are no quick and easy solutions, but they have the courage to roll up their sleeves and re-invent themselves to have a chance at becoming “later-life romantic partners.”

One couple I have seen through divorce and re-marriage provides a valuable example of transformational change in them and in their ability to create and sustain a vital and nurturing relationship. What did this couple learn about relating that we can all benefit from? Three major elements crucial to relationships that work include: tolerating discomfort for growth, recognizing the power of vulnerability, and finding healing humor every day.

1. Being able to tolerate and learn from discomfort is essential to relationship longevity. That means all kinds of discomfort—including emotional, physical, and spiritual.

  • This couple’s previous marriages were unusually harsh and left them emotionally wounded and particularly raw. The positive side of that is that there was no way they could hide their pain from themselves or each other. Nor could they pretend that they didn’t have major work ahead. They knew from the very beginning that their meeting was a godsend for each of them. They also knew they could reveal any of their limitations in order to grow and protect their new relationship. For example, as uncomfortable as it might be, they needed to expose their foibles to themselves and each other and risk criticism. They found that healthy shame—that leads to self-awareness, accountability, and new behavior—is truly liberating.
  • There is also a spiritual dimension to helping older divorced couples. Their growing self-acceptance and understanding can benefit all concerned, including their respective children and extended family. That proved to be the case with this couple since their marriage had a significant impact on the man’s relationship with his daughter and her child. The developing relationship among the three adults proved to be profoundly healing for all of them, particularly in their shared recognition of the devotion they all had to providing the granddaughter with a truly nurturing childhood. Instead of casting a blind eye on the past, this kind of intergenerational family learning is associated with maturity and wisdom gained through everyone’s hard work.

2. Being able to be vulnerable with each other is equally critical to success in any marriage, including between Baby Boomers. Yet being vulnerable in a relationship is complex. However, let me say that being vulnerable, when it’s safe to do so, often opens up doors and hearts to communication like nothing else.

  • With this couple, when the man grasped that his issues of abandonment in relation to her were his issues, he moved from being a jealous and insecure partner, to being a man willing to face the benefits of his vulnerability. He took responsibility for his feelings. He stopped finding fault with his partner for allegedly abandoning him. And she felt his pain and supported him in his connecting to his self-worth. Then his abandonment issues lessened considerably. He saw her as a friend who was equally vulnerable in her genuine wish not to hurt him. He utilized “feeling abandoned” to access his self-worth and found greater comfort with his vulnerability and an inner strength.
  • Once she could face her own insecurities and resistance around being complimented for her many admirable qualities, she moved from being a tough, though well-meaning, do-gooder to being a soft and open, loving and more lovable woman. He then felt free to show his love and admiration for her, including as a caregiver. She, in turn, took in his perceptive awareness as they both, in their mutual vulnerability, deepened in their capacity to express their fears and their love.

3. On a lighter but equally important note, natural and spontaneous humor that is healing is a gift to couples. Some come by it easily, since it is often associated with being in love. This couple continually found laughter and humor in the little moments and in their underlying good will and positive regard. They were in love and wanted to keep it that way, and their humor was a signpost and means for their love to continue.

  • Humor here, doesn’t mean laughing at the manufactured joke. It means being lighthearted or whimsical, and laughing uproariously at the absurdity of the “crazy” twists and turns that relationship and life serve up. Insightful humor can be a healthy way to gain distance from getting stuck in emotional turmoil. With this couple, she was going through an extremely unpleasant divorce proceeding with her ex in the courts. She stood up for herself beautifully, and in the process, found the balance between humor and an anger that was appropriate and not self-defeating. No wonder that humor is praised for its healing properties.
  • Laughing at ourselves—at the absurdity of our thoughts and what we say and do—is also time-honored in getting beyond an impasse and bringing creative movement to a relationship.

So, I would encourage Baby Boomers who might be reluctant to take the step, to trust that there is still time to be in a loving relationship. Everyone has a right to give and receive love with a romantic partner at whatever stage of life.

© 2012, Matthew Cohen. All Rights Reserved.

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Find The Courage to Really Touch Again

September 14th, 2012

Bringing back the spark in your marriage is about touching. Touching that is tender, gentle, nurturing, and sexy infuses a marriage with aliveness.  When circumstances, such as the demands of family and work, get in the way of the immediacy of simply being with each other and touching each other, what can we do? We can be real and aligned with each other in the face of stress and feeling overwhelmed. This creates a bond that lessens the fear and hurt that keeps couples apart. Even in the presence of difficulties, couples can discover and make choices that bring them together again. When, instead of being resentful or heavy handed, you find the courage to be lighthearted and playful, you are rekindling the spark.

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What Is Courage?

September 11th, 2012

What is Courage? The main definition is the ability to conquer fear or despair. Often “courage” is what someone else tells us we are exhibiting. We may say, “Really?” in a quizzical voice. But after thinking about it for a bit, we might get to, “I guess I was courageous.” Both these responses involve being courageous and vulnerable at the same time. Vulnerability and courage go together. We usually think that being courageous equals being strong. And it is. It means connecting to our inner-strength that is greater than our fears. It allows us to take “risks” even when we’re feeling fear. But when we’re feeling vulnerable, we typically feel anything but strong. It takes inner strength to confront these fears.

“Brave” is often thought of as being the same as courage, but it isn’t. Bravery can be an outward manifestation of courage. What makes them different is the absence or presence of a feeling of vulnerability. Doing or saying something that we’ve been afraid of—and doing it anyway even when we’re feeling fearful—takes courage.

One can be brave without being courageous. “Brave” is not about the inner experience of vulnerability, as in conquering fear or despair. It is about being outwardly strong, as in being valiant. There may be no clear place for being vulnerable when you’re being “brave.” Being brave requires uncommon action. It is not a time for introspection.

I am reminded of a client, a submarine commander during WWII, who was walled off from his feelings. For this, his wife divorced him. When I worked with him to help him get in touch with his body, he unexpectedly re-experienced being at the periscope with depth charges dropping around his submarine. By the time he was in therapy, he could feel the fear that he had not felt, and could not have allowed himself to feel, in battle. It would have gotten in the way of his bravery. In war, he needed to save his men and his submarine. Once he understood this, he came in to his next therapy session in touch with all kinds of new feelings and looking twenty years younger. He definitely was a courageous man in having lain on my bodywork table and allowing me to help him become more in touch with his body and his hidden feelings. Facing himself in the present was all the more courageous considering how out of touch with his emotions he had been prior to his coming for therapy.

So, being courageous is not about being without fear. On the contrary, it is about not letting our fears rule the day even if, and especially if, we have been allowing that to happen for a long time. Any shame in associating fear with “weakness” only adds to the courage it will take to conquer our fears. When we perform the act of self-liberation by acknowledging our fears, there can be instant relief and exhilaration, as there was for this former submarine commander.

Life presents us with abundant opportunities for courage, both large and small. And living life as a transformational journey means finding our courage to heal.

I look forward to your sharing your stories and wisdom about courage.

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Welcome to Courage in Therapy

September 11th, 2012

Welcome to Courage In Therapy. I am Matthew Cohen, a Marriage & Family Therapist, and this is my blog. I’ve recently published a new book When Words Aren’t Enough (March, 2012) and for a Free Chapter of my book go to It is fundamentally about transformational change in psychotherapy. It demonstrates the courage it takes to create the honesty and healthy vulnerability that is vital in psychotherapy and in life. My blog is about the courage to change and to heal.

I hope you find my blog informative and inspiring. I look forward to many fruitful exchanges. Please feel free to contribute and comment, and I will respond.

The courage it takes for transformational change means conquering our inner fears. It means exposing ourselves to ourselves—airing the “weakness” that we have been ashamed of—and at the same time doing so in the presence of a trusted other. This trusted other may be the person we feel closest to—a marital partner, or a family member, or a close friend, or a trusted therapist.

My book had to meet my authenticity requirements. It had to be as life-like as possible—describing real people with real problems. And it needed to show real change. To accomplish this I used verbatim transcripts extensively.

While writing my book I happened upon this quote. I deeply resonate with it in my work and in my life.

All, everything that I understand, I understand
only because I love.” __Leo Tolstoy


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