Read an Excerpt
Couple's Comfort Book
A Creative Guide for Renewing Passion, Pleasure and Commitment
Let's start with a story ...
Jonathan and Marie met on a date arranged by a friend. She thought they'd be a perfect match: Both were hard-working, bright, and attractive people, with good values. Each "deserved" a decent relationship. Marie was twenty-five, Jonathan twenty-seven. She was in her third year of medical school. He was working sixty hours a week with a downtown law firm.
They were immediately attracted to each other. He loved her smile and sense of humor; she loved his eyes and the way he shifted his shoulders when he spoke. They couldn't stop talking. They spent that first evening in a restaurant, at an Italian caf, and then just walking until 2:00 a.m.
Jonathan called her the next day, and they went out again that night. He called again the following evening, and they talked for three hours; by the following weekend they were inseparable. It was hard for them to manage it--them both being so busy--but they found ways of getting together all the time. They talked on the phone, stole a half hour for coffee, went on walks. They made each other feel comfortable. And each felt a sexual energy they wanted to explore further. It was gentle and loving, not "electric," but satisfying. They could talk so easily, it was easy to warm up physically, too.
Jonathan was tall and slender, a whimsical guy from New York. His father, dynamic and tempestuous, ran a small wholesale appliance business; his mother stayed home, and busied herself with volunteer work. Jonathan was the only son; his sister Diane, five years younger, was just finishing college.
Marie was also tall: dark-haired, vivacious, and very outgoing. She came from an Italian family north of Boston. Her father worked in construction; her mother had remained home with Marie and her four younger siblings. Marie had been an academic whiz in school, but she was also popular and active in sports and clubs. She'd been her high school valedictorian and "Most Likely to Succeed." Her parents had urged her to take a scholarship to a local college--which she'd accepted--and they were pleased when she later decided to stay in Boston for medical school.
At first, Marie had been reluctant to get so involved with Jonathan--or with anyone at that point in her life. Her last relationship, ended just three months earlier, had been horrible. Mark had been tight, withdrawn, and arrogant; and Marie hated to think of herself helplessly chasing a man. She knew she didn't want to spend a lot of time brooding; that wasn't her style. But still she was surprised to find herself sliding so easily into a relationship with Jonathan.
She liked his wry humor. She found him sexy. She caught herself daydreaming about him almost from the start. His enthusiasm was contagious, and she liked how interested he was in her work, and how he wanted her. So she put aside her reservations about men and relationships and yielded to his courtship.
For his part, Jonathan was all eagerness. He'd been dying for a real relationship for a long time. Sure, he'd have to be more outgoing this time, more engaging than before: but it felt easy with Marie. Jonathan felt his problem with women had been that he hung back too much. He could assert himself as a lawyer, but not in relationships. Marie drew him out. She was the kind of woman he'd always wanted: sensual, accomplished, and smart--an independent partner who'd be there when needed but who would never drag him down. He thought the two of them were like other legendary couples: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Marie and Pierre Curie.
At first, Jonathan's image seemed to fit them well. They opened up to each other--with long confessions, stories of past hurts and triumphs (some of which they'd never shared with anyone else), catalogues of their dreams--and marveled at how alike they were. They each liked the Stones, Fellini movies, Mozart, peanut butter, and long bike rides. And they each hated long novels, musical comedies, bananas, and Barry Manilow. They even appreciated their differences: Jonathan's stoicism under pressure made Marie feel secure, and her sparkling personality made him feel more alive.
They said they were "compatible." Each felt "better" in the other's company--more deeply known, more likable as a person, able to be kinder, more generous, and simply "themselves." They didn't even mind being vulnerable with each other. Soon they began talking about the future. Fueled by the other's appreciation, each felt expansive and expanding, larger than life.
After a few months, though, they began to quarrel--usually when Marie felt Jonathan pulling back. Once he canceled a date because he had to work, and she got angry at him and wanted to discuss it, but he said he just couldn't talk then. Another time she wanted to see a movie, and he said he was too tired to go out, and she said she should be able to say what to do sometimes and have him go along with it, and this night she really wanted to go out and see the movie--and he got very quiet. Marie felt that he resented her, but she couldn't understand why; and Jonathan felt she was trying to control him, but he couldn't understand why. They began to fight over which of them was in charge.
For several months, they rationalized their arguments as anomalies, accidents stemming from differences in their personalities or from differences between men and women. The spats didn't last long; they weren't nearly so bad as the knockdown fights they'd had in past relationships; and making up was fun. So they even painted their arguments in a bright light--nothing to worry about. They had improved over their past selves. Coping well, they felt pleased with themselves, and remained hopeful.
One day, however, the fight got out of hand. They were in a caf, talking, and Marie felt that Jonathan wasn't listening. "Where are you?" she snapped, stopping in mid-sentence. "Umm, I was listening," he said. "No, you weren't," she insisted, and she asked him why. He became angry and defensive. "But I was listening!" he cried. "And even if I wasn't, so what? I don't have to hang on your every word, do I?"
"You don't have to listen to me at all!" she cried. "You don't have to go out with me, either. Be by yourself and do whatever you damn please!" And she picked up her purse and stalked out of the caf, and refused to pick up her phone for the next twenty-four hours.
Jonathan was devastated. He blamed himself, kept calling to apologize. Finally Marie answered and heard him out, but she said she wouldn't accept his apology, because it didn't sound to her like he really meant it. Jonathan pulled back and clammed up into himself. He felt Marie had been "out of control." Why, he asked himself, were even the best-educated women so irrational? He began to think about going out with someone else. Marie was also distant. To her, Jonathan suddenly looked a lot like Mark and other men she'd known.
That week their whole world seemed to shift--not a lot, but enough so that everything was different. When he finally called her (and he did) to apologize again, he felt conflicted. Why was he always the one to call? Why not she? He felt humiliated. And Marie felt he'd taken an awfully long time to realize how insulting he'd been. She missed him horribly, but she still couldn't forget his angry tone. After a long talk together they made up; but, afterwards, Marie sometimes felt Jonathan's stoicism as withholding, even punitive; and she felt his openness and intimacy as sometimes misleading, even exploitative--especially when they only led to sex.
Jonathan started feeling Marie's effervescence as a little loud sometimes--even pushy. He worried that her constant talk about old hurts reflected a bottomless, unfillable pit. Also, she seemed to demand his attention more than before. Although they moved in together a few months later, they argued more often; and these arguments, once so innocuous, seemed to define their relationship more accurately now than did the warm and expansive feelings.
The fight ushered in a confusing few years in which happy times alternated with bad ones. There were marvelous days of studying hard together, taking long walks, making love in the afternoon, going to movies and Celtics games. But there were also more fights. Sometimes one felt the other was "too" close. Sometimes Jonathan worried about feeling attracted to other women, especially to one secretary at work.
Each wondered whether to end the relationship or go on. Unable to decide, they teetered. Loyal and somewhat afraid, they kept their difficulties largely private. One day, though, an argument over commitment got out of hand. They shouted, blamed, and blurted out all their fears: "I don't think you really love me!" Jonathan cried. "You just want me to do what you say." "I don't think you love me either," Marie answered. "Or else you'd want to be with me more." Feeling alone, Marie went back to her parents for a few days.
Jonathan missed her and was desperate by the time she returned. He told her he couldn't do without her, never wanted to be apart again, and wanted to get married. Pleading with her, he suggested asking their friends for help, and they spoke to the friend, Harriet, who had first introduced them. Couple's Comfort Book
A Creative Guide for Renewing Passion, Pleasure and Commitment. Copyright © by Jennifer Louden. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.