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A Psychoanalyst Talks About How Couples Can Prevent Divorce the Second Time Around

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What happens when a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and a Jungian analyst get together to write a book for partners facing a crisis in their marriage? You get a fascinating mix of insights that draw on attachment theory, Freudian analysis, Jungian dream and shadow work, neurobiology, and good-old self-help strategies. Couples at the Crossroads is the new book by Daniela Roher Ph.D and Susan E. Schwartz Ph.D, whose combined therapeutic experience spans more than 50 years.

I sat down with Dr. Roher to talk about how couples in second marriages can keep their relationship healthy and strong and prevent some of the mistakes they made the first time around. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:

How can partners in a second marriage avoid some of the common pitfalls that may have contributed to the end of their first marriage, such as blaming the other person for the way their life is turning out?

When couples are in pain, they tend to use most of their resources on getting rid of the pain, at all costs, and feel better. It's easier to believe that, "My relationship is the cause of my pain," than to look inside and explore what may be wrong with them.

What can spouses do instead of blaming?

Introspection and reflection are two ways in which we can know the difference between what's ours and what's our partner's. Introspection is the process of looking within. Reflection is the process of looking at ourselves from the outside, putting things in perspective and looking at the whole picture.

We ask ourselves: Is this a pattern that existed before now, before this current relationship? Did I notice it in my previous intimate relationships? Did my partner act this way in his or her previous relationship?

This is for sure one of the most difficult and challenging tasks to accomplish when addressing problems in a relationship. After all, nobody wants to look at their part in creating and maintaining relational problems. However, unless we reflect on our role in the difficulties we experience, we stay stuck blaming our partner and we make no progress.

Why is it necessary for partners to reconnect with their past in order to maintain a healthy second marriage?

We are who we are today because of who we were yesterday, because of who we have been throughout our lives. There is continuity and consistency in the way we relate and attach to others, both as young children and as adults. Our past experiences of attachment and love determine, to a great extent, what we come to expect from intimacy, how we see ourselves, and where our main insecurities and fears lie.

The process of exploring and understanding our past and its role and influence in our current interpersonal challenges is extremely fruitful and relevant when done together with our partner, because it breaks down barriers and bonds us to one another in deeper and more intimate ways. However, in order to be healing, this experience requires honesty, openness, sincerity and authenticity on both partners' parts.

How can dreams bring helpful insights into the marriage?

Dreams do not predict the future, nor do they tell us what to do, literally. Rather, they point to areas that we might otherwise ignore, avoid, or deny because we do not want to, or feel we cannot, deal with them. At some deep level we "know" what is happening, but consciously we have no awareness of it. Dreams thus open up windows for us that show snippets of what's underneath the surface of things, providing us with a more in-depth view of reality, both internal and external, that enriches and adds more dimensions to our experiences.

What's the difference between a rough spot and what you call "the crossroads," which is more serious?

Reaching the crossroads feels quite different than hitting a rough spot. The difference is one of intensity and substance, just like the difference between sadness and depression. When we are sad, our feelings may be limited to an event, or a situation, but when we are depressed, the feelings of doom and gloom spread over everything and are everywhere. The same applies to the difference between hitting a rough spot and getting to the crossroads in a relationship. In the first case, the difficulties may be limited to a specific area or an event, and affect only certain feelings while other areas may be left unscathed. Couples, in these cases, may still feel love toward one another or, when their feelings change, the changes are typically momentary. Being at the crossroads, on the other hand, makes partners question everything in their relationship. The feelings they experience -- intense anger, rage, disappointment, frustration, powerlessness, hurt and fear -- typically last longer and are more endemic.

What should you do if you hit a rough spot in your second marriage?

You cannot tackle the "big" issues until you can feel empathy for each other again. And empathy requires moving away from the intense feelings that get couples to the crossroads and keeps them stuck there. When you are very angry with your partner, hurt, or intensely scared, you cannot access any empathy for him or her. You are too consumed by what's happening to you, and expect your partner to remove the pain by stopping what he or she is doing and making you feel better. So, tackling the big issues becomes an exercise in futility. You need to start from reconnecting via "neutral" areas first.

What are some ways to keep a second marriage strong?

In our book, we talk about the value and importance of creating "connecting bridges" between partners. These are ways in which partners relate with one another that build a common ground between them, relying on positive past experiences together. When connecting bridges are in place on a regular basis, they give partners the message that they are important to one another, valuable, cherished and, above all, loved. And, after all, this is what makes couples feel secure and trusting in intimate relationships.