Sometimes, couples come in for counseling and on the surface, everything seems so great on the surface that you’d wonder whether anything’s even wrong. They laugh at each other’s jokes and seem to get along well. They both appear to be on good behavior, and this comes across as the opposite to feeling and being unhappy. But even though it looks great on the outside, underneath this practiced way of presenting, I know everything is not alright.
Many couples fall into this pattern. They hold everything together when they are with other people, but behind closed doors they are different. That’s when they can’t pretend anymore. That’s when they are unable to hold up the nice view of themselves with their mate, and things just start to go haywire.
Many of us try to get rid of some thoughts and focus on others—perhaps more positive ones. And if you have tried this then you know how very hard this can be. All of us have wished our minds would just let go of some of the things it thinks about.
But how many of us are truly successful at it? We can’t do it by force. But lately I have noticed something quite remarkable. Here is how it happened. My husband has been cutting carbs to reduce weight. He has become very devoted to this new way of eating.
I have seen him withhold foods before, but there is something different about this time. He is very focused and dedicated. So when my workout trainer who also knows my husband said to me, “Your husband is really talking more.” The following memory arrived.
All of us grow up with some sort of inner guidance. When things don’t work out well we often tell ourselves something so we remember to do whatever it was better in the future. This is essential to growing up.
But some of us don’t just do this with encouragement, we do it with hard punches. Think about how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake. What do you say? Before I became aware of how I treated myself I probably said things like, “Oh how stupid!” or “How could you have done that.” And even “I hate you.”
Some of us don’t even bother with saying stuff, we just go right to a really awful feeling about ourselves. This feeling can just inhabit our body and mind and stay with us for a long time.
How do we learn to be in a relationship? This is a question people have been grappling with for centuries. Some people come to earth just knowing what is the right way to treat another human. Some of us are taught, and then there are others who just struggle.
I used to struggle in my relationship with my husband-to-be. In the early days (20 years ago, before I was a therapist) I was pretty unhappy. And he was unhappy too. We didn’t know what to do to get better, so we went to a counselor.
When couples fight it usually boils down to two people arguing over who is right. This is as old as humans on the planet. People often disagree with another because all of us like to talk about our version of experiences or ideas and have them agreed with.
The very act of someone saying “you are right” feels great to the soul. Also, we pride ourselves on knowing what we know, and that’s pretty human too. All of us like how we think and we trust our thoughts.
This is really common about all humans. But when we are in a relationship with another person, this way of thinking can cause many, many problems.
All couples have disagreements. This I know to be true. Some couples argue about their disagreements. Here is a recent story about me and my partner.
He was driving with me in my car. I usually drive with him in his. He likes to drive, and is more aggressive than me. When he is a passenger in my car, I can feel his tension. He is probably mentally driving while I am behind the wheel and wishing that I could go faster or something.
I always feel awkward. Well, recently, we were in this position. The more we drove, the more uncomfortable I became. Now, he didn’t say anything, but I could feel the tension. Maybe this was in my head, but I definitely felt like an inadequate driver and I also thought he was judging me.
All of us get mad over things. Some of us keep our mad inside our bodies and don’t say anything even when we get upset. The rest of us just release the anger—usually on others.
Being the angry one and sharing it is the way I am wired. I have been getting mad since I was a toddler. I wish I had a different experience of having this feeling, but I do not. I grew up with this feeling and I learned also that yelling, stomping my feet, or just being ornery created attention for me, and that was better than being left alone. I guess you could say I learned to get taken care of when I got angry.
You may wonder sometimes why your good ideas or intentions can be brushed aside by people who you believe with all your heart you can help. It is very frustrating to see an answer to someone’s problems and yet not be able to get through to them to relieve their suffering.
All of us suffer in our own way. We get frustrated when things don’t go as expected, or we get upset when things are interrupted by someone else. This is the great human condition that we all live with. But have you noticed that some people get less frustrated than others? Have you observed that some people are actually not perturbed by things the way you might be?
People frequently ask me about how to stop an argument. When they do, I’d love to give them a fool-proof way to get it done. I wish it were as simple as saying one or two words, instantly turning two people amidst taking each other’s heads off into docile, compliant, happy people free to go about their business as if nothing happened.
Unfortunately, nothing short of physical distance stops an argument. I know this, because I have spent much of my early life arguing. I have never been able to stop arguing once I get started.
It is sometimes hard to believe that after finding the person of our dreams things can go so wrong and sometimes we can end up in the worst fights of our lives.
We know we love our person, so why do we fight-till-death about things? We should be loving each other instead of fighting, but we fight at just about every turn. Why is this?