Relationships; Magic Pill Series, Part II

This continues the newest series in a dialog stream between therapists Deborah Leeds, MFT and Josh Gressel, Ph.D. exploring relationship issues.

”Are we going to land on the clouds?!” — A three year-old on my Southwest flight, upon hearing the pilot talk about landing as we flew above thick cloud cover.

Dear Josh,

I love the idea of this “magic pill”; Not to promote fantasy, but because it lets us imagine something beyond what we are most automatically inclined to assume about ourselves and others. It allows us other possibilities and perspectives. We get to discover gems in our own wisdom; glimpses of ourselves “outside the box”.

The pill I would like to prescribe today is a homeopathic remedy. As you know, homeopathic medicine is based, in part, on taking in a tiny bit of a malady to trigger the body’s natural immune response to that specific, unwanted ailment. 

So it is with the ICDT tablet. The ”I Can Do This” tablet is taken under the tongue. The important element in using this pill is the timing.  As soon as you feel yourself reacting to your partner, you pop the pill under your tongue and pause. During that pause, you take stock of your experience, “I’m getting really aggravated. Doesn’t he know that he’s the one who started this whole thing! I only said that because I thought.... Ok...My heart is beating a bit fast, and I am getting angry and defensive. But! I have taken the ICDT tablet! It reminds me that I can take a breath, quiet my reactions, and really see and hear my partner out. I CAN try to understand his/her experience, and even empathize with what he/she is describing as true for them in their experience. I may be uncomfortable, but.... I just took that little pill! I can be softer here. I can trust the probability that, by doing this, conflict will not escalate, and I can give my partner the respect and opportunity to be heard. And that is who I want to be in this relationship.”

Our reactions happen fast, which is why we say they are “triggered”; The familiar downpour of feelings, associations, assumptions and responses includes the quiet presence of helplessness as we face a familiar conflict or disappointing encounter with our partners. The repetition of our tougher relationship dynamics erode our feelings for our partners, our confidence in our relationship, and  our personal sense of being able to handle things well. “Same s--t, different day”. Such a demoralized feeling!

I love the “I Can Do This” pill because it is as empowering as a statement like that would have to be! I CAN tolerate discomfort and not react off it so fast. I CAN calm down. I CAN listen, and stretch myself, and find out that I am bigger than I thought I was.

The result: I grow my confidence in myself as a person and as a partner.I see that I can trust my partner and my relationship. We CAN be allies.

I would like to close with a story about one of my puppies. Her name is Gracie. She is smart as all get-out, and she is....well, a puppy. So when we go out for a walk, she wants to run. I want her to stop pulling my neck out of alignment. So I stop walking, stand still as she pulls at the leash, and tell her, “Gracie! Walk with me!”. Because she is so smart (she is my dog....I get to say that) she quickly figured out that not only do we resume the walk when she stops pulling, but that maybe it is even better if she puts it in reverse, walking backwards to where I stand. So smart! The thing is, she cries a little when she does it. She knows it is the “right” thing, but it is so counter-intuitive to her impulse to run forward that she has to wrestle with herself about it. (I know this because she told me.) And, she has learned that this is the way we move forward together. Or at all!

These steps we take in working with ourselves in relationship can feel entirely counter-intuitive. Of course! Every part of our protective brain impulse says, “Fight! Flee!”

And this principle says: Stay. Breathe. Be kind with myself, and stay contained. Open farther than I think I can. Find out. Make space for my partner even though I want to have my say. Try to understand why he/she might feel what they are feeling. See what good medicine this is for our relationship.

Find out that I Can Do This.

The chatty three year-old on my Southwest flight who said “Are we going to land on the clouds?!” caught my attention not only because she was so dang cute, but because she reminded me of that state of mind wherein one thing is just as possible as another. We have far more inviting possibilities when we are open than when we are stuck.

What’s next on your px. pad?


Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog?  Ask Deborah in the comments below or email her at deborahleeds.com.

Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA. Visit her website at deborahleeds.com

Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rusty Bridges November 02, 2012 at 04:01 PM
It really sounds like a lot of these relationships need to be ended and the parties need to move on. I've been married 18 years and never experienced such turmoil. People should be coached on how to pick a wife/husband with whom they're compatible rather than learning how to put up with someone they already picked.
Josh Gressel, Ph.D. November 02, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Hi Rusty: I congratulate you and your partner for having relatively smooth sailing for 18 years. Alas, that is not the reality for a great many folks, and I don't think it stems from lack of foresight on their part. I believe there are a great many reasons we choose our partners, only a tiny tiny fraction of which we're aware of before the wedding. So for the vast majority of us -- certainly me as well -- it is necessary to learn how to be the right partner after the commitment is already made. This involves turmoil, forgiveness, hard work, and a whole lot of other things. I don't think it means anyone made the wrong choice -- just that it requires a lot of conscious effort to get to the smooth sailing you enjoy. The payoff is not only the smooth sailing, but also the growth that occurs on the way to getting there. Thanks for commenting.
Chris J Kapsalis November 02, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Also your love and commentment are tested, and if it fails it was not meant to be. If it passes all these tests then you know it is for real and you come out wiser and stronger. I don't think we truly know about a lot of things before we actually do them. Being married is one of them.
Deborah Leeds, MFT November 05, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Hi Chris- Boy do I hear that! Sometimes it is the recognition that we just can't keep doing what we automatically do that gets us looking for alternatives. And....we change and grow as we go (as you say in your second comment). My mentor in working with couples as a therapist - Hedy Schleifer - has been married for something like 47 years. She is fond of saying that she and her husband are "on our fifth marriage"; that their relationship is different and yet different again, based on their experiences, and the growth they have had through their experience. I am glad -for you and your partner- that you are finding ways to do things differently, and finding easier ways to get through disagreements. Deborah Leeds
Deborah Leeds, MFT November 05, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Hi Emily- I love this: the reminder that your partner is not trying to hurt you. THAT is a great way to interrupt the unconscious place that you could otherwise go - I know that I do! - of assuming intentions by our partner that are not there. Thank you for this good advice! Deborah Leeds


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