As a marriage and family therapist for over thirty five years I have been on a learning curve with my clients. Early in my career, I could not fathom why some couples thrived in marriage therapy and others dropped out. I was shocked by the severity of some of the problems of those who thrived including divorce papers, affairs, financial problems and family tragedies. In contrast, couples who dropped out seemed to have fewer external problems and yet could not stay the course. Over time, I learned several important differences.
* Thrivers were both strongly committed to one another.
* Thrivers were able to stop blaming and start living.
* Thrivers were compassionate and connected.
* Drop-Outs had one or both members of the couple who were not committed to the relationship.
* Drop-Outs had one or both members who had problems with substance abuse or major mental illness.
* Drop-Outs could not let go of shame and blame.
I learned that the drop-outs often needed individual therapy and perhaps later they might be able to commit to another. It was destructive for partners to attack and blame or to expect the other to morph into someone different.
Some of the lessons learned from Thrivers are as follows:
* Problems that are repetitive and difficult have roots in the past. For example, if you do not have self-confidence, you may think things like, "If he thought I was worth it, he would call" or "Since I disappointed her, she thinks I am a bad husband."
* Repetitive arguments are clues to unresolved problems in our memory that keep popping up. Pay attention. You can help one another heal.
* Remember that you are dealing with your partner's self-esteem. Be careful. How we are viewed by family and significant others is a vital part of our identity.
* Be careful what you believe about relationships. Our mind can work like a magnet to confirm our belief systems. I am amazed how many people see only the negative behaviors of their partners. I once saw a couple, and the man said repeatedly, "I love you and want to make this work." When I asked her what she heard, she insisted that he never said it.
* Do not take yourself too seriously. We all have flaws and, therefore, should avoid becoming too full of ourselves.
* Would you walk in a bar and go up to a brawny stranger, stare him in the eye, and offer the challenge, "What's with you?" Many partners issue such a challenge and then expect a warm, fuzzy response. Act the way you want to be treated.
* When your partner attacks or withdraws, it is often a cry for help even though they have a funny way of showing it. Couples do better if they can join one another in the pain and learn to ask for help.
* Many people are living with an elephant in the living room that they pretend is not there. That elephant can do a lot of damage if left unattended.
* Couples often say they have tried "everything" when in fact they have remained stuck in a few of the same rigid patterns.
* You can learn how to maintain a good relationship. This is the best gift you can give your children.
Relationships are complicated and challenging but can be a catalyst to developing your best self. COMMENTS FROM THRIVERS:
These are comments from couples who began with despair and learned how to repair their relationships:
"The areas that were scariest and hardest to work out turned out to be the very ones that helped us to grow, and once we dealt with them it was so freeing."
"Although my perception is my reality, it is not necessarily the reality or situation of my partner."
"There is power and strength in gentleness, tenderness, and understanding of one another."
"Making a difficult but conscious choice at the moment of aggravation to step back, cool off, and not lose sight of the other person who is also These are comments from couples who began with despair and learned how to repair their relationships:
"We had another ceremony to begin our new marriage and let go of the old one after ten years."
"I wish everyone could feel what it is like to be in love again after eighteen years. I remember why I fell in love with him."
Thrivers taught me that mean is not the same as being strong. They showed me that compassionate listening allowed them to accept the reality of the other, dialogue about conflicts and find creative solutions.
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