“When a guy talks about his car, listen carefully. He is actually telling you about himself. If the car is running well, so is he. Likewise, if the car is having problems, he is too.” So said my supervisor years ago when I was a psychology intern at the Institute of Psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School.
These amusing instructions have proved true in my three decades of practice as a psychologist. However, I discovered that the car is an excellent metaphor for all people. A car has numerous tanks: gas, oil, radiator, transmission oil, etc. We rarely forget to properly maintain our cars and make sure to put the correct fluids in each specific tank and that all the tanks are properly filled. Putting water in the gas tank, or putting gas in the oil tank would horrify us!
Like the car, people actually have multiple tanks that must be filled differently:
• One tank requires love and affirmation from our partner;
• Family love and connections fill an additional tank;
• Another tank requires the camaraderie of friends;
• Intellectual stimulation from meaningful activity fills yet another tank;
• Self-affirmation, self-compassion, and self-love fill a final tank.
Our tanks become easily depleted as we expend energy managing the demands of daily life. Exhausted, we seize “free moments,” and reach for the phone, computer, TV, books. and other escape maneuvers to re-charge our tanks. Of course, any of these activities in moderation are not problematic. However, when used excessively, we zone out while neglecting to nourish our deeper needs. Further, we silently and magically expect our spouses to fill all of our tanks, even as we neglect truly re-charging our own multiple inner tanks. Another problem is that our partner is equally as exhausted and depleted and is expecting the same from us. The resultant hurt, anger, emptiness, and exhaustion can be a recipe for disaster, as each person relies on the other to do the impossible and magically fill all of his or her own inner needs.
The solution lies in implementing some lifestyle changes that honor the needs of all our tanks. Research has shown that daily practice of mindful meditation helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, even as it increases concentration, focus, and a sense of well-being. Mindful meditation practice also permits us to ask ourselves: “What am I feeling?” “What do I need?” “What are possible options and solutions?” “Which of my choices today will make me feel most proud of myself?”
Implementing exercise, proper nutrition, rest, and family meals (thank you Hashem for Shabbat), as well as time to connect with your spouse, are additional evidence-based ways of improving health, filling our tanks, and creating self and family peace and fulfillment. While applying these strategies may appear daunting, many of these plans do not occur in isolation. As an example, a walk with your spouse couples exercise with time to connect.
As a psychologist, I help individuals and couples distinguish among the inner tanks that need to be filled by their partners, themselves, and the tanks that need fulfillment from other sources. And, I assist each person in learning constructive ways to “fill inner tanks,” lessening pressure on relationships and thereby improving the nature of the connection. Finally, I work with couples to “hear” themselves and each other, so that they can create changes that lead to self and family fulfillment. So, if you feel dissatisfied in your relationship, and have a sense of inner loneliness, please contact me or speak with a qualified therapist, who will help you feel increased contentment with yourself and your partner.
Dr. Tamara Sofair-Fisch is a NJ licensed Psychologist with practices in West Orange and Lawrenceville, NJ. To learn more, visit www.emotionalsolutions.net or contact her at [email protected]
By Dr. Tamara Sofair-Fisch