Most people have an amazingly high tolerance for discomfort. Some of us can even live many years feeling terrible, terrible about our mate and our relationships. As a couples counselor I am sometimes surprised though, at how much pain a couple will endure before seeking help.
When I see a couple that feels terrible about their marriage or partnership I am always interested in finding out when the problems began. Sometimes I hear answers like “six years”, six years, imaging feeling terrible about your relationship for six years. If you are in a happy relationship you might not even be able to imagine it. But if you have been suffering for a number of years, you are locked in a system of discomfort and it’s possible you may have lost your sense of time. You may have forgotten about earlier years when the relationship felt better, and you may have resigned yourself to living your current life because that’s “ just the way it is”.
Most people accept “just the way it is” because they don’t know it could be different. They may wish it was different, but they don’t know what to do to change the circumstances to make life different. It’s likely both people in the relationship have tried everything they know to make things better, but the efforts fail. When couples get desperate enough, that’s usually the time they come in for counseling.
And when I see a couple at this point the couple is often wondering if I can save or fix the relationship. I tell them, “I don’t fix relationships, I help you figure out what you want and then I help you get that. If that is a good relationship than great, I can help you.”
I tell them there is no fix; there is just awareness, intention and action. Learn about yourself. Learn about your partner. Ask for what would make you happy. Find out how to make your partner happy. It may sound simple, but for couples who are bruised from living years of unhappiness all these ideas can appear as just words, hollow.
I think the most important thing I can impart to a distressed couple is that there might be another way to relate to one another that could feel better. And that may be all a couple that’s been in pain for a while can hear. They might have stopped believing they can even be happy with each other, and they’ve probably accepted their lot in life, one that includes difficulties.
It’s too much for a person in pain to go from discomfort to happy in an instant. But what they might be able to hold on to is the thought that maybe; just maybe they could feel better. When people start to feel better they become less stressed, less stressed about their problems and the relationship. Less stress gives the mind a chance to relax and become more welcoming to new thoughts about what may be possible.
Possibilities, ideas, new ways of communicating, hope. This is what can happen when the mind is relaxed, new ways of thinking and new ways of thinking can lead to a new life. And isn’t that what distressed couples are after? Something better, something loving, something hopeful, a new life.
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