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Your Partner Is Your Ally
Marriages are made in heaven, but they are
practiced on earth.
—A justice of the peace at my friends Steve and
She climbs into bed ... curling inward like a bent spoon. He flips on his side, away from her, but his breathing tells her he isn't sleeping yet. Still, there is nothing to say. The minor irritations have taken on a life of their own—like a crash on the L.A. freeway, the pile-up is overwhelming. She thinks about the cliché marital advice she's heard from every Tom, Dick, and Aunt Harriet over and over about the secret of a happy marriage. "Never go to bed angry at each other. Always make up before the lights go out." She'd like to smack Aunt Harriet. It's not the first time this thought has occurred to her.
Who has these relationships, she wonders, these marriages, easy as no-iron sheets? She takes a long, slow breath. She wants to reach over—it's what Aunt Harriet would have done. She wants to, but it's as if her arms have a mind of their own. "I never wanted this," she thinks.
His breathing changes. He's sleeping now. She curls her hands against her chest in tiny fists. Dreams come like the noises a blacksmith makes, hammers on anvils, clanking against the night. In the morning, she opens her eyes and she has a thought. It's not a new thought, but she doesn't usually have it in the morning. She fears she may have made a terrible, terrible mistake.
He wakes tofindher turned away from him. He remembers a time when they slept holding each other every night. She couldn't get enough of him. He felt the same way about her. He has no idea how to find comfort or sue for peace. She's not my real wife, he tells himself, not the same woman. She's the body double, the changeling. He wonders if they will ever have a civil conversation again.
It is nights like this one that bring couples into my office—nights full of the loneliness that you can feel with your partner right beside you. These are the nights that make couples who truly love each other feel like embattled soldiers. These are the nights that cause couples to begin the long march to a peace maker, a couples therapist, who can help these two scared people to find their way back to a time when they felt as if they were on the same side. In this case, it was a woman named Maria who called my office to make a first appointment after she and her husband Jack had experienced too many nights like this one. When they entered my office, Maria sat on the couch facing me, while Jack took a chair on the other side of the room, next to the far wall. Maria looked at me pleadingly while Jack remained absorbed with examining a speck on his jacket. When I asked what brought them to see me, Maria reached reflexively for a tissue and started weeping softly and talking at the same time. She said that she was confused about the relationship ... she loved Jack ... but she was so unhappy. Suddenly, her tone changed, and she sounded angry: "He says I'm not passionate enough." Then she turned to Jack and fired, "Why should I be when you treat me like a machine? You treat me like I've got an on/off switch instead of a brain."
Eventually, I asked Jack if what Maria wanted to talk about was the same thing he wanted to talk about. Jack turned to Maria and burst forth with his competing anger: "Why do you have to have such screwed-up friends who need to talk to you until midnight? When I come home, you're always on the phone. When it's time to go to bed, you disappear." Jack looked at me and asked, "How am I supposed to relate to a woman whose lips are permanently attached to a telephone receiver?"
I sat quietly and listened for a few minutes while they fired complaints at each other. The sadness, anger, bitterness, confusion, frustration, exhaustion, and hurt were not strangers to me. In fact, I'd heard different versions of the same war stories many times. Just that day another couple had sounded just as angry, just as war-torn, just as bewildered. Linda accused Tony of being a workaholic who purposely avoided her and their four-year-old daughter, while Tony swore that Linda would only be happy if they were joined at the hip. Linda felt that the entire burden of their daughter, Lily, was on her shoulders even though they both worked. Linda was especially angry at how Tony was handling his two solo parenting nights. He had agreed to make dinner twice a week while Linda took a class, but on his solo nights, he served Lily pizza and ice cream. Then he made jokes about these items containing the four food groups. He said that he felt his dinners were fine since Lily would get a proper diet on the other five nights, when Linda cooked.
Linda said their fights were like the Kentucky Derby—one verbal gunshot and they were off. Grenades were tossed right and left as they flew through their greatest hits: the argument about how little empathy Linda has for what Tony is going through at work, the argument about how Tony can't get his priorities straight. They hit their crescendo with the arguments about Lily, his socks on the floor, her nagging, his inability to hear her feelings. What a tangled mess!
And earlier, another couple, Marcella and Lionel, told their own story of marital unrest. Marcella said that Lionel was irresponsible, that he overspent and made it impossible for them to save money, while Lionel said that Marcella acted like his mother, watching over his every move and waiting for him to screw up. And, speaking of his mother, Marcella said that Lionel's mother was a pain in the neck, calling several times a day at inopportune moments and grilling Marcella to make sure she was doing right by Lionel. This had been going on for years. "Why can't you tell your mother to butt out?" Marcella sniped in utter frustration.
There Is Hope
These are the kinds of stories that couples tell a marriage counselor, stories filled with snipers, ambushes, predawn attacks. But no matter how angry they are or how hurt, whether they know it or not, these couples have hope or they never would have called a marriage counselor in the first place. The same could be said for you. You have hope or you wouldn't have picked up this book. Whether you feel like your relationship is being attacked by sharks or nibbled to death by ducks, a piece of you hopes and believes that if things changed, you'd be happy—or, at the very least, happier. That's why you are here.
So here are my first four pieces of advice:
1. Don't panic. There is not a couple alive who has been together for more than two years who has not known the kind of unhappiness and unrest you are feeling. If you want to, you can learn how to keep your relationship above water—even if your partner is resistant. Often, your partner is just as frustrated as you are and wants things to improve as much as you do, but he or she is unable to make the first move or is trying to improve things in a way that doesn't work (which, unfortunately, can make things seem worse). You can begin to peel away the layers of hurt and futility and make remarkable progress even with a resistant partner—because you can learn strategies that do work. The fact that you are trying to understand more about your relationship puts you in an even better position to get through difficult days. Every day, couples do survive.
2. Remember that happy couples have the same problems as couples whose relationships break up. All couples argue about the same things—money, sex, child rearing, intrusive relatives and friends, jealousy, shattered expectations, not enough time together, different values—there really are a handful of problems that come up for all of us over and over again. The difference is that couples whose relationships survive and flourish have learned how to resolve some problems, how to accept some problems, how to let go of some problems, how to keep their mouths shut about some problems, how to build on the strengths in the relationship, how to endure some problems, and how to hang in there when that little voice tells them they should find a foxhole and jump in. You and your partner can learn how to do these things and be a happy couple, too.
3. Stay the course. Fixing your relationship is like starting a diet or an exercise program—the first few days or weeks are the toughest. People tend to feel deprived when they start a new regime, even when it's good for them. However, if you stick with the program, you soon start to feel like you are making progress. Because you will be trying new behaviors and new ways of thinking about your relationship, initially, you too may feel deprived. At first, you may not like the feelings you have or your partner's responses. Keep turning the pages. Give the new information a chance. No matter what shape your relationship is in and no matter how long it's been that way and no matter how badly things seem to be going, there is a good chance that things can improve. If you don't stick with the program, you may never know.
4. Your partner is your ally. Sure, you may hate the way he is behaving or the way she treats you. You have legitimate gripes, real problems getting through to your partner, verifiable difficulties with finding mutually satisfying ways to work things out. When one partner is a workaholic or one never serves more than a pizza to the kids or one constantly complains or the lovemaking has stopped—that is no way for two people to live. Yes, you are pulling out your hair for a reason.
But that doesn't mean you and your partner are on different, opposing sides.
Even if you feel that you and your partner are pitted against each other, your partner is your ally. Remember, the enemy is the harsh words, stupid mistakes, combative impulses, bad habits of interacting, accusations—not your partner. The two of you will learn to join forces to combat these unsatisfying ways of relating rather than fighting each other, getting nowhere, and maintaining the not-so-good status quo. It's really quite simple—if fighting with each other hasn't helped things improve between you, if it hasn't brought you what you wanted, then you may as well try fighting something besides each other. The two of you can start fighting for the relationship.
In future chapters you will learn more about the many ways in which your partner is your ally. In Chapter 4 you will learn about the impact of your past on your present. You will see why your partner is the one you have chosen with whom to rework old family relationships. In Chapter 12, you will learn how you can fall in love over and over again with the same person—entering richer, deeper honeymoon moments. I'll say it again: Your partner is your ally.
Why Aren't Relationships Easier
The end of the honeymoon may frustrate you to the point of thinking that your fate is to spend the rest of your life dangling unsatisfying relationships off the isthmus of your ego. You will be certain you've made a mistake, and you'll be right. In fact, you've made several. It's just that your mistakes probably have less to do with whom you've chosen than with wrongheaded notions of what you thought you were getting when you chose. In fact, thinking that your only mistake is that emotionally paralyzed lunkhead you latched on to is probably naive.
On the other hand, sticking around to see what's left after the smoke clears is hard. Some folks never do it. When the relationship hits a storm they jump ship, certain that they chose the wrong person. I appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael with a woman who had been in fifty-three relationships—a woman who never moved beyond the idea that she'd picked the wrong men. Yet, it is only by not jumping ship, even when you are certain it's sinking, that new possibilities for your relationship will occur. You can put on your wetsuit, stick around now and take a look, or you can spend the rest of your life experiencing uncontrollable tics every time you flip through the soft rock stations and come upon Joni Mitchell lamenting about only being able to recall love's illusions.
It's your choice. And while you're making it—one more time:
Remember: Your partner is your ally.
You Aren't Unusual If You're Having Problems
If you are having trouble maintaining the goodwill and the passion that brought the two of you together in the first place, you're not alone. The reality is you've probably been taught more about how to floss your teeth than about how to be in a relationship. So it is understandable that when problems arise, you don't know how to handle them.
In addition, contemporary relationships bear great stress that differs radically from the stressors that plagued relationships in the past. For example, it's really only in the past fifty years that couples have begun expecting to find lasting love and lasting self-fulfillment in a marriage. Can you imagine, hundreds of years ago, couples refusing to marry without the promise of self-fulfillment? In those days they were lucky to get a cow.
Today, we have so many choices in how to live and how to love that we have begun to ask more and more from our relationships. We want to be more than happy and more than in love. We want love that knocks us for a loop, love that makes us swoon, makes us feel, makes us glow. We want love like Spackle—love that will fill in the holes and smooth us out. We want love-makeovers like in Cosmopolitan magazine, where a plain Jane finds her man, becomes a knockout, and never again leaves home again without subdued backlighting. Thank God for that first honeymoon, a place where we feel all this and more ... temporarily.
Why the Honeymoon Must End
When you look at the fabulous honeymoon feelings, the sexual intensity, the drama, it's no wonder we never want the first honeymoon to end. Nonetheless, you will one day wake up listening to him honk into a wad of tissue, your teeth will clench when she asks you for the third time when you'll be home that night, you will hit the roof when he puts that dripping Schlitz on your walnut heirloom:
One day, you will no longer be able to count upon your hormones and your imagination to continue to give your partner the paint job of your dreams.
Something unpleasant will happen, and you will join the ranks of zillions of other people as you hit your forehead and mutter the words, "What the hell am I doing here?" The turning point starts with three unavoidable changes that we all experience within the first few years of being together.
Loss #1: Chasing Versus Winning
Nothing is so exhilarating as the chase. He wines her, dines her, practices his best behavior, writes cute cards, thinks about her, strategizes to prove he won't let her down like her last lover, goes all out to win her. For her part, she wears a tank top as ff it were nothing special, lazily brushes her finger along his cowlick, becomes immensely interested in his interests, is thrilled to take a day trip with him to his old neighborhood and meet his high school drinking pal, "Stinky," who is still hanging out at the same bar they went to back then.
You both feel electrified as you can feel each other opening up—as you approach this peak experience, winning the heart. It is in the moments when winning each other exists just in front of your face, almost in reach, that your exhilaration is greatest.
After she declares her love, soon your heart won't pound quite as hard. After he declares his love, you'll throw a sweater over the tank top if you're chilly. Most of us feel simultaneously thrilled and let down. We begin to feel more grounded, more stable. The biological and emotional intensity has somewhat lessened. Initially, the stability of love won, even with its vast rewards, is no match for the lush intensity of wooing, the magnificence of a first deep kiss, the days and nights of chasing your beloved.
Loss #2: Mystery Versus Knowledge
When we fall in love, the passion vibrates around the fact that our partner is unknown to us. Her sexual energy and his deepest longings are mysteries. The state of not-knowing intensifies the passion, for at any moment a surprise can occur. What will he say if I do that? Does she believe in the G-spot? Does she have a G-spot? Could I find her G-spot? What kinds of noises will he make when he has an orgasm? Will she have an orgasm? What does he wear to bed? Obviously, when you win your partner, certain mysteries fade and a piece of the passion fades with it.
Of course, there are deeper mysteries to be discovered, and we'll get to those. You know that you can live with someone for twenty years and feel a sense that you don't really know him. But the deeper mysteries present a different kind of drama. When you fall in love, the mystery exists because your partner is new to you. The diminishment of this type of heart-pounding mystery comes with the territory of winning your beloved.
Loss #3: Rosy Light Versus Harsh Light
In the beginning, we are all on our best behavior. We regulate how we act and react. We work at being scintillating, charming. We shower carefully. We remember to put the toilet seat down.
Things just aren't the same when you experience firsthand your partner's bathroom habits or walk in on him wearing his plaid bermuda shorts from college, all stretched out at the waist, as he hawks phlegm into the toilet.
We all go through these shocks with our partner. Things won't seem the same when she insists on saving ten years of the magazine Opera News and all ten years end up on, over, and under the coffee table. Things won't seem the same when she asks you if she needs to lose five pounds day after day after day after day.
With the unfolding of the routine, we see our partner in a different light—he gives in to his mother, she feels overburdened at work, he wants to take his dog on your vacation. As these events permeate the relationship, we see our partner in a harsher light, which shines on a world that we are not the center of.
These three changes feel momentarily confusing, like the first drops of rain that hit you on a steamy day on a city street, At first, you're concerned because you forgot your umbrella. You're not sure if you're going to ruin your outfit. Then, you're not sure if it's rain at all. You look above you to see if the drops fell from an errant air conditioner. And, in that brief, slightly befuddled, completely unprotected moment of questioning the sky, Hurricane Sally detonates, and the honeymoon is over.
|An Introduction: Guerrilla Mating Tactics and Getting Over|
|the End of the Honeymoon||i|
|How to Use This Book: Quick-Fix Lists||xi|
|Relationship Quick-Fix Guide: 53 Relationship Problems and|
|What Page to Look on for Quick Solutions||xxvii|
|I. The End of the Honeymoon Is Not the End of the Road:|
|Training for the Mission|
|Chapter 1. Your Partner Is Your Ally||3|
|Chapter 2. Relationship Boot Camp: Beginning to Initiate|
|Chapter 3. Scouting for Information: Discovering What|
|Works and What Doesn't Work||59|
|II. Relationship Rations: Stocking the Right Supplies|
|Chapter 4. Unloading Baggage: Don't Be Your Parents/Don't|
|Be a Child||85|
|Chapter 5. Outwitting Emotional Misers: How to Get Your|
|III. The Bomb Squad: How to Disarm Conflicts|
|Chapter 6. Friendly Fire: How to Actually Like the Way|
|Chapter 7. Maneuvers to Dodge an Ambush: Avoid Fights|
|Using a Marriage Counselor's Tricks of the Trade||198|
|IV. Peace Treaties|
|Chapter 8. Survival Skills That Will Save Your|
|Relationship During a Marriage-Threatening Fight||221|
|Chapter 9. Best Ways to Call aTruce||241|
|V. Be the Lovers You Were Meant to Be|
|Chapter 10. For Men and Women: Decipher the Sex and|
|Chapter 11. Nine Ways to Get (Most of) What You Want and|
|Avoid (Most of) Your Frustration||291|
|Chapter 12. Couples: Why the Best Is Yet to Come||302|
|VI. Guerrilla Mating Tactics: Make Your Relationship a Masterpiece|
|Chapter 13. The Front Line of Love: Victory for Both Sides||313|
|In Case of Emergency: When and Where to Seek Professional Help||337|
|For More Information||347|
Posted November 30, 2010