Category Archives: Tips for Couples

There’s No Such Thing As Soulmates!

Will I ever find THE ONE?

If you’re looking for an article to give you some hope that there’s that one person out there that’s destined to be the love of your life, you should probably stop reading now. My goal here is to help you understand how there is simply no one out there who is your “one.” But not only that, I hope to empower you to get out there and find A one and MAKE them your one. Fairy tales don’t exist, and there’s no prince charming, damsel in distress, love at first sight, or any other Disney princess nonsense going on in the real world. (To be fair to Disney, their movies have generally played to the mainstream cultural mood of America in some ways, and they’ve made moves toward more egalitarian, even power-female, plots in recent “princess” films.).

We’ve got great physical chemistry…

If you’ve been searching for “the one” for a while with no luck, it’s probably because love (at least lasting love) is not about luck, serendipity, fortune, or destiny. According to the majority of the scholarly research available on couples, it’s about commitment, trust, and sacrifice. It’s also not about physical intimacy. If the physical “chemistry” happens to be good from the start, great. But let me emphasize that physical chemistry is something that can be worked on and improved far more easily than personality issues and worldview conflicts (differences in the personal value lenses through which we see and interpret the world around us).

Passion in Paris, or consistent commitment?

What we are often led to believe by Hollywood, and ABC’s “The Bachelor,” is that near death experiences and passionate physical encounters are the main ingredients of great love. But what Hollywood often fails to portray in these epic romances is the depth of devotion and sacrifice required to maintain that chemistry over the long term. Even the 90’s NBC sitcom, “Friends,” takes a humorous approach to the subject, and largely equates soulmates to someone attractive with whom you share primary interests.

Most of the “love at first sight” stories fail to show the complex and nuanced process of growing together over several years. In entertainment romances, love is seldom earned by working at building and maintaining a friendship based on trust and mutual self-less action. Instead, one partner covers the bedroom in a thousand rose petals, sells a business and moves across the country, plans a romantic weekend in Paris, etc., and the characters “fall” for each other. These sweeping gestures and fancy vacations lead to passionate emotional connection that has little chance of lasting without the key ingredient of commitment.

Should marriage be so difficult?

I recently heard a marriage therapist say, “If your marriage is difficult, you’re doing it wrong.” I think I understand where they were coming from, but I would hate to sugar coat anything about marriage. It’s hard work. No, it shouldn’t always be difficult, but there will be difficult moments. There should be fun, and it should outweigh the bad times, but most of our daily lives together are not epic, harrowing, dramatic, exciting, or anything else that many people look for in soulmate love. Much of life is ordinary and detail-oriented. It’s meal-planning, budgeting, working, raising children, scheduling, etc. The business of daily life.

If you need constant excitement in your relationship, you’re likely heading for a break-up. No relationship can offer constant fun. If you start to say to yourself, or your partner, “We never have any fun anymore,” that’s okay! Talk about it! Ask for what you need and want. Discuss what you’re willing to sacrifice to make positive changes to the relationship. Show your partner what you’re willing to give up in the schedule to make time for new adventures. For example, how willing are you to help your partner with their daily tasks to make their life easier and create availability in their schedule for the fun time you crave?

Soulmates are not found. They are made.

You pick a person, just about any person, and as long as there is mutual commitment to trust and sacrifice for each other, the relationship has a great chance of surviving and thriving for the long haul. We all grow and change together. The soulmate you find today may be somewhat different in a year, and possibly very different in ten years.

What if s/he changes over time?

Few people change dramatically overnight. Growth takes time, and what matters is growing together. You might find your soulmate at the grocery store, or at a club, church, school, or office. You just won’t know it’s them yet. Even if you feel a strong connection right away, this is short-term emotional excitement. This represents attraction, aroused interest, novelty, and curiosity, but not love. Find a person you like now, and help them to grow over time, loving and sacrificing for them to help them reach their full potential as a person and partner. As they do the same for you, they solidify their place as your soulmate.

I love him/her, but it feels like it’s not working anymore…

If you’re already in a committed relationship and it’s not feeling like a soulmate situation, this doesn’t mean you picked the wrong person. It means you’ve both got some work ahead of you to become the soulmate each other deserves. Relationships are a team game, and you have to play WITH and FOR your teammate. You’re bound to lose the game of love when you start playing only for yourself. Be the partner you want your partner to become. You can’t change them. You can only change yourself, and appeal to their love for you in requesting that they also make some changes. Show love and ask for it in return. Be open about your needs and desires. And when they follow through, even on the small things, give them credit!

Should we just tough it out?

If it’s still difficult, get help. Talk to a psychologist, a therapist, a pastor, or maybe for starters, a happy long-term couple that you know and trust. Relationships are not meant to be lived in isolation, but in supportive community. If your partner changes, you’ll probably need to make changes as well. You can’t find a soulmate. But you can be one, and help your partner become one too.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Should I get a Prenup?

In the 2001 film, Ocean’s 11, George Clooney’s character, Danny Ocean, attempts not only to pull off one of the greatest casino heists in Las Vegas history, but also to win back the heart of his ex-wife, Tess (played by the fabulous Julia Roberts). It just so happens that the casino owner has been romantically involved with Tess, and it’s looking somewhat serious.

Part of Ocean’s scheme involves having Tess observe a conversation between Ocean and the casino owner following the heist. Ocean essentially tells the casino owner he can help find the guys who robbed the casino, and all he would have to do is give up Tess. As Tess watches from a hijacked video feed in another room, the casino owner agrees to Ocean’s proposal. Tess decides that she’s not interested in love that comes with a price tag, even one that is over $100 million, and leaves the relationship immediately. (Cue chants of “You go girl!”)

I’ve yet to come across a person who is excited about pouring themselves wholly and vulnerably  into a marriage relationship knowing that their partner values a particular item or dollar amount more than the relationship. It’s just not a recipe for great love. And yet, many Americans who might support Tess’ move still think about their own relationships more like the casino owner.

Obtaining legal counsel

Now, before I say anything further, let me be clear that I am not a legal expert. I’ve got lawyers in my family that I consult for these kinds of things, and hopefully you’ll consult one if this topic has been on your mind. Here is some info from divorcenet.com that provides the basics of prenuptual / premarital agreements in California (where I practice). Laws may be different where you live, but it’s something to get you started. That said, I can speak to the relational issues at stake here with confidence, so buckle up, and lets talk about PRENUPs!

 

A little history

Unfortunately, the last 50 or so years have seen tremendous rise in the divorce rates in America. The traditional view of marriage as a bond that requires and deserves consistent effort seems to have faded into the mist in the wake of the “me generation.” The American values of dedication and sacrifice pervaded the pre-boomer generations following multiple wars and the great depression. This all seemed to change as America entered a time of prosperity and self-indulgence. Even with the shift toward pursuit of self and temporary turn-ons, people still tend to get married more than not, even if it is later in life for many (after pursuing careers, exciting but temporary relationships, etc.). The irony here is that as we’ve sought to please ourselves above all others, we’ve lost the art of relational sacrifice and end up suffering in our most important relationships.

The prenup as a response to divorce rates

One “solution” many couples turn to in light of this increasing statistical likelihood of divorce is a prenuptual agreement. This agreement can take many forms and can specify a number of ways that things like personal property and financial assets can be divided in the event of marital dissolution. This is all well and good if the couple does not plan to stay together forever. If we’re honest, many marriages these days are less about lifelong commitment to the person, and more about infatuation with a current feeling.

What you think about marriage matters

Probably the most important consideration when it comes to a prenup is your personal philosophy of marriage. What does it mean to get hitched? Originally, it meant tying a horse to a wagon, it’s charge and burden. Later it came to mean getting married. In both cases, the idea is that one thing is tied to another, ideally with the intention that one cannot separate itself from the other without great cause or effort. After all, what good is tying your horse to a wagon if it can stop pulling whenever it hits an uphill road or simply gets tired!? This also rings true with marriage. This is why your marriage cannot simply be about how you feel about your partner right now. It’s a commitment to them even if (when) your feelings change in the future.

When we say “I love you” to someone, it often means “I enjoy the way you make me feel.” When we say, “I can’t imagine my life without you,” it often means, “I hope I always feel this excited, passionate, and happy.” Some friends told me recently about a wedding they attended where the bride and groom eschewed more traditional vows in favor of exchanging compliments. This probably made most of their loved ones in attendance say things like, “Aww, how sweet!” and “You can tell they are so in love with each other!” Unfortunately, saying nice things to build each other up is only a small fraction of the original purpose of a marriage. What you think of the remaining tasks of a spouse are vitally important as you consider a marriage and/or a prenup.

The meaning of marriage

Marriage’s original intent, for better or worse, was to bind people together legally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, and in all other ways, forever (or at least “until death parts us”). Marriage is not supposed to be convenient. In fact, it is most effective at it’s original purposes (creating a secure family environment for the bettering of each spouse, possibly the raising of children, and serving the community) when there is some healthy tension. People don’t grow without experiencing tension!

A good spouse should not always make you happy, but should also challenge you, hone you, and grow you. If you’re looking to always be happy, marriage isn’t for you! But if you’re looking for a partner in life whom you can trust and rely upon, no matter what, then you might think about making a lifelong commitment to someone. Done right, marriage can bring lasting security and joy, which is not about a feeling in any given moment, but a way of experiencing life.

If your philosophy of marriage includes these more traditional ideas and practices, I would encourage you to consider the relational message a prenuptual agreement sends to your future mate. And I say “future mate” because until you have been bound together (hitched) legally in marriage, there’s no security for either of you, and really no reason for your partner to be fully vulnerable with you. No matter how long you’ve been dating or even living together, there’s always the option of leaving, with no notice and possibly few strings attached.

The benefit and costs of a prenup

Nowadays we have “no fault divorce,” an oxymoron if ever I heard one. In light of this reality, a prenuptual agreement is essentially a way to protect yourself from your future spouse. It guarantees that when you split up, you’re not left high and dry. And protect you it will, but that protection comes with a price higher than your attorney’s fees. A prenuptual agreement indicates to your fiancee, in legally binding terms, that there is a price on your love, an amount you are not willing to sacrifice to be fully theirs. It also signals that you are entering the marriage believing that there’s a decent chance it may end in some way other than the death of one or both spouses. Though I’ve never been in the military, I imagine committed marriage to be similar to a soldier squaring himself with the fact that he may die defending his country and the soldier next to him, and still making the choice to run toward the sounds of danger. You may lose in your marriage, and you may lose big, but committing to vulnerably take that risk is the only way to have truly great love.

What if I’m a lot more well-off than my fiancee?

Some will certainly argue that a prenup allows the wealthier spouse to have peace of mind that their partner is not marrying them just to get at their money. To that I simply say, if your marriage is not built on trust and commitment, it’s not likely to be very successful anyway, and yes, you’re probably going to need that prenup. Neither you, nor your partner, will ever feel secure as a husband or wife until you both are willing to give up everything for the other and fully commit. If they maliciously deceive you, that says more about them than you. Does that get your money back? No. But the complete vulnerability it takes to trust your spouse is the very foundation of a healthy marriage.

Can’t I just keep one foot out the door to be safe?

Prenuptual agreements reflect a more modern view of marriage, and frankly, one that has likely contributed to the rise in divorce rates. If you enter the marriage with even one toe out the door, you’re not fully committed to your spouse. Why, then, should they fully commit to you, put your needs first, and make sacrifices for you (the things most of us vowed to do on our wedding day)? (see Hokey Pokey marriages for more on this).

So should I get a prenup or not?

All told, if your philosophy of marriage tells you that marriage is simply a way to legally change your social status to “in a relationship,” or marriage just feels like “the logical next step,” consult your family law attorney and look into possibly getting yourself a prenuptual agreement. The stats say there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to need it.

If, however, your philosophy of marriage tells you that marriage is a covenant between two people who not only like each other, but also commit to loving the other when they don’t deserve it, are unable or unwilling to give love in return, when life is just hard, when you haven’t talked for a while or haven’t had sex in three months, or one of you is depressed or physically ill and needing endless care and attention, then I urge you to think otherwise. Officially, I need to say you should consult an attorney as this has not only relational but financial/legal ramifications. That said, there is much more at stake with a prenup than just your money. Your vulnerability and secure attachment to your future spouse are on the line as well.

Vows are not something to take lightly. If you don’t really mean them, exchange compliments instead. It’s still nice, and it may more accurately represent the meaning of your ceremony. Are you looking to spend a lifetime getting to know someone as they grow, change, and fail? Or are you just looking to have an expensive party, dress up, and go on a nice vacation? It really is that simple. If you commit to the former, the remaining details shouldn’t matter. As Tess showed us in Ocean’s 11, nobody likes to learn there’s a price on their love, whatever the sacrifice.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you a marriage consumer?

One of the leading causes of death for marriages is consumerism. We get so caught up in consuming our spouse that we lose track of what it means to serve them. We forget the original vows we told each other, and we start thinking about ourselves first.

When my wife and I got married, we exchanged vows and promised each other the following: I want you in my life, to have and to hold, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others (i.e. don’t be intimate with other people!), as long as we both shall live, as long as you meet all my needs first.

Okay, maybe not that last part. But isn’t that what we end up doing all too often in our relationships? We start out with the rose colored glasses on, thinking only of our partner’s happiness and security. We give of our time, energy, and affection regardless of how tired we are or how much we are looking forward to doing something else at the time. Our partners know they are our top priority. But then things change.

We get into routines. We get busy. Maybe we have kids. Few things can get in the way of a couple’s relationship more than those adorable little bundles of joy. In fact, research tells us that often the lowest point in terms of satisfaction in most marriages is in the child-rearing years. But it doesn’t have to be as bad as we often let it get.

What’s the problem here? It’s not actually the kids. It’s not the number of hours you or your spouse are working. It’s not money. Granted, those things can often be difficult to deal with. But what I remind many of my couples is that there are plenty of marriages out there where both partners are happy and their situation is objectively more despairingly difficult than most couples’ situations. So what is different for those happy couples? What is the problem, really?

What I’ve learned from reading the scientific literature on relationships and from the couples I’ve worked with, is that the biggest problem facing married couples is not what stressors are in their lives, but whether they face them together. Are you and your partner connected in such a way that you both feel safe and secure in the marriage no matter what happens outside of your relationship?

If you lost a job, a home, a child, would your relationship survive? Would you draw each other closer in that time of need? Would you reach for one another? When one of you is tired and having a difficult time meeting the other’s needs, does the other understandingly pick up the slack? Or is there resentment? Bitterness? Frustration and withdrawal?

If happiness in your marriage is based on consuming your spouse like a product, you’re in for a disappointing and lonely time when you and/or your partner hit a rough patch in life. If you’ve secretly added the “as long as you meet all my needs first” section to your vows, it’s going to be hard to do your part in the relationship when they are unable to fulfill theirs.

The bottom line is that we cannot be consumers of our marriages. We must instead be investors in our marriages. We must be entrepreneurs and constantly invest, sometimes in new and creative ways, in our marriages.

This may not be easy for you, especially if this is not what was modeled in your home growing up. But what needs to happen is for you and your spouse to begin to truly live up to your vows to put each other first. Even when it’s not fun or easy. In sickness and in health. When money is overflowing and when you’re scraping pennies for mac-n-cheese dinners. When you’re happy and when you’re not. There are no contingencies in successful marriages.

To be successful in this, you need to cultivate the safety and security that are the foundation of healthy communication. Consuming your spouse only puts pressure on them and drains them. Investing in their happiness, their success, and their emotional health puts them in a much better position to be able to meet your needs. Be an investor in your marriage, not a consumer of it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Weeks and Weeks of Little Tweaks

A while back I was talking with a married couple that was getting ready to finish up their couples therapy. They had been separated for quite some time and were essentially living as a divorced couple, co-parenting their children effectively, but not much interaction outside of their parenting efforts. After several months of therapy, moving back in together, enjoying date nights, and starting to have civil and even meaningful conversations even around difficult issues, we decided that it was about time to try things on their own.

As is typical toward the end of therapy, we talked about all of the wonderful changes that had happened in their marriage and all of the goals they had met by working together on being together. As I tell my graduate students all the time, there’s no magic elixir, no magic pill, no special word of advice or wisdom that will fix any relationship. It takes two people committed to doing the often difficult work of recommitting to put their partner first, just as they did months or years earlier.

During our happy discussion about all the exciting changes in their relationship I praised their hard work and tried like crazy to make sure that they took the credit for the positive changes they were seeing. I mentioned the “no magic elixir” bit, as I had many times before with them, and the wife mentioned something I’ll never forget.

“It just took weeks and weeks of little tweaks,” she said, not knowing just how brilliant it was at the time. Now this obviously simplifies the process substantially, but how true that statement is! Some couples will be able to mend things and reconnect faster than others, but relationships are still, at their core, about doing the little things. Sweeping gestures and grand gifts are nice, but it’s not about what have you done for me lately. It’s about what have you done with me, done for me, and shared with me every day, whether we got to see each other in person or not.

If you’re in a rough spot in your marriage, weeks and weeks of little tweaks are likely a big part of what you need to be doing. Fancy vacations together, calling sappy radio shows at night to dedicate a song, and other cheesy actions are great, but make sure they’re not a one-time deal. Make sure your lover knows you love them! Every day. In many ways. Do the little things.

If you’re on board for doing the little things and maybe are having a hard time deciding which tweaks need to be made, it might be time to ask someone who is trained to help you and your partner get back on track. If you happen to be in the Orange County area, feel free to give me a call to see if I might be able to help you and your partner out. But wherever you are, get in touch with someone who can help. You’re worth it, and your relationship is worth it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Investing in your Marriage

You’ve probably heard the maxim, “It takes money to make money.”

Unfortunately, even if you’ve been gifted the initial setup from a friend or website dating service, most of the future investments will need to be your own. Yes, it may be financial ($$ for dates, $$ for gas to visit your partner, maybe eventually $$ for rings, etc.), but certainly not always.

Your partner, depending on their particular love language and attachment needs, may need some very specific things that you’re not aware of and may not feel prepared to give depending on your own background and needs.

What does relationship investing look like?

Investing may take the form of seeking the advice of a trusted friend/couple, family member, pastor, or therapist. Some resources will be free, while others may cost you a great deal of money.

The question it always comes down to is this: How committed are you to keeping the promise you made to your partner?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to save your relationship? Will you go to the moon and back to show him/her that they matter? Will you give up the vacation time you planned with a friend to stay with them and work on the relationship? Will you reduce your hours at work to spend more time at home with your family? Will you attend therapy with someone that is not just convenient or cheap, but you’ve decided may actually be a good fit or comes highly recommended?

How does this play out in real life?

The “It takes money to make money” principle is almost never more true in a relationship than in the following two ways:

1- You consistently invest time, energy, and financial resources in your relationship and partner. This helps you avoid counseling and divorce attorney fees down the road, and you are more likely to have a successful/healthy/happy marriage for years to come.

2- One or both of you have not done #1 above as well as you could have, and you are now living separate from each other, spending unnecessary sums of money on two homes. You spend more on gas and food, electricity, heating, and everything else that would be contained to one bill if together. By investing in quality counseling for, say, 10-20 sessions, you stand to not only have a relationship that is thriving again, or maybe even for the first time, but also to save thousands of dollars over the course of months or years of separation.

The “Ouch” factor in counseling

People often hear what therapy costs and literally say, “Ouch!” I practice in Huntington Beach, California, and apartment rent ranges from around $1500 to $2500/month (though this is for a pretty standard, smaller, non-luxury apt.). Five months of weekly therapy with me costs couples less than two months of rent at a pretty average apartment in Huntington Beach.

Many will still see the cost of therapy and hesitate, but I’d encourage you to consider the costs of not coming to therapy, even in the short term. Long term you’re looking at tremendous costs in the thousands of dollars (rent, attorneys, etc.). Short term, you’re looking at seldom feeling happy, loved, fulfilled, worthy, cared-for, prioritized, valued, special, trusting, and secure.

Add this to the anxiety and stress that is experienced by couples in distress brought on not only by each other, but the social pressures of keeping up appearances with children friends, church members, colleagues, family members, and others, and these costs begin to feel more burdensome than a withering bank account. (See also this related article).

Investing vs. the relationship lottery

The bottom line is this: Either your relationship is worth saving and investing in, or it isn’t. I hope you’ll pardon me here, but there’s no way to successfully half-ass your relationship. You either spend the time, energy, and money to maintain and build it, or you choose to let it crumble. Sometimes slowly, sometimes in an avalanche of disrepair.

It’s your call to make. Well…you and your partner. I believe that any relationship with two highly motivated partners can succeed with the right guidance. If you’re ready to invest in your relationship, there’s no better time than today. Make the phone call or send that email you’ve been putting off. The longer you wait, the more it costs you. Start investing now!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you Preparing for a Wedding, or a Marriage?

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, been in one, or at least been close friends with someone getting married you know that the preparations can take months, hundreds of hours, and in most cases, $1000s of dollars! So many of us get caught up in planning the “Big Day” that we neglect to prepare for something even more important: the marriage!

How do we miss this important step?

There are invites to send out, cakes to taste, dresses and tuxedos to try on, flowers to select, and a million other things to take care of. Often the engagement period can be one of the most stressful times in any relationship (right up there with having your first child or buying your first home).

What happens for many couples is they put all of their focus on making sure that all of the decorations are in place, the song list is matched perfectly to each dance, and the guests are all seated at appropriate distances from that one relative you know they’ll get in an argument with. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of wedding preparation and forget about having those EVEN MORE IMPORTANT conversations about what life will be like AFTER the Big Day.

What will change about your relationship?

Even if you’ve been dating for years or living together for a long time, there will still be changes. There’s something fundamentally different about relationships once there’s a legal commitment made on paper and in front of at least a judge (and more likely everyone you know and care about).

Who is going to take care of which chores? Who will handle the finances? Will you have only joint accounts or will you each keep one in your own name? (I’ll discuss the pros/cons of these situations in a later post). Will you own pets? Have children? How many? Where will you live? What holidays are most important to your new family? How often will you have sex? How many hours do you expect to actually spend together each week?

How can you think about this moving forward?

The list of important things to discuss is endless and will continue to be addressed the rest of your lives together. You will grow and change together for years to come. If I could summarize my two biggest encouragements for you as you prepare for your wedding and marriage at this point it would go like this:

  1. Make sure to spend some of your precious and limited engagement season preparing not just for your wedding, but for the decades of marriage to follow. The wedding will happen and the mistakes you laugh at will be more fun to remember than the things that went off without a hitch. Get ready to spend your lives together, not just a day.
  2. Remember that you’re not marrying him/her because they are perfect or even perfect for you. In 10 years, neither one of you will be the same as you are now. You are marrying them because you want to grow with them. Start growing together now!

Having a hard time with these conversations?

If you’re finding it hard to get through these conversations on your own, it can be helpful to discuss them with someone whose counsel you trust. Find an older or more experienced couple and ask them how they get through the tough talks. It is also typically helpful to see a marriage professional (psychologist, couples/family therapist, etc.) as they are trained to help you see the potential rough spots in the relationship that you may have overlooked in addition to having the conversations discussed above.

The bottom line is that your marriage is too important to not prepare for it with the same level of intensity that you put into picking that perfect flower combination to compliment the bridesmaid dresses. Investing in your marriage now will pay big dividends in your relationship for decades to come! Feel free to give me a call to see how I can help or get in touch with someone you trust in your area.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines

Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines

A while back I was talking with a distressed couple on the brink of ending their relationship. Their situation reminded me of the importance of closely attending to what our partners really want. I call this “listening between the lines.” In this situation the wife was tremendously upset by something awful the husband had done. Embarrassed. Livid. This was how she felt, and rightfully so. She just wanted distance. Space to think and feel. Almost anyone in her situation, including you or I, would probably feel the same.

Follow up actions can help or harm.

The husband, to his credit, owned up to his actions and began doing what he could to initiate repair in the relationship. One such action was to buy his wife flowers. Under normal circumstances this would be a welcome gesture to most wives! A thoughtful, spur of the moment gift to make her feel special, right? Perhaps not surprisingly, in this situation the wife was more upset by the gift. She saw it as a refusal to respect her desire for space and time to process her feelings and decide what she would like to do moving forward.

What kind of flowers does she really want?

The repentant husband learned that giving his wife some space was exactly the kind of “flowers” she wanted. It wasn’t about a quick fix, or something that would directly make her (or him) feel better in the short term. It was about allowing forgiveness to happen on his partner’s terms, if at all. The first step to potential healing was to give up control over the healing process and take the risk of giving exactly what his wife needed at the moment.

Ask for what you need!

If you’ve experienced a breech of trust in a relationship, been hurt deeply, and felt like giving up on a relationship that means the world to you, it’s important to ask for exactly what you believe you need. Setting boundaries will be important. You may want space. You may initially want more frequent check-ins with your partner. You will typically be the best person to identify your needs in any given moment. That said, your partner may need to help you express those needs, and this can be hard to do if communication has not been a strength in your relationship.

Finding the journey too difficult alone?

Learning to trust again, learning to communicate in healthy ways, having someone to facilitate discussion and problem-solving, these are all things that effective marriage counselors can help with. If you are in the Huntington Beach or Orange County area and need help getting a derailed relationship back on the tracks, please give me a call to discuss how I can help.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.