Everybody vaguely understands this, but rarely do we admit it out loud - committed relationships are damned hard. I am considered (along with my wife Marcia) as a “marital expert.” Truth is, I sometimes feel like a complete fraud. Having been married for 37 years and having worked with hundreds of couples in marital distress, I’m supposed to have it figured out. Yet, I find myself enacting the same relationship faux pas that I have played out time and time again. As a committed couple Marcia and I can still run headlong into some variation of our routine conflict. (Our “deja vu conflict” has the general theme of - I am not enough and she is too much) Additionally, I can be self-centered, emotionally clueless, competitive and insecure, and our sex life often does not “rock.” There, now you know.
In spite of this, there is no doubt that we have helped many couples. I think this is so because we have come to know on a very deep level that there is no relationship Shangri-La. We are imperfect, and will continue to be so for the rest of our days. And that is the purpose of this blog, to expose the myth of the harmonious couple.
The great irony appears to be that through confronting our imperfections, idiosyncrasies, and basic human differences we become more authentic human beings. So Marcia and I decided to take a risk here and, on an ongoing basis, take you inside our relationship. We want to share with you the sort of “blue collar” realities of everyday life in a committed relationship. But, more than that, to let you in on what we learn from our skirmishes, tensions, and competing needs. We haven’t reached marital nirvana, but to our credit, both of us have become more adept at moving toward each other in the difficult moments (or hours) and finding out what’s underneath the outer conflict.
Let me give a brief example. Last week we were in Amsterdam and we had to travel to a different part of the Netherlands to teach. I woke up and found myself impatient with Marcia. She just moves so much slower than I do. Of course, my pace is normal and hers is not. I was acting distant and, well, miserable.
There was a fruit stand that, on the previous night we had passed with Marcia commenting how she would like one of the juicy looking oranges. Since I had earlier on my own walked past the same fruit stand, Marcia commented “If it were me that had past here earlier, and I knew you had wanted an orange, I would have gotten one for you.”
This criticism typically sends me into self judgment about being a thoughtless partner. I was on the verge of getting defensive. Over the years, these kinds of exchanges would often result in a major battle. I had rushed past the fruit stand because I was out looking for a place for us to go get breakfast. “How dare she nitpick my not getting her an orange!” my thought bubble retorted. Internally, I was judging her, externally she was judging me.
Later, as we were sitting at breakfast, it came to me what was driving my impatience, judgment, and coldness. I develop a fair amount of anxiety about traveling. I worry that we will miss our connections, leave our wallets or passports somewhere, or somehow do something to remind me of one of my deepest fears of my own ineptness.
Fortunately, I shared with Marcia what was underneath my facade of iciness. As she heard my anxieties, her heart opened to me. She can empathize with my fears far more than she can with my crankiness. By sharing my more vulnerable truth we create an empathic bond, a “limbic brain resonance” so to speak, and while I have learned this lesson many times over, I know that I will fall back into my tried and untrue ways again. That’s part of my imperfection. I don’t learn from my mistakes so readily. Neither do you probably.
Thus, we will write this blog to confess to you our ongoing life-drama. We will alternate sharing from our different perspectives. We hope you can identify with much of what we expose. If not, it should be entertaining anyway.