It has been 20 years since my business partner, Steve Parker, and I began counseling couples together. Back then, pagers and telephone answering services were de rigeur. Email was something new. Texting, Facebook, and FaceTime were unheard of!
What has not changed are the problems we hear about from the couples who come to see us: “We cannot communicate” … “We are so very different” … “When it’s good between us, it’s wonderful — but when we fight, we fall apart” … “Things were so good in the beginning, but now we wonder whether we can continue living together.”
How does that happen, when we were all so sure that this relationship would work well for our whole lives?
“Falling in love” is, for the most part, unconscious and intuitive. We choose someone who “Loves” us the way we experienced the feelings we knew in our childhood, so the feelings are familiar. Since all too often the dynamics in our family of origin left much to be desired, this is not a good template. “Love” with parents is often critical, judgmental, distant, harsh, cold, unpredictable, or insecure. That leaves us with gaps in our own ability to be kind, generous, warm, respectful, loyal, and consistent, though we don’t know our own weaknesses until we have to live closely with another, who has also chosen us unconsciously.
We choose someone who complements our tendencies. The Other could be careful with money when we tend to be spendthrift; is punctual when we are often late; organized when we are spontaneous; emotionally distant when we have problems with boundaries. Our hope is that together we will be strong and whole, that we will learn from each other and bring out the best in each other.
Then Life gets in the way of all those wonderful warm and happy feelings. Finances are stretched, someone gets the flu or breaks a leg, babies turn into relentlessly demanding beings who bring out the worst in us, and families and jobs place demands upon our time.
We no longer believe the Other is on our Team, with our best interests at heart. The Other has stopped giving us a minimum of five “warm fuzzies” for one “cold prickly,” and no longer celebrates our successes, both big and small. We stop cuddling and caressing each other; often reserving that for the family pet. We now feel misunderstood, hurt, angry, and disappointed. Our differences have magnified; our different strengths and tendencies have become weapons of criticism, and we are left longing for the “Magical Being” we fell in love with.
How do we find our way back to love? By remembering that living with another human being is incredibly difficult; by taking personal responsibility for what we are doing to make our relationshp hurtful or frustrating; and by learning how to negotiate and compromise.
It is not the ideal of being a perfect complement that makes for a good relationship. Instead, it is the ability to tolerate each other’s differences with generosity, striving always to adopt a more humorous, forgiving, and kindly perspective when examining both ourselves and our partners.
If you find that you are increasingly unhappy with each other, then your relationship needs a “tune-up.” Cars need to be serviced regularly so they can drive smoothly and safely. So do relationships. There is no need for months or years “on the therapy couch.” Often just one or two sessions of solution-focused therapy will suffice to stop a downward spiral and change the momentum in a positive direction. Don’t settle for “quiet desperation.” With a mutual decision to put in the effort, you truly can fall in love again.
They are reachable at (949) 757-9800 or online at www.CouplesCounselingOC.com