I was working with a couple recently. The boyfriend was unhappy. The girlfriend was unhappy. They both reported high tension in the home. But when we looked at what was happening, even though both were not talking and silent with each other, their behaviors spoke volumes.
They were wondering if they should stay together. Both were trying to feel better. But then something happened. The boyfriend began to isolate. He would come home from work sit on the couch, and drink beer while watching sports. Nothing wrong with this, but when he was focusing on the television, he wouldn’t talk to the girlfriend—not a word.
I was visiting a friend recently and she just got a puppy. The dog is about four months old and is full of puppy energy. My friend was apologetic because the puppy was not well behaved. I thought to myself, “Of course this puppy is not well behaved. She’s still a little baby!”
Her frustration was evident. Even though she is a very good trainer, the dog was still not following her directions. I observed this situation and I understood that this animal would grow into the well-trained dog that she wants, but it will take time.
And maybe that’s what we all suffer from when we wait for things to change in our relationships. As I work with couples they tell me about the difficulties that they encounter and by the time they come in for counseling they are often times at the end of their ropes and they don’t have any more room to wait.
I was listening to a friend talk about her childhood. She grew up in a city, surrounded by streets and buildings. She talked about how in the middle of a certain street there was a break in the concrete and a tree grew up through the ground.
This tree was so unique that if you drove that street, you would have to drive around the tree. That tree lived and thrived, even though everything was aimed against it. And that tree was full and amazing and it had to squeeze itself through cracks in the street.
I needed directions to a new place and I turned to my husband to help me navigate. I often ask for his assistance as it gives me comfort to be helped. You see, my inner guidance is often backwards, and looking at maps is difficult for my head unless it’s explained to me. It is easy for my husband. He understands maps and grids and they are easy for him to use.
Not for me. I get stressed when I am unsure how to get to some place I have not been to before. He understands how I am wired and he is usually so good at printing out a map and showing me how to go. I have to literally see a map, write down directions and then I can feel at ease.
All we really want from the one we love is to know that we matter, and we are special to our partner. It is a very specific feeling that we must receive from the person we love. Because we love them so much, we must feel they love us just as much. And we feel it so fiercely when we don’t get it.
And when that happens we end up feeling as if our mates just don’t care enough. I saw this recently in a client. She was hoping to see her beloved for a special day but the partner had other things to do. On any other day, this might have been OK, but not on this day.
One of the most common difficulties I witness when I meet a couple is that one of the partners can’t show his emotions. And maybe that’s because in our culture men are encouraged to “tough it out” so many are not used to even knowing they are feeling something in the first place.
This works of course, especially when there is business or other financial or important dealings. Not feeling or knowing what you feel has its place. But when it comes to relationships this system can be a problem.
I was walking the neighborhood recently with a friend and we passed by a car parked on the street. The windows were down so I could hear a young couple sitting in the front facing each other and having a discussion.
I heard a few words from the man. He was explaining something to the young woman about how his feelings were hurt. I could feel his earnestness, even after just a couple of moments. I also could tell that he was trying really hard to get her to understand him.
When we love someone and we get our feelings hurt, all of us do something about it. We cope with it differently. Some of us yell at our person to make things better. Some of us leave the situation when we feel hurt. And others freeze up and remain silent waiting for everything to pass.
I often talk about the first two, yelling at our partners or leaving after an argument, but I seldom give any thought to what silence from a mate can do to a relationship. But after working with a couple recently it’s clear that silence, however well-meaning, can have a detrimental effect on how people feel.
People in relationships want to be happy and peaceful. Couples all over the world share that wish. So why are relationships so fraught with difficulty and confusion? This is common too, and it’s something we can all do something about.
Unfortunately, most couples have one track for solving their problems—and it usually doesn’t work. Here’s why.