Paul Smerz, Ph.D.
Hello, and thank you for viewing my profile. I am a licensed psychologist and psychoanalyst, and the founder of the Relationship Center of Milwaukee. I have long dreamed of establishing a special center where couples could access expert care and treatment of relationship issues that enable partners to repair wounds, attune and attach to one another in healthier and stronger ways, enhance intimacy on all levels, and transform their relationship to one that fulfills one another and furthers each partner’s individual growth. Before I tell you more about myself and my training, I would like to give you some of my thoughts about relationships and how they work, and why I chose to do this work.
One of the things that inspired me to work with couples was the realization that individuation – the development of our whole self – is not something that takes place in isolation. It happens in relationship. But first we need to understand ourselves. It’s the first important ingredient in having a successful relationship – “know thyself.” But at a certain point in life, we also need to look at the quality of our relationships. All self-development takes places within a context. It’s always with an “other” of some kind, usually our partner or spouse.
However, relationships are complex. Research has revealed that relationship issues are the major topics people bring to their psychotherapists all around the world. Love relationships are simultaneously the greatest source of comfort and happiness in our lives, but also potentially the greatest source of intense stress and misery. So, why do we keep trying? Even after a heart-breaking failed relationship, most of us keep looking for a new love, which many have called the triumph of hope over experience. The thirst for true love is unquenchable and irrepressible.
Relationships go through developmental stages, just like people do, in terms of their psychological development. And in every relationship, we can get stuck at certain points. As a psychologist working with couples, I am always searching for where the relationship is stuck and why it is stuck. Often it is caused when our thoughts, feelings, and intentions conflict with our partner. Complexes are constellated, and there are few regular sets of interactions with others that can compete with marriage in triggering our complexes. The good news is that every time a complex is triggered, we have an opportunity for greater self-awareness and growth.
In a relationship there will always be two distinct personalities, and the partners must find ways of working out all the bumps and sharp edges of their differences. Living with another is never without irritations, annoyances, and conflicts. But what I am contending is that if partners do not have an underlying awareness of what this relationship means and how it serves each other – what I call the “spiritual identity” of the relationship – the whole endeavor is going to involve lots of clashes.
However, the science of relationships has given us a pretty good pathway to managing these conflicts. The Gottman Method has provided us with essential principles and skills that have proven effective in dealing with problems in healthier and more constructive ways. Couples can grow and change through crisis. And sometimes when even just one person in the family begins to make changes, others around them may change as well. With better tools for communication and intimacy, relationships can heal, evolve and transform. As much as these skills are essential to communicating well and managing conflict, it is also necessary to build patterns of emotional attunement with one another so that couples can break dysfunctional patterns and help one another build greater love, compassion, empathy and connectedness. Emotionally-Focused Therapy has proven successful in this process, and I have had extensive training in both of these methods.
My experience as a Jungian psychoanalyst has helped me to understand, on a deeper level, what committed relationships can be and how they best serve us. Oftentimes couples can learn new skills in communication, conflict management, and emotional attunement, and smooth out the sharper edges of conflicts and power struggles, but when push comes to shove, and the really difficult and painful issues arise, if couples do not have a connection to something more powerful than the circumference of their own ego, they are in for a lot of suffering. In the end, I believe, good communication and emotional attunement are necessary, but not necessarily sufficient. The “spiritual identity” in the relationship is about committing to sharing this individuation path with your partner. Whether the relationship is legally binding or not, I do think that relationships, in this day and age, are about the potential for developing our individuation – our unique path to whole development. And that is the real richness of relationship. I believe that what really matters at the end of the day or end of one’s life is whether we have shared something essential with another.
In transformative relationships, partners learn to face difficult truths about themselves. Friction between dueling egos may be necessary for individual growth, but ultimately must be sacrificed on the altar of a greater good, and ultimate potential. A “soulmate” is not the perfect partner who gives us what we want, but a person committed to sharing the journey. And that means working through conflicts and difficulties. A committed relationship is a path that evolves over time.
Every day that I do marital work I am aware of how important this is, and how much passion I have for this work. I would appreciate the opportunity to do this work with you. I work with all types of relationship issues from pre-marital counseling, dealing with the aftermath of extramarital affairs, partners working through addiction recovery, parents of special needs children, polyamorous clients and couples who desire to connect and deepen their relationship, especially into retirement. To these ends, I seek to help individuals transform themselves and their relationships to one another.
I also maintain a Florida telehealth license and offer virtual visits to those who are permanently or temporarily residing in the State of Florida.
Phone: (414) 269-1470
Fax: (414) 963-6866