At a dinner party the other night, an attractive 40-something woman asked me what I do. I told her that I work with couples who want more satisfying relationships.
“You mean you’re a therapist? I don’t believe in therapy. What’s the point?” she scoffed. “My husband and I were married 20 years ago. We’ve never been happy.” She puffed up her chest. “We’ll never separate or divorce, just out of spite.” She seemed proud and settled into the comfort of her own misery. She leaned over and touched my arm, saying in a conspiring tone “Come on now, we both know no couple is really happy? Anyone who says they are is either lying or deluded.”
There is no shortage of skeptics when it comes to relationships. Low expectations are part of the modern zeitgeist–a realistic approach too smart for silly romanticism. People’s cynical notions get confirmed by their own experiences of frustration, loneliness and despair. Many people with histories of tumultuous or unsatisfying relationships accept that unhappiness is simply the nature of the beast.
What’s wrong with settling with an unhappy relationship? Doesn’t it mean we’ve learned acceptance—a good thing. No, no, no. Here’s the simple truth: It’s hard to function fully if your relationship does not work. Forget about reaching your own potential as a person. Unhappy relationships drain energy and hold people back.
Are we destined to be unhappy? In my 40 years as a therapist, I’ve learned that both men and women want to be good partners. Deep down they long for a loving, harmonious relationship. They try their best and don’t really understand what holds them back. Often the foundation of a relationship is built on romantic myths, false beliefs and unrealistic expectations. A therapist can help a couple to get rid of emotional baggage, clear away the clutter and gain clarity about what they really want and need in their relationship.
Have you and your partner had the same arguments year after year? Are you frustrated that no matter how much you try, you can’t break the repetitive cycle? Nobody wins and everybody loses. You’ve lived through that.
A therapist is an expert who identifies your patterns and offers alternatives. Sometimes a solution can be revealed in the first couple of sessions. I have guided couples who’ve spent years deadlocked in conflict and despair to make minor adjustments which led eventually to transforming their relationship.
No relationship is perfect. Each has its own tensions, stresses and limitations. A marriage retreat helps ease these tensions and stresses, and create an expanded vision for the couple. You don’t need to be on the brink of splitting up. In fact, research shows that the earlier in a relationship a couple seeks guidance, the stronger and more satisfying the relationship will be. You need only to want a more alive and satisfying love connection with your partner. A solid marriage makes for a smooth ride in the journey of life together.