I’ve been attempting to write a bit more consistently and it’s been quite a challenge. One thing that has been interesting for me has been the recent increase in working with couples as a therapist. It is such a different vibe than seeing a person by themselves or a family as a whole. A spouse/partner can be your best friend or worst enemy and a lot of things in between. One thing that many of my clients have in common is the fact that they failed to make the small changes that would have helped them to avoid the major issues that came up. They grew apart over the course of months and years and they became so comfortable with avoiding meaningful communication that the other individual has become a stranger. But the truth is that you can’t undo years of damage overnight; there’s too much disconnection and both people have been going in different directions. It’s in those times that a major course correction is necessary. One of the things that I’ve learned is it the importance of making minor course corrections when they are still minor. Checking in, talking about tough stuff, and making time for each other are some of the things that have to be done intentionally because it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture and take your partner for granted. Developing healthy communication patterns and fighting respectfully and effectively while remaining emotionally connected is a narrow tightrope to walk on. However, the things that are worthwhile are worth doing well. Great relationships don’t happen haphazardly. They are maintained through intentional effort, time, and emotional connection.
One thing that I enjoy doing (at least most of the time) is working with couples. It’s a different dynamic than individual counseling and there are a lot of moving pieces. I was reflecting on how long I have been doing therapy and I realized that it’s been almost 8 years since I’ve started. Over the years I have started to notice patterns and the process has become more intuitive as opposed to theory. I like encouraging couples to build a new relationship and helping them to negotiate new rules and guidelines. They have the opportunity to ask questions and to be intentional about building something that provides each partner with a sense of security. It’s rarely straightforward but there’s nothing like witnessing an “aha” moment when things start to come together. It’s stressful to hold all the emotions in one place but I have learned that it is important to compartmentalize and to take breaks when needed. Many times couples get together without truly knowing what role they want the relationship to play in their individual lives. It’s up to each couples to establish a new normal and to find something that works for each partner.
Lately I have been watching a show called 90 Day Fiancé. It has been so interesting to watch the relational ramifications of a cross continental move where one person has to adjust to a new country, a new person and a new culture. One thing that strikes me is that there is usually a pretty significant age gap between the engaged couple. The show documents the 90 day period before the couple either gets married or one returns back to their country. Another thing that strikes me is the fact that these couples don’t really know each other. They don’t have the history together that would lend itself to an intimate understanding of the other person. Because of this there are a lot of disagreements and conflict as they seek to navigate a life together. The family and friend relationships play a huge role in the couple’s life and understandably so. However, there is usually always some tension as family members adjust to the new person and the relationship. The show is eye opening and also somewhat addictive because there are so many emotions and feelings involved and you can watch the ups and downs of how the couples manage their relationship.
I ran across an article that was in response to a tweet that went viral. You can read the article here. Basically the author talks another the fact that most marital relationships aren’t truly 50-50. Women complete the bulk of household duties. This is absolutely true. I did a dissertation on it. However, women who want men who are providers or more specially black women who want men who are providers are labeled as gold diggers. The interesting thing that the author points out is that black women tend to out earn black men in many instances so then they also carry the financial responsibility of the household. From this aspect, a 50-50 split is an upgrade. I’ve met a lot of guys who aren’t comfortable with solely providing financially for a household while their wife works part time jobs or stays at home with the kids. Their mindset is if they have to go to work 40 hours a week, their wife should too. I’ll admit that I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to this but I’m also trying to be realistic. I would love to have a husband who considers it his primary responsibility to provide for the household. But I also don’t want to be in a situation where he exerts all control over finances because he earns it. I just hate the idea of being in a relationship where I have to keep tabs on whose turn it is to pay. I don’t want to worry about that because there’s the understanding that he will. Not to say that I’ll never do it, but I want it to be an option instead of an obligatory split. Is this even possible these days? I’m doubtful.
I’m very late, but I finally watched the movie Acrimony today. I’ll admit that I didn’t have very high expectations but it was a decent movie. There were so many mental health and social psychology applications within the movie. The main character Melinda went above and beyond in trying to ensure that her husband Robert was successful. But throughout the movie it became clear that he was using her. Being the only spouse supporting the family financially for 18 years took its toll on Melinda and she snapped. She had lost herself in the marriage and in its subsequent downfall. She invested heavily in a dream that she saw her husband’s fiance getting and it was too much. The money that she had been given didn’t hold a candle in her mind to spending the rest of her life in luxury with the man that she held down for years. While ten million is nothing to sneeze at, she could never get the time back that she had spent in the relationship. The entire movie was an example of why doing the right things for the wrong person can be detrimental. Melinda’s family was supportive and tried to warn her from the very beginning but she chose her own path. It wasn’t pretty and it was full of frustration and in the end, loss. Yes, she was young when she first met Robert but she put up with working two jobs and leaving him at home sleeping every day for well over a decade. It’s good to believe in people but there has to be a limit. Yes, there were definitely some mental health implications but Melinda was incredibly hurt and she absolutely did not have the coping skills in place to adequately deal with a loss of that magnitude without losing her mind. She just couldn’t walk away and in the end she paid the cost.
Lately I’ve started to watch a new show that has both intrigued me while simultaneously horrifying me. Usually I try to watch light hearted tv shows because my empath sense is very strong and I work in a helping field. The show that I’ve been watching is called Handmaids and it’s on Hulu. One thing I will say is that it’s definitely not a comedy but if you want a thought provoking and extreme view of what might be the future then it’s a must see. But that’s not what this post is about. One of the main characters said, “you like because, you love despite.” And honestly that’s the truth. I work with couples who have lost so much of their original passion and excitement for each other because things have become so mundane. They’ve taken each other for granted and it has taken a terrible toll on the relationship. The emotional connection is very strained or sometimes nonexistent. I think many times people think that therapy fixes everything but it doesn’t. The truth is that therapy can give you the tools that you need to be successful in your relationship. It takes a lot of effort and intentionality to change the trajectory of a relationship but it definitely can be done if both people want it and are willing to work on it. One person cannot sustainably carry the whole relationship on their back. It can happen for a while but there are always consequences. One thing I really enjoy doing with the couples I work with is doing exercises that help them remember why they fell in like with each other and what made them love the other person. It’s always eye opening and helps to start the process of reconnecting with each other.
I think that if you ask a millennial what their dealbreakers in a relationship are, the chances are high that you’ll get quite a list. The truth of the matter is that marriage isn’t what it used to be. More people are getting married and changing their minds about it afterwards. There’s also the trend of getting married later in life so marriage is not seen as the only avenue to financial stability. We see better examples of co-parenting and amicable splits. Our parents and grandparents may have stayed married because they felt that they had to but millennials don’t feel the same way. We know that life is too short to be with someone that you can’t stand and that you can’t put a price on peace. It’s one thing to be married but another thing entirely to be happily married. No relationship is worth keeping at your own detriment just to say that you “hung in there.” Lately, I’ve met quite a few middle-aged people who are staying in relationships where their partner is actively sabotaging their goals. Their sole reason for staying is because “Jesus hates divorce.” And at the end of the day they have to make a decision for themselves or for the relationship. I personally believe that being alone is better than being alone in a relationship ESPECIALLY when it’s not healthy. Regardless of age, it’s important to put yourself first because no one else ever will.