We humans put a lot of energy into making it seem that we have our act together a lot more than we actually do. We hide what we believe is unacceptable. We believe we are alone in our particular problem. Nowhere is this more evident than what goes on between two people in a relationship.
Brian and I tell couples that we work with that our struggles are often similar to theirs. We remind them of this reality because we want to normalize their experiences and help them to understand that their struggles are part and parcel of being in a long term relationship. We have worked all over the world with many, many couples. We’ve worked with couples of different racial and social backgrounds, and many gay couples. The truth is that no matter who they are, where they come from or what their sexual preferences are, the issues they face are similar if not exact. And we are no different. Brian and I come from different religious backgrounds, I am moody, he is even tempered, I express need a lot, he holds his need back, I tend to start conflicts, he avoids them, and we both have issues that make our sexual relationship challenging. When our clients hear that we have “our stuff” they respond with surprise and mostly relief. It’s weird that just because we work as “relationship therapists” it is believed we don’t fight and do all the other yucky stuff partners do in relationships. In fact, our work has saved our marriage because we have needed to learn exactly what we teach and practice. The couples we work with are relieved when they realize that we too have a flawed relationship and that we are continually working to be better people and partners and to work through our conflicts and differences.
When we fall in love with our partners, we tend not to think about or anticipate the potential struggles that will arise when we create a lasting commitment. Maybe intellectually we think about it, but many couples don’t really prepare themselves for the realities of being with the same person for the long run. When problems arise (and they always do) couples generally hide them from the rest of the world (and sometimes themselves). There is no outlet for sharing and getting help and support with the normal stuff that arises when two people decide to create a life together. We are ashamed and embarrased about how awful we can sometimes be in our relationships. How many of us have witnessed a weird and uncomfortable interaction when we’re around other couples? The truth is that relationships bring out the best and the worst in us. When someone really matters to us, as much as our partners do, we become highly sensitive to their actions. Disappointment, hurt and anger are the natural consequences of such a relationship. And because openly discussing relationship problems is taboo, useful information about how others are getting through their difficulties is not readily available. Yes we can read a book or go to marriage therapy, but again this is usually done in a discreet way. We may indulge in bitch sessions about our partners or make jokes about marriage, but this only points to the nature of the problem, that couples are not readily discussing what’s happening inside their walls and bedrooms. And speaking of sex, studies show that between 15% and 25% of couples are not having any sex at all. One third of all couples have had extramarital affairs. 50% of marriages end in divorce.
We are suggesting that a solution is to “come out” about our relationship issues so we can have honest dialogues about what’s not working. Whether you’re fighting a lot, feeling miles apart, don’t have anything to say to one another over the dinner table, sex is not satisfying etc. etc. be honest with yourself and know you need support. Maybe find a couple’s group or even just begin to have discussions with your couples friends about real issues. Brian and I have been part of what we call a couples “pod” for twelve years. We gather once a month to support eachother in working through our difficulties.
Our desire is to support couples in “coming out.” We encourage you to respond to our blogs with comments and questions, which in turn will give us ideas for other blog posts. Sign onto our “Exceptional Marriage Couples Village” on Facebook and gain support and ideas from our community of couples. Who knows– you might make some lasting friendships.