Don’t settle for specific behaviors or attitudes when you are in the onset of a relationship. If you find yourself falling in love and there are certain attributes that aren’t working for you, sound off the alarms now before it is too late. If you are already in love, take action and fight for what you want or you will end up taking second best.
What I hear, so often, in couples therapy is “you knew I was like this when I married you.” This is the worst thing that a partner can say. It is so unromantic and not conducive to getting your partner into the bedroom. In fact the more you say this the less attractive you will become. When you have been married to a person, contradicting what most people say in the cliché, you are not a ball and chain. You are not locked up in your family home like a prisoner all these years – correct? If you are, than get out. No, just like single people, married people are actually individuals who grow each and every day. Sometimes they don’t grow together, they branch off and find other interests that attract their attention and without support from a spouse, they might find themselves separating and detaching from the one they love. Forgetting that they are the one they love.
So there are two parts here. One, if you haven’t taken that step yet and Two, you are already stuck and don’t know what to do.
Option One – The Relationship
You are in love or going in that direction but you see certain things that don’t necessarily seem to be positive or promoting a healthy and responsible lifestyle. For example: Drinking too much, Eating foods that aren’t healthy, Flirtatious behavior, Not attentive to your needs. Not really able to have a conversation.
These are examples of things that couples see early on but turn a blind eye too. Anything that is accepted from the beginning will continue to the end. It won’t get better because you get married or move in together either, in fact it almost always ends up worse.
You have choices that you can make when you see these “red flags” and you have these intuitive thoughts that are telling you, things don’t feel right. The choice is should I stay or should I go? Women more than men often do not feel comfortable asking for what they want. That is because we are continuing to be raised in a society where our thoughts are not valued, though I believe this is beginning to wane. It is not easy to step up and say “John, I love you very much and I want our relationship to become stronger. How can I support you in creating a stronger team, so that our committment is able to withstand any obstacle that comes our way?” This is a good beginning (in your own words but similar). Don’t come off with “Your and alcoholic and I think you need help.” Unless you are a therapist and have training in this field, he isn’t going to respect your words of wisdom and will take it as nagging. Coming from this angle you are approaching the topic of being on a team and at this point he is under the impression that this isn’t about him. When a topic of conversation is neutral it is more powerful. This can work with both males and females. You are on a team when you are in a committed relationship. This team can be played by having fun all the time, disregarding responsibilities in life or taking a step back now and then and acting like a mature couple.
Don’t ever go forward with something you don’t like being swept under the rug. If you do, you will never ever have your partner’s respect nor will you have the committment from them 100%. Stop and set limits (boundaries) before taking the next step. In relationships this can mean you have to go so far as to walk away (and leave). If they love you and feel you are someone they want to step forward with they will return. If not than you have saved yourself a lot of headaches in the future.
It is difficult to take this step. It means you might never see them again. It means they might not take responsibility in doing the work that it takes to be a stronger couple. If you are making this step though, you are actually being conscious of your relationship rather than going into the fog and never coming out again. That is until you are so drained and exhausted that you end up coming to see the therapist and asking for help. Sometimes this doesn’t happen until years later.
It is worth it for your sanity and if you are going to be alone again, and you are afraid of this imagine being in a relationship with this person to the extremes. Does he go to bars too much? An extreme case might be him 10 years later on the couch with a remote control and a beer in one hand, fat, unshaven, t-shirt and jeans, oblivious to life. Wouldn’t you rather be alone? Ignore things and they only get worse, not better. Don’t expect a therapist to fix this person, you have to take control of setting boundaries and making it clear what you will and won’t accept before you go forward and have a loving relationship. If he/she is dedicated enough to you, this will be a very powerful experience that will transform your lives going forward.
If you put your intentions out there and then take them back in your life without that person making some changes, you are saying that YOU have no respect for yourself or your words and since you have no integrity or self-esteem, the two of you might as well suffer in silence. If you put your intentions out there and you never see them again, then you know that this is not the right partner for you. Don’t settle or compromise thinking “love” will make things better.
Option 2: Married
You made the mistake of “accepting” the behaviors and now it is 5, 10, 15, 20 years later and you are seeing the extreme side of what you allowed in your household. And you think the therapist is going to fix this because they will just yell at your partner and this will make them step up to the plate and change because it is coming from a professional after all. WRONG!!! If the therapist is pointing out problems in your relationship, it is no different from the nagging spouse, and the person will only resent you even more for dragging them down there to hear this. They will even suspect you put the therapist up to this – which you did.
Don’t not do therapy but there are multiple things that need to be done to fix a longstanding issue that you married.
1. I always recommend a separation when it is really horrible – generally one of the partners has already come to this conclusion anyway. This is not a bad thing, except if you give up and throw in the towel. Before you make the separation happen, discuss what you are separating for and what needs to change before the relationship can continue. “Harvey, I love you and want our marriage to work. There are certain things that are happening here that we are both guilty of. I am guilty of X,Y,Z and I have allowed you to do A, B and C. We are not a strong team, we are falling apart and I want us to come back together again.” When you approach it in a positive way, you are off to a good start. Put together a timeline depending on the situation. Ask the partner who is leaving what ideas they have for turning this situation around. The rule though is that you can’t take them back until this has happened. If you do, you are saying “Screw it, I missed you and I hate being alone so, Oh Okay, will give it another go.” With this you will go right back to the same rut you had two days ago.
2. Couples workshops – Seek this out alongside therapy. Workshops are fun, filled with other goofy people just like you and your partner and generally when you are laughing and empathizing with others, you listen more. Plus it is not one – to -one and so the fingers are directly pointed at you. Less pressure. Where to find them? Google search couples workshops or seminars or retreats. Dr. John Gottman has them and since he is the marriage guru, his trainers have very good skills that they have paid a lot of money to get! Churches, synagogues, mosques, if yours isn’t big enough, find a bigger one who no doubt will have these workshops available. Go with the crowd that is most like you. Are you an inter-racial couple? Find a workshop with people who are in the same boat. Workshops that believe in your faith, will support you in this spiritual direction.
3. Therapy – This is good to get an assessment of your marriage and some guidance on where to go from here. If you are going to show up though, and pay the professional to do this, might as well listen and do the homework. If not, you are wasting your money and your time, as well as the therapists.
4. Books – plenty of self-help books that are good to read but only if you are going over them together. Get a book on tape/CD and you and your partner can listen to it while you are driving to a weekend get-a-way (that you are doing to try to help salvage the marriage). Watch a video about this topic together.
Never stay in a marriage or relationship when Domestic Violence is involved. None of these steps will help because you are in a dangerous place. Go to http://www.thehotline.org/ and look for information and referrals in your area.
- Marriage Advice: What I’ve Learned About Marriage From Editing Huffington Post Divorce (huffingtonpost.com)
- Choosing the right marital therapist is key to restoring a crumbling relationship (rep-am.com)
- Money: The great relationship wrecker (business.financialpost.com)
- 3 Tips To Find A Good Couples Therapist (psychcentral.com)
- Ten Ways to Restore Relationships (trendmastablog.wordpress.com)