Relationship Troubles

Let’s perform a thought experiment.

You are a marriage counselor. Deb and Brian come to your clinic, seeking help for their recently troubled relationship.

Sure, you say, tell me your story. Well, they say, they’ve been happily together for almost ten years. Then, in a conversation to decide where to celebrate their tenth anniversary, Brian said some passive comment about how Deb always wants to go to the beach and just sit around. Deb got defensive, and said something about how Brian can’t just relax sometimes. This escalated into a full-blown shouting match, and several have followed since.

What do you, as the therapist, focus on? Probably not the “anniversary vacation” conversation itself, right? We’d be foolhardy to think Deb and Brian’s relationship troubles started with that conversation, or that they’ll go away if we created rules that they can never talk about tenth anniversaries, or maybe anniversaries in general if we wanted to be a little more holistic about it.

As in: the problem isn’t the content, or the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The problem, in this case, is something underlying that might show up as an argument about a vacation, or just as easily as one of infinite issues couples can argue about. It probably won’t resolve until we get more fundamental … unless you as a counselor want to keep putting out small fires, which is a great way to stay employed.

You probably see where I’m going with this.

Is it so different to see the internal relationships of the body in a similar light? A system under physiological stress can adapt and cope and deal … until it can’t, not as well at least.

Interestingly, though understandably I suppose, seeing our health in this way is not really the norm in medicine. There is a certain logic that this one thing is the problem so it’s this one thing that needs to be fixed, because it’s only this one thing that hurts and is grabbing all of our attention.

It’s a classic and oft-told story: “I bent over to pick up whatever, when wham, my back went out.” So we go into someone to work on the back, concluding that we must’ve just really picked up that box in a weird way (which may well be true). We mend the damage done, analogously, by the anniversary vacation argument.

But what then?

Please don’t take this to suggest we should all be paranoid that imbalances in the body will eventually lead to pain and disease (an interesting article on this here), or that finding the deeper source of pain is hopelessly holistic and therefore vague and untrackable. That’s not particularly helpful, either.

This is an invitation to look at your own experience with your own health.

Is it really that crazy to say neck pain is a whole-system issue? Or that the causes of plantar fasciitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome, are not isolated to the tissues displaying the symptoms?

Are you interested in putting out small fires, or in finding out what’s with everything being so combustible?

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4 Responses to Relationship Troubles

  1. Lesley McClurg says:

    I believe the body will start speaking when its under distress and will continue speaking until its heard. I learned this several years ago when my body began to show signs of distress. Initially the signs felt minor. I tweaked a hamstring doing yoga. Then torqued a few ribs in a back bend. Then my hip suddenly inflamed after a night of dancing. This continued for several months until one night my appendix burst. I ended up in the hospital for six days because they initially mis-diagnosed the appendix rupture. Because they did a lot of tests while I laid up in my sterile room I learned that my “subtle” injuries weren’t really so small. I had actually torn my hamstring, broken three rips and my hip was completely out of alignment. They also did some muscle testing that revealed my body was chronically exhausted. The doctor literally said my reaction times were similar to an 85 year old woman (I was 25 at the time).

    The lesson for me was not only that our injuries are part of a larger issue going on (in my case I needed a lot more recovery time and good ole sleep) but I also was only “hearing” the severity of my pain as deeply as I “wanted” to. I was ignoring reality because I wanted to continue my athletic pursuits.

    As you may guess I ended up recovering a lot longer than I would have if I would have been listening to my body’s story with more compassion.

    • Liam Bowler says:

      Thanks for sharing that story, Lesley. Yeah, super driven athletes (like yourself) often have a hard time stopping going, eh? That’s been most of my injuries, too. But like you said, eventually, reality wins out.

  2. Jana Goodman says:

    A very apt and approachable analogy, Liam. thanks for taking the time to share your theraputic insights in “lay person” language. I get it!

  3. Pingback: Good Posture: Look Somewhere Else |

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