Monthly Archives: February 2015

What have you done to my wife?

Years ago, a colleague of mine, Justin Frank, presented a paper titled, “Who are you and what have you done to my wife?” Falling in love is such a wonderful experience. But then within a few years of married life something strange happens. Your spouse seems different, irritating, disappointing, maybe even pathological! Why?


In my case, I fell in love with a fantasy and over time met my wife instead. What a crisis I thought that was! I was disappointed she was not the same as my fantasy. I didn’t realize that. I just thought she should be the way I thought she should be. Unfortunately, no one asked me, “Jon, who made you God?” So my suffering due to fantasy had to be protracted.


Then there was a later realization. If I couldn’t love her as she was, I should let her go, so someone else could love her the way she was. It was not her job to live up to my fantasies. If I thought these fantasies were so important, maybe I should live up to them myself. Hmm. Not possible.


So I had to go to the internal divorce court and divorce my fantasy. It was a very painful proceeding, extending over years. As I divorced my fantasy, I was able to marry my wife instead. Thank heavens. 35 years and still going.


Like many people, to some degree, I was in love with my fantasy rather than my wife. I could see the value in my fantasy, but this blinded me to her inner beauty, her inherent value underneath her flaws and difficulties (Translation: her departures from my fantasy).


All we have to do is read the magazine titles at the drug store on how to be the “perfect” partner, “34 moves that will sexually awaken your spouse”, and how to “revive” a dead marriage. But no article says that relationships die if you try to manipulate each other into being perfect people, perfect mates, and Olympic sexual partners. No article says relationships die when you love a dead fantasy instead of a living person.


As result, fights occur. Each partner tells the other person how to change to fit a fantasy. For some reason, our spouses object to being asked to fit into our doll houses. The spouse realizes you love your fantasy, not him or her. And for some mysterious reason, our partner gets angry about that.


Of course, it all looks nicer than that to us. “You would be so much happier if…..(you weren’t you).” Since the spouse (reality) keeps showing up instead of our fantasy, we can fight. There are lots of books and articles on how to argue in marriage. But what if a fight is just a duel between two fantasies? Often we hope a fight will make our real spouse go away and our fantasy spouse show up instead. Sometimes the real spouse feels guilty for not being the fantasy spouse and promises to change. But then reality shows up again instead of your fantasy.


A fight can represent our divorce from reality. We are already divorced from our spouse, because we are married to the fantasy spouse.


What have you done with my wife? Why is my real wife showing up instead of my fantasy? Am I going to have to divorce my fantasy in order to get married to her instead? Am I going to have to get engaged to reality? But if I give up my fantasy, I have to find out who this mystery is: my wife. And that’s the task: always coming to know the mystery you are married to, who will always be a mystery.

Freud is ridiculous

I recently heard a presenter say that Freud’s idea of the conscious and unconscious was ridiculous. “After all”, she said, “if we reflect to the patient, unconscious material will rise.” An audience member reminded her that Freud accounted for that through his idea of the preconscious, aspects of the unconscious that could come into awareness with the therapist’s help. She replied, “I haven’t read Freud.”


It’s fine to disagree with any theorist. After all, that’s the essence of scientific thinking. But if we disagree with someone, we should at least have read his work. That is the essence of learning and teaching: recognizing knowledge as gift and dialogue.


Goethe said that if we wish to surpass our forebears, master their knowledge first. Knowledge is a gift, hard earned by those before us, so we can stand on their shoulders. We receive the love of thinkers and writers through their books, as they reach out to help us across the ages.


How do we earn a place in this classroom of knowledge? First, by recognizing that we didn’t create this field of study or its concepts. Great thinkers from Aristotle to Freud created the concepts. They placed the desks here for us to sit in. They sacrificed years of their lives so we could have this knowledge. Now it is our responsibility to study their work to become members of a scientific community. They paid the price of going down dead ends and suffering, so we could avoid their mistakes and make our own in this perennial quest to heal the soul.


When we disagree without reading someone’s work we refuse to engage in the dialogue out of which all our knowledge and learning arises. We refuse the love offered us, their gift. We isolate ourselves from the community of the ages.


A colleague claims she had no mentors. But this is not true. In fact, she gained enormously by training with some brilliant therapists. Why this urge to claim that we gave birth to ourselves? Why deny our fundamental dependency on our supervisors and teachers and their supervisors and teachers? I know what I do only because I was blessed by learning from great teachers and supervisors. Whether I have added anything to what they gave me is for others to say. I only hope I have been able to pass on some of their wisdom, continuing this intergenerational transmission of culture known as teaching psychotherapy.


To learn is to receive a gift from a teacher, which in turn she received from those before her. We own nothing. Knowledge is merely on loan. It dies if we do not pass it on. It lives when we do.


For knowledge is not merely a thing, but the act of sharing, giving, and receiving. We are all givers and receivers, learners and teachers. As teachers we are not slaves of any particular model or cult. Models and cults are merely temporary encampments along a caravan that will go on for millennia. Instead of slaves to some theory or guru, we are servants of the truth.


Learning connects us to a vast community around the world and through the ages. Teaching allows to be the bridge between the past and the future generations who will surpass us….if we help them. That is our task as teachers.


Pass this knowledge on. Surpass us. For in surpassing us, you will honor our gift to you, fulfilling the hopes of those who came before. We can take you this far. Now you must go further on this caravan to places we cannot see.