Welcome to the first installment of my new blog, Softer Eyes. I very much appreciate your taking the time to check it out, and I hope that the concept of Softer Eyes will be both meaningful and useful to you in your personal and professional relationships.
For those of you who may not be aware, I am a psychologist whose work specializes in the treatment of sexual and relationship difficulties. Much of my work as a sex and relationship therapist involves working with couples, as well as individuals. Often, men and women will consult with me due to circumstances in their relationship that result in high levels of personal distress. Much of this distress becomes attributed to the behavior and/or personality characteristics of their partner. They seem to live by the late author James Thurber’s description of partner conflict regarding the desire for sex:
“…there is a very good reason why the erotic side of [man] has called forth so much more discussion lately than has his appetite for food. The reason is this: that while the urge to eat is a personal matter which concerns no one but the person hungry, the sex urge involves, for its true expression, another individual. It is this “other individual” that causes all the trouble.”
Indeed, oftentimes when couples present for therapy they are angry and resentful, and are exquisitely focused on their partner’s actual or perceived misbehavior. While this may be understandable, it is difficult for couples to move forward when they view each other through such “harsh eyes.” In other words, when many couples enter treatment, they view their partner as the primary source of their difficulty and struggle to find the good they once saw in this person they are sharing their life with.
While it is certainly true that commonly it is the behavior of one partner that precipitates the therapy consultation, and that behavior can be particularly egregious (i.e. sexual infidelity, financial misdeeds, etc.), it is also often the case that this behavior, while extremely hurtful, may not have sprung from malicious intent. Oftentimes, people behave badly when they themselves are struggling, and while this is certainly no excuse for hurting another, they may not be the “evil” person they are currently seen as being.
It is at times such as these that I often recommend that couples try to view each other through “softer eyes.” Softer eyes are eyes that recognize a person’s suffering, and can offer a compassionate view of the other, in spite of that person’s poor behavior. Most of the time when I see a couple in therapy, I find myself looking at two hurting people who are both suffering from some deep unhappiness. While amends will need to be made, recognition that one’s partner is hurting and both are in pain is helpful in assisting distressed couples heal and move forward together.
Couples in distress can often find their way back to the loving, caring, supportive relationship they once had. Trying to view your partner through softer eyes is likely to help you take the first steps toward that goal. While this may be difficult to do in the early stages of distress, couples therapy can be a great aid in assisting the brokenhearted couple navigate this emotionally challenging journey.
Stay tuned for future installments of this blog to see the process of softer eyes in action.