My favorite form of torture, I mean exercise, is running. I have found nothing quite as satisfying as running outside in the fresh air and being able to just step out my front door to exercise. As anyone who exercises knows, exercise gives you time to clear your mind and think a lot. Sometimes I do my best thinking while I am running which has led to me coming up with some great running analogies. So, humor me a bit while I share these gems!
I want to let you in on a secret about running – I sometimes hate it. I literally feel miserable about 50-100% of the time that I am exercising. Running is something I do mainly for how I feel after I am done. I torture myself for 30-40 minutes for the high I am left with the rest of the day. However, running has gotten easier over time as I have gotten into better shape and learned which routes to take to avoid the huge hills in my neighborhood. The fitness outcomes are well worth the pain. So, here comes my analogy: Couple’s therapy is a similar process. Just like starting an exercise regime, nobody is excited to start therapy – why would they be? It means something is going wrong, and they have to get help. The first session, is difficult because you have to bring up a lot of painful topics and, generally, the first session is not going to make a huge difference in your relationship – just like going on that first run does not mean you are going to suddenly fit into those favorite jeans. The second, third, fourth, etc, sessions get a little less uncomfortable but can still be difficult as you look inwardly to see how you may need to change. But, after a while, it gets easier and you start to see the positive effects. The commitment to the short term term success of exercise or therapy reaps long term benefits. You will learn how to avoid the uphill battles in your relationship!
And here comes another favorite running analogy: When I am on my run and running up a hill, I oftentimes want to quit or take a shortcut. I want to make a decision that will alter the outcome of my run. However, I get to the top and start along a flat section or even, if I am lucky, a downhill stretch. My opinion can quickly change as to how much further I can go and suddenly I feel like I can run forever. I have learned to never make a decision about the rest of my run when running up a hill. When working with couples, they often tell me that in the heat of anger someone threatens to leave or feels like they can not tolerate one more moment married to their spouse. Or, in early sessions, they feel hopeless and can not imagine a path to improve their relationship. They want to change their path while on a uphill battle! Never make a long-term decision about your relationship when angry or not clear-headed. Emotions–like those hills–can make you feel as though you need to escape when all you need to do is change the path or, when flat again, get help you need to tackle the next hill.
Analogies, such as these, may seem silly but can be helpful cues to yourself when you are in an argument or dreading going to therapy. People often have a difficult time stepping out of difficult emotions and the visualization of the trials of a runner can be a useful way to snap yourself out of trying to escape when things get difficult.
Kara Smith, MS, LCMFT provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our downtown Bethesda office. Call or email her today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.