Interview with Marriage and Relationship Psychologist Dr. Richard Jordan – Warning Signs Your Relationship Might Need Counseling

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1. You specialize in helping people who are wrestling with the “big questions” in life. What are those common questions, and how do you go about helping people discover the answers they seek?

The most common questions are:

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • What is my purpose? 

Many of us struggle with self identity, self awareness, and life purpose, or mission. In general, it is quite a luxury even to be able to explore these questions, because the masses on this planet are concerned with survival, food, housing, safety, and/or crippling mental or physical conditions.

The way I help people with these questions is with a spiritual approach, since the questions are of a spiritual, or at least existential, nature. I use a Socratic approach, engaging in conversation and questioning that point in the direction of one’s own inner wisdom.

One effective approach to “Who am I?” is to begin by answering the question, “Who am I not?” Ultimately, once that question is thoroughly explored, there is not much left. One begins to perceive and experience one’s ego-self as a mental construct, a house of cards. This invites another question, one which I find much more interesting than “Who am I?” The question is, “What is really going on here?” This leads to a fascinating dance between the ego-self and the impersonal activity of pure existence, or dare we say, God. There are as many forms of this dance as there are snowflakes.

People often attempt to answer the second question, “Why am I here?” by struggling to identify the ideal job or service, or relationship, or place to live, that is, their ideal outer life experience. If they could just achieve that, they would be happy. My approach is to encourage them to first answer the question from an inner perspective. Again, through conversation, there is usually a discovery that one’s inner purpose or mission is ultimately the same for all of us, to gain wisdom and increase our capacity to love; to enhance and expand our giving AND receiving of loving expression. From that awareness, the outer landscape, and how we engage in it, changes. Whatever outer “mission” we choose, we engage it with more aliveness, grace, and ease.

2. You use something called a Thriving Relationship Test (TRI) in your practice. Can you explain more about that and why it might be of benefit?

The purpose of the Thriving Relationship Inventory is to help couples identify and get more clear about their challenges. It also identifies strengths and resources. Whether or not the couple is coming to see me, the TRI can stimulate conversation and heighten awareness, leading to a more loving way of relating.

3. What are some warning signs in a relationship that the couple might need counseling?

This covers a lot of territory. On the lower-consciousness end of the spectrum, counseling, and more, is needed if there is physical violence or abuse. Counseling is also obviously indicated if there is chronic emotional suffering from fights, yelling, lying, deceit, infidelity, name calling, contempt, refusal to talk or compromise, sexual incompatibility, and such. The three most common issues that almost every couple in therapy complains about are sex, money, and infidelity. On the higher-consciousness end of the spectrum, most of us want a relationship that nurtures and encourages our growth and evolution. If the relationship is not doing this, even though it looks outwardly as if things are just great, counseling is a good idea.

4. How common are relationship issues during the course of a marriage? What is the most common concern for long-term couples and how can this concern be treated and/or prevented?

If there is a long-term couple out there who has never had issues, I am not aware of them. So, the question is not whether you are going to have issues, the question is, how are you going to be with the issues? The best way I know of to maximize your chances of a thriving, long-term relationship is to practice telling the truth and taking responsibility. Truth and responsibility are the two core guiding principles to a thriving relationship, and it involves much more than just being honest. My book and other writings go into much more detail about Truth and Responsibility.

5. What are three pieces of advice you’d give to someone who is not feeling fulfilled in their own life?

First, recognize that ultimately your fulfillment comes from within. This sounds trite, I know, but it is important to make a distinction between inner change and outer change. The approaches that yield outer change are radically ineffective for inner change. I like to point out two paradoxes. If you really want to be free of a “problem,” you are first required to allow it, maybe even embrace it; and, if you really want to move, you have to be able to hold still.

Second (I’m going to squeeze two in here), pay more attention to what is happening in your body, and find a teacher.

Third, consider this. Life is not so much about finding the answers or being right. Life is much more rich and interesting when we live the questions. What is really going on here? What is the most loving, compassionate way I can be in this moment, in this situation, with this person? Sometimes the answers are clear and easy, sometimes they are agonizingly difficult, and we get it wrong on a regular basis.

Remember the story of Thomas Edison struggling to invent the light bulb. At one point, one of his engineers told him he should give up because they had tried one thousand different filament materials, and each one had failed. Edison told him no, the experiment is not a failure, because we now know a thousand ways not to do it. So maybe, in our waning years, when our grandchildren come to us for advice, the best we will have to offer them is a thousand ways not to do it.

In conclusion, I just want to point out that none of what I have shared with you is my original thought. It is taken from other teachers and wise beings that I have had the honor and good luck to encounter.

About Dr. Richard Jordan:

Psychologist, Marriage Counselor, Author of “Relationship School, A Path of Conscious Loving,” Dr. Jordan brings an eclectic and spiritual approach to his work with couples, drawing from his work with the many teachers.

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