“It takes two to manage the relationship, but it takes one to begin the change.” ~Sheri E. Ragland
So, your significant other doesn't understand you. In fact you're not even sure if they hear you. Despite trying to talk about things or take a break from each other, you end up arguing about the same thing over and over again.
You try this and you try that. You back away, you move in. You break up, you get back together. You try everything you can think of, and nothing is working, but you don't want to end the relationship.
You finally realize that no matter what you two do, you eventually find your way back to the same conflict, repeating the same dance again and again and again. Nothing seems to ever change.
So, you get excited when you finally figure out what you need to do—couples counseling! Relief floods you, confident now that couples counseling will save this relationship! And so, you announce to your other half, “We need couples counseling.”
But alas, like a punch to your gut, your partner has no interest in couples counseling and refuses to go. Barely able to breathe, you know your relationship is really at an impasse and you are hopeless to know how to fix it. It is certainly doomed if you don't get the counseling you both need.
I know the feeling. In fact, my car was packed at least once, and I was sure I was finally going to leave.
Thank goodness I didn't.
Did you ever hear the old adage, “I married my mother” or “I married my father”? There is truth to this statement. Despite our inability to recognize it, we do often marry or partner with someone like our mother or our father.
And I am going to tell you why.
First and foremost, it's familiar. We’re attracted to what we know. Secondly and most importantly, we marry or partner with someone like our mother or our father in an unconscious attempt at resolving old conflicts and feelings left over from those original and significant early relationships.
Read that again: We marry or partner with someone like our mother or our father in an unconscious attempt at resolving old conflicts and feelings left over from those original and significant early relationships.
That's a lot to mull over, for sure.
Never underestimate the impact your childhood experience had on your life. Never underestimate the impact your relationship or lack thereof, with your mother and father had on your life. Even absent parents can have an immeasurable impact.
They were the mirror through which you learned to see yourself. If, more often than not, you had a positive, encouraging, supportive mirror, you likely grew up with healthy self-esteem. If that mirror was more often than not, judgmental, critical, unsupportive, or disinterested, then your self-worth is likely at the lower end of healthy.
Think about it. Those relationships, or lack of, sent you multitudes of unspoken messages.
The question is: What are the messages you took in and how are they affecting your current relationship?
I grew up in a male-dominated household and religion. It was not until I was an adult that I recognized that I believed men were more important than women. No one ever said that to me, but that was how I interpreted the male-dominated environments that gave little to no voice to women.
As a result, I rarely spoke up, remaining hidden. I found myself in unhealthy and unsatisfying relationships where I allowed men to dominate me. I never fully showed up as a valuable and integral part of the relationship I was in.
This is one of the ways that our past follows us into the present, inviting us to grow and learn beyond what childhood taught us. Figuring out how to navigate our emotional world and our relationships is paramount to this process. Hence, a not so peaceful, sometimes antagonizing relationship with the one you love can be the invitation you need.
So, s/he won't accompany you to couples counseling. What to do??
The change we want in our world, always starts with ourselves.
Now don't get me wrong, I get it. If only s/he would [fill in the blank] it would all be okay. If s/he would stop [fill in the blank], I would be just fine. I just need him/her to [fill in the blank] and we'd be happy. And so it goes.
Every relationship has a dance. You do this and s/he does that. S/he does that and you do this. That would be the repeating pattern that has you going around and around and around, never resolving a thing.
You are both trying to convince the other of why you are right. That is a lose-lose situation.
When you can both recognize that this is not necessarily a right-wrong situation, both having valid points, you might find your way to a win-win situation.
If one partner changes their steps, breaking out of the old pattern, the other has three choices:
1. They can, and often do, do everything in their power to get you back into the dance steps you are both familiar with. Don't let them suck you in. If you don't they will be left with two choices:
2. They can leave altogether.
3. Their other choice is to change their dance to get in step with yours.
I understand, dear heart. This is hard and it is risky. Truly I do understand, because I’ve been there. If my spouse would just behave the way I want him to and treat me the way I think he should, then life would be perfect. We could just forget this whole dance thing.
In other words, if he molds himself to meet my needs, I won't have to be disturbed or expected to take care of my own needs. Ah, wouldn't that be nice?!
Maybe, not likely, but unrealistic, nonetheless.
So, I finally got into therapy. Alone.
Best decision I ever made. (Other than marrying my husband.)
It was hard work. Grueling at times. I had to unearth my childhood experience to finally understand I was expecting my husband to meet the needs that my parents had been unable to meet.
I was demanding. I wanted him to be interested all the time. Drop what he was doing when I needed him. I was irritable. I expected him to know what I needed without my telling him. I wanted him to coddle me and sympathize with my struggles.
I didn't want a husband. I wanted a parent.
At some point in my therapy, I said, “If I had known then what I know now, I would have never married my husband.”
I have since said, “Thank God I didn't know!”
I began to heal old wounds. My therapist became the surrogate parent who put a new mirror in front of me. This one showed me my strength, my ability, my heart. I began to realize I was capable and strong.
My moods stabilized. Depression lifted. Anxiety subsided.
I learned to listen to myself the way my therapist did. I learned to have compassion for myself the way my therapist did. I learned to love myself the way my therapist did. That was the mirror I needed—one that showed me my value, equal to that of anyone else.
Having done so, without even realizing it was happening, I stopped looking for my husband to parent me. I didn't need him to. I was now doing it for myself. I began to see him more clearly, realizing how present and steadfast he had always been.
As I stopped putting demands on him, and accepted him just the way he was, he became more available to me. Our relationship improved. Tremendously.
As my steps changed, he changed his own and we found a healthier dance.
Now, I am not going to tell you that your outcome will be the same as mine. It may not be. You may get healthy enough to realize you don't want the relationship anymore and you will then be able to take the appropriate steps to do what you need to do.
S/he may leave. Then you may have to grieve what the relationship never was to begin with. If things aren't working as they are, then maybe you have less to lose than you think and fear is getting in the way.
Facing your fears, and delving in to your own insecurities, distorted beliefs, and unhappiness provides the opportunity to be free from emotional dependence on another person.
And that is a good thing.
That is a very, very good thing.
Don't wait for someone else to get on board before you do what is best for you. Love yourself first and the rest will follow.