Is Your Relationship Stuck?

Bruce Derman, Ph.D.

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Your relationship has hit a wall. Both of you want it to work, but you're caught up in a seemingly never ending roller coaster of blame and counterattacks. You only have eyes for the other's faults, and if you can't alter this view you are going to end up as another divorce statistic.

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This scenario results when couples unconsciously play the "difference" game. The game is played anytime the partners are using their differences to prove one of them is better or less than the other. This pursuit is the one common link for all intimate relationships that are in trouble, chaotic, or stuck.

Some of the scenarios that couples attempt to prove are: "I am more emotionally developed." This is accomplished by one partner pointing out that the other is on a constant emotional seesaw, while they pose as the stable one.

"I am more open." They explain that their partner won't share anything about his or her life, so that they feel shut out or ignored.

"I am the problem." This results when the partner ties one's lack of sexual interest to the presence of a deep seated problem.

Other favorite phrases include:

I am more committed
I am hurt more
I am more misunderstood

The purpose of playing the Difference Game is to protect each partner from moving beyond their safe comfort zone and risking some unknown and unacceptable feeling, thought, or image. The answer to the ranking of the difference game and its distancing effects is learning to develop a mutual attitude toward yourself and your partner. This perception allows you to see the equality that is at the core of your relationship. It is the real bond that exists between the two of you. An intimate connection can only occur between equals, where there is a deep recognition that we are:

equally hurt
equally frightened
equally powerful and powerless

To support this attitude, the mutual process shows you how to:

see beneath the differences
discover your sameness
realize that your capacity for love and intimacy is equal

The task of sustaining this attitude with your partners is not an easy one. It is essential that you no longer get seduced into believing hierarchical statements, such as: "he's a controlling person," "she's manipulative," "he's a selfish person," or, "she plays games." On the level playing field of mutuality there is a recognition that we all are controlling, manipulative, selfish, and play games. The only difference is in the style in which we choose to do it.

The core of the mutual attitude is permission and acceptance. The permission to express and accept the integrity, without exception, of all one's thoughts, feelings, and images is central to this approach. This includes permission to feel:

guilty
powerless
insecure
scared
successful

The more of your human nature that you can accept, the more you can be that much less frightened, defensive, or hidden. You then have a greater capacity to experience your fullest passion.

However, you need to remember that for all of us who are used to playing within the safe confines of the difference game, mutuality is an experience we are not accustomed to. The mutual path, although risky, does offer its sense of acceptance, respect, and integrity of the loving connection we all long for.

5/29/98

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Bruce Derman, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist, with over 20 years experience in doing psychotherapy with couples. He is the co-author with Michael Hauge of *We'd Have a Great Relationship if it Weren't for You*. The book is available though the Bookshelf Catalog. Dr. Derman is also staff psychologist at the Men's Center of Los Angeles.

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