Couples wait, on average, 6 years of being unhappy before they reach out for help. In my practice, I see some (very wise) young couples coming in, wanting to work on communication and a few other “things”. I also see many older couples who have been hurt, angry, resentful or plain ole disconnected for a long time (yes, even decades.)
Once they get into my office and start talking about the things that aren’t working, the thing that hits them the hardest is how long it has been going on. They frequently feel exhausted, lost, confused and hopeless. It makes sense- if your partner has been behaving a certain way for 20+ years, you probably think they can’t or don’t want to change. Similarly, if the dynamics in your relationship have been unsatisfying for many years, you aren’t going to have much hope for the relationship.
Frequently, one partner appears more assertive (these are the guys their wives call ‘narcissists’) because they are opinionated, think they are right and are pretty sure if they say it enough times or loud enough, their wife will finally ‘get it’. They really desperately want to be heard and understood by their partner and they refuse to give up, so they keep trying the same tactics over and over again. The other partner appears less assertive but, in fact, they just have a different coping strategy. They think if they just go away for a while, their partner will calm down and then they can get back to the business of life. This partner doesn’t like conflict and uses going away as a cool down strategy in hopes of being able to talk things through when cooler heads prevail.
The problem with waiting so long to get help is that partners have built up walls of defense and the patterns are so ingrained, that neither partner can really see or hear clearly. This is how a partner can sincerely and desperately say, “I just want my partner’s attention. I just want her to want to be with me” and the partner can then look on indifferently and shrug, saying “He sure doesn’t act that way at home. He acts like a jerk.” The emotional signals that are meant to pull a partner closer or reduce conflict become distorted and shaded with criticism, anger or apparent indifference.
Marriage is meant to be our safest, most secure base and the foundation of secure families, a saner society and a deeper, more mature spirituality. Please don’t wait any longer. Come learn how to take control of your negative dance and clarify your emotional signals about attachment needs and fears in a way that encourages your partner to respond with love and compassion.