Over the years, I remain astonished at how similar our relationship-aspirations are. Most of us, after a period of experimentation and the disappointment of hook-ups, are looking for a longer, deeper love. Conversely, how we handle relationship discord is also very consistent. There are not too many variances–either we put effort into communication and change, or we just call it quits and move on.
As a marriage counselor, I rarely speak with couples who are doing well. And while I occasionally play referee with couples who have already decided to separate, it’s oftentimes too late. My sweet spot is in that place where one or both partners have become disillusioned with their relationship, but are still connected to the point where they are willing to try to make it work.
And it is here–in the hurt and heartache–that things get really rough. Because working through our pain and feelings of betrayal is deeply personal. Our partners act as a mirror to our subconscious self. When we are cherished and respected, it reinforces our positive self-image and self-perception. When we are treated poorly, the well-known tale of “I’m still not good enough” bursts to the surface, shattering any positive feelings of our own self-worth.
A therapist walks a tight-rope. On one hand, fostering conversation, analysis, forgiveness, and understanding about past wrongs, and on the other, protecting my clients from emotional devastation during the process. Personally, I am very, very protective–I have yet to see anything positive ever come out from an emotional street-fight between couples. I proceed with extreme caution, but I proceed never-the-less.
Why? Because at the root of relationship dysfunction and heartbreak lay one of two truths. First, that in reality, we are incompatible. Our goals, desires, personalities, values, and most importantly–willingness to change–are just too far apart to overcome. There is room in life for such a thing to happen. Not everybody can co-exist in intimacy together.
And the second truth is that we actually share the same desires, vision, values, and needs–but just don’t know how to get there. We don’t know how to talk to each other without fighting. We share the same home yet feel alone. We share each other’s bodies, yet feel unloved or unfulfilled. This is most of us at some point during our relationship.
To discern your relationship truth, you need to find out–practically–where your partner stands on the issues most important to you, without stirring the emotional pot of guilt, blame, anger and criticism.
I recently worked with a woman who was hurting. Her boyfriend of many years whom she loved dearly wasn’t living up to her relationship-expectations in some important areas. She found out he was connecting (flirting) with other women on social media. He felt emotionally distant, to the point of not caring anymore. And when she needed his help, she felt he was giving it out of obligation, and not love.
When she focused on the negative, and how she wasn’t being treated according to her desire, the choice of leaving him was clear. But before she walked out the door, I encouraged her to have a more rational conversation, sans the feelings of hurt and blame.
You may want to ask him, in a serious way: “I’d like more intimacy with you – a more connected, loving, committed relationship. Currently, I see we are having some challenges. Is what I want the same as what you want?”
Meaning – without shame or guilt, just state what is going on, how you feel, and ask in a sincere way if he is willing to change. What would that change look like? Does he need anything from you? Perhaps, you are not showing up in a way that satisfies him?
And while I don’t believe you must bend-over-backward to satisfy his every fantasy, perhaps what he is missing is something that you are willing to do. You never know unless you are willing to ask.
When we are able to push away our pain and disappointment, and really connect with our partner’s inner-most desires and goals, we may be very surprised that they are similar to our own. And, that the path to harmony, peace, love, and trust is not as far away as it may seem.