Is A Perfect Relationship Possible?

We meet someone and discover many good things about them… They are smart, and kind, and honest… But is it possible that such a relationship could meet all of our needs and wants?

People are not perfect, so relationships cannot be perfect. And even if we meet someone who has many qualities that we value and desire, and we hope that they could somehow be our forever “soul mate,” they could never measure up to everything on our long list of expectations. If our list of expectations is even realistic…

Like all humans, even those who seem to be a good fit for us, they come with baggage. Like you, they have good days and bad days. There will be things about this person that are not all you hoped for or that you do not like very much. There will be flaws and imperfections. But if you heart is open and you know this person honestly and freely, accepting them as they are, they can be right for you.

John Gray, Ph.D. shares the following metaphor…

“When a caterpillar makes its transformation into a butterfly, it is not an easy process. The little butterfly struggles to break free of the cocoon. In that very process of struggling to get out, the butterfly exercises its wing muscles and builds up the necessary strength to fly. If you compassionately cut open the cocoon to make it easier for the butterfly, it will never gain the strength to fly. Instead it just dies.” A soul mate should not make our life painless. If they did they would rob us of the opportunity to grow strong as our own person.

But, Gray continues… “If your life partner did not challenge you in some ways, the best would not be drawn from you. Soul mates are the perfect partners to bring out the best in us, and sometimes that is done by having to work through issues. In a marriage (and certainly any enduring relationship) you have to overcome all kinds of negative tendencies — being too judgmental, critical, selfish, compliant, demanding, needy, rigid, accommodating, righteous, doubtful, impatient, and so on. A soul mate gives you the opportunity to rise above those tendencies. When your dark side surfaces, you become stronger and more loving by exercising the love you feel deep in your heart, determined to resolve an issue. In this process, your soul, like the butterfly, has a chance to fly free.”

butterfly 2

However, if you are a person who expects perfection in relationships, you may find it difficult to be satisfied with any one person unless you are first willing to open your heart. Opening your heart is scary, leaving you vulnerable, subject to hurt and rejection, forcing you to face your dark side. Yet only in taking these brave steps along with another that you trust can you grow to be all you can be…

Perhaps it is actually an imperfect person that you ultimately discover is your true soul mate…


Gray, John. (1997). Mars and Venus on a Date: A Guide for Navigating the 5 Stages of Dating to Create a Loving and Lasting Relationship. Harper-Collins Publishers.

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Marital Distress

Marital distress is extremely common. Any person who has experienced significant marital distress, or witnessed the feelings of a friend or family member in the midst of such distress, easily recognizes that troubled marriages are among the most complex and upsetting of human problems. Powerful feelings of sadness, anger, rage, disbelief, shock, and depression typically accompany high levels of marital distress. Unhappiness and conflict in a marriage can be a major factor in the genesis of diagnosable individual psychopathology such as dysthymic disorder. And for many, marital distress ultimately results in divorce with its myriad of additional difficulties and risk factors.

Statistics regarding distressed marriages in our society point to how overwhelming and insidious a problem this is. Studies typically find 20% of the population to be maritally distressed at any moment in time (Gurman & Fraenkel, 2002). The divorce rate has stabilized, with approximately half of all marriages ending in divorce. Ten to fifteen percent of couples separate in the first four years of marriage, and only 70% make it through the first decade of marriage. Sobering facts…

Whisman (1999) found a strong association between marital dissatisfaction and the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in general, and that of each of the major 15 groups of psychiatric disorders. Typically, rates of these disorders were double for those who were maritally distressed compared to those who were not. Among those with significant levels of marital distress, 15% had concurrent mood disorders, 28% anxiety disorders, and 15% alcohol and substance use disorders. Numerous studies have also demonstrated the impact of marital distress on physical health, decreased work productivity, and on the frequency and severity of problems in children (the latter especially in marriages in which there are high levels of conflict) (Snyder & Whisman, 2004). Given its impact, it is no surprise that marital distress is the most frequent problem for which people seek psychotherapy, with a full 40% of clients surveyed reporting that this is the reason they sought treatment (Gurman & Fraenkel, 2002).

A copule clarifications are necessary concerning the term “marital distress” as used in this blog. Marital distress” refers to one or both partners in a committed relationship experiencing a high level of dissatisfaction about that relationships and distressed feelings accompanying that state. Thus, marital distress only requires that one partner be experiencing the relationship as distressed; if one partner does, the relationship is considered distressed. And, to experience marital distress, one does not need to be legally married. Those in longstanding, committed relationships who are not married are equally likely to experience these difficulties. For examples, gay and lesbian couples living in states that do not legally recognize their unions are just as vulnerable to these problems as legally married couples. Thus, the word “marital” is use to describe the full range of committed couple relationships. Therefore the terms “marital therapy” and “couple therapy” are interchangeable.

Check back for more information about marital distress and ways to ease the discomfort and set the stage for a healthy outcome…


Lebow, Jay. May/June, 2005. AAMFT Clinical Update: Marital Distress.

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Managing Stress

What is stress?  Stress is the common, nonspecific response to the demands and the wear and tear of whatever happens to a living being.  It is a generalized physiological and psychological reaction to anything that threatens a person’s survival. Traumatic events are certainly stressful. Even relatively happy events, like weddings and vacations, carry elements of stress for us.

Picture yourself as a target. When you live and work in harmony with your body and the demands around you, you function well. You are in the center of the target. You are creative, productive, and unstressed. When your actions move you away from the bull’s-eye, you experience stress.

Being a little off target (experiencing mild stress) can spur your creativity and help you learn more about yourself so you can grow. But getting too far off center can bring disharmony, dis-ease or distress, which often has destructive results like illness, depression, violent behavior, and accidents.

Your attitude (clear thinking) plays a crucial role in mastering stress. It is healthy to realize that some things are beyond our control — such as weather, world wars, and diseases. When you realize this fact you will discover more energy to change the things within your control. Learn to let go of physical tension. One way to do this is by getting involved in strenuous physical exercise or practices such as yoga and tai-chi, which is a Chinese form of physical exercise characterized by a series of very slow and deliberate balletic body movements.

What is family stress?  Family stress is the state of responding non-harmoniously to the pileup of changing family events.

Example:  When dad was hospitalized unexpectedly, mom was needed by his side leaving teenage son to baby-sit the younger children instead of going to an after school job and preparing for college entrance exams. The whole family was worried about how to pay their enormous medical bills.

Serious, single stressful events and pileup situations call for creative planning to master family stress.  It is the flexible and resourceful family that adapts to changes and challenges. This type of family controls its level of stress by how it responds to events.

There are three (3) steps necessary to master family stress:

    1. recognize symptoms
    2. identify sources
    3. take action

It is important to recognize symptoms of stress.  These are warning signals; flashing red lights. Some examples of warning signals are sleeplessness, irritability, physical symptoms such as headaches and backaches, frequent parent-child conflicts, communication breakdowns, child/school difficulties, anger/criticism, fault finding, sarcasm, marital conflicts. Deeper problems show up in alcohol and substance abuse, child and/or spouse abuse, running away, chronic depression, physical/verbal hostility.  It is important to recognize that often the entire family is under stress rather than thinking that only one member has a problem. This is an important first step in crisis and stress management.

Sources of stress can be either expected or unexpected. Some examples of expected sources of stress are birth of a baby, youngest child entering school, a young adult moving out on their own, or retirement. Examples of unexpected stress are generally easier to recognize. Examples of unhappy unexpected stress might be relocation, serious illness, or a tornado. Examples of happy unexpected stress might be a surprise visit from a relative, a bumper crop, or a promotion.

To take action to better manage crisis and stress involves:

    1. controlling events
    2. controlling attitudes
    3. controlling responses
    4. recognizing and using resources

Ways to control events include planning ahead, anticipating stress and strains ahead of time, setting priorities, making family time a high priority, and simplifying your life.

Controlling your attitudes has to do with how you look at or perceive events. By putting things into perspective you feel a degree of control — this often leads to acting in control. Other ways of controlling attitudes is to work to be flexible, adjust your expectations of yourself and others, turn your crises into challenges and opportunities for growth, avoid rushing yourself and others, notice your accomplishments, and forgive your failures. Making lists of your accomplishments and failures to forgive can be helpful.

Try to control the responses you have to stressful events. We have a choice in how we respond to a stressful event. Individuals can learn to take better care of self. Other healthy methods of controlling responses include communicating well (use I-statements rather than you-statements), make time to listen to viewpoints of others in a manner that communicates genuine respect and concern, regularly schedule one-to-one time with each family member, encourage honest expression of feelings (both positive and negative).

When anger surfaces, ask what it is that the angry person needs/wants right now, use physical exercise, negotiate differences as they arise and focus on the present, express sincere appreciation, maintain physical health through rest, exercise, and diet, relax at meals and talk about positive events, take a mental vacation being who you want to be doing what you want to do, enjoy a sunset, unwind before bedtime by doing stretching exercises, listening to some soothing music, relaxing deeply.

Recognize and use all your resources. This includes knowing when to reach out for help (which is NOT a sign of weakness), knowing your own limits for stress, and actively seeking assistance from others. Resources include things like individual strengths, the family as a group (when working together you may find more strength than when working alone), relatives and friends, religious community, community resources, counselors. Be sure to always maintain a strong social support system.

Relaxation techniques include things like:

    1. diaphragmatic breathing (try it when you can’t sleep or you feel tense)
    2. progressive muscle relaxation
    3. imagery (mental vacation)
    4. count back from 24 (self-hypnosis)

It is always important to take care of yourself…

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