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By Karen Kissel Wegela
The Mindful Swimmer
Staying afloat in the rough seas of relationship
When relationships fail, men suffer as much as women, particularly when they're the ones who've been left. Some men struggle with a pattern of being repeatedly left because of their difficulty expressing—or even feeling and recognizing—their own emotions. But when such men come into therapy, typically in a crisis after a partner has just ended a relationship, they have an opportunity to learn not only how to communicate more personally, but also to discover how much they've become estranged from their own inner life.
In my practice, I've found that therapeutic work with these clients has three parts: helping them recognize when they're feeling something, coming to understand what those feelings might mean, and discovering how to experience their feelings in a way that enables them to share them, and so connect with others.
As a Contemplative Psychotherapist whose approach combines the wisdom traditions of Buddhism with the clinical knowledge of Western psychology, I find mindfulness and awareness-based techniques especially helpful when working with men who are unable to read their own inner emotional signals. But just teaching them mindfulness isn't enough—they need to learn how to be mindful in relationship, a skill they can practice only when interacting with others. The therapeutic relationship itself provides the opportunity for clients to find new ways to engage their inner experience, while learning how to truly connect with another person.
Luc came to see me last fall in great distress after his most recent relationship had ended. In his early fifties, he's a tall, curly-haired, good-looking man, whose blue eyes crinkle when he smiles, which he does often. He's the co-owner of a successful business and a former public official. An intelligent, sophisticated man, he moves easily in the world.