Sometimes, in couples therapy, I end up inadvertently crushing the souls of eager young couples.
To begin the initial session, the wife offers some banal reason for making the appointment; she may add how many years they’ve been married and the names of all their kids, and not even once break eye contact or pause to jog her memory. The husband punctuates her comments with a yawn and scratches the thigh of his khakis where his wife has just tried to set her hand. Their legs are crossed away from each other, and it’s February 16, but there’s no sign of new jewelry and the husband begins to twitch and stare out the window. When he lifts his arm and lovingly places it behind his wife, his wrist juts her neck forward so that intentional effort is required for her to not just stare at the floor the entire season.
I mean, for example. Anyway.
The wife, lifting her eyes and shifting a little, probably just used the word “communication” to sum up, but I eventually find out why they’re really here.
One of them wants to be greeted every single morning with a smile and have long conversations where they crawl into each other’s skin and absorb each other’s essences so that mind-reading becomes a reasonable expectation and understanding that “no present means present” is a given, and also to sit on each other’s laps and give each other wet willies and lick each other’s faces…or whatever gross things psychotically-infatuated couples do when they’re pumping each other with enough oxytocin to forget their pain and ignore the bad breath.
One of them simply wants to bang in the Taco Bell Bathroom on 66th street- so irresistible is he that regard for health or life become second priorities-, like old times, and also for once be told he is the king of the world and smarter and sexier than everyone else, especially the 27 year old neighbor who never wears a shirt, and also be complimented on his guitar skills and not be squished like a bug when he forgets to take his shoes of on the carpet.
Ok, so I may have made up the specifics, but I do have a point.
And this time, my point is not about I-statements or direct requests or the pursue-withdrawal cycle or attachment. It’s about the soul-crushing truth that: sometimes, we can only get so much from our relationships and we either have to work hard to tolerate that and make ourselves happy…. or impulsively divorce and repeat the same dance with someone else.
Hollywood lied. Compromise
Is a fancy way of saying you each get a tiny vomit milkshake on the side of that specific burger you’ve been begging for.
Therapy and other personal self-help journeys can address how to know what you feel and ask for what you want and also barriers to willingness (such as fear of failure and insecurity, lack of skill, differing values, and resentment). Therapy can work on empathy and get each other a little closer to that programmable, psychic robot with perfect abs and manners, the one who makes you forget that one formative teacher who chained you to your desk and called you an idiot and also forget that your dad married a girl your age and stopped inviting you to holidays, the pure being who finally entices the sun to warm your cold, hesitant soul.
Again, for example.
But at the end of the day, even after everything that is within our power to manage has been managed, even after you both (if you’re lucky. Typically, it’s just one person at a time.) have perfected validation and empathy and no one’s invisible, and you have regular date nights and maybe even a little trust…..still. STILL, even after all of that, some amount of radical acceptance (accepting, but not necessarily liking, the crappy unchangeable stuff.) is required. And stil. STILL, some amount of distress tolerance (tolerating icky feelings like boredom, anger, pain, that sometime come up) is required for any level of individual or relationship sanity to be maintained.
Because I’ve only ever seen two people with sometimes different needs, perspectives, habits, and values end up together; In fact I’ve never seen a robot like that married to anyone. And anyone who entered an unholy union with such an object would just lament that programming, not true connection, made it so.
And explaining that, is how I sometimes effectively burst bubbles and crush souls.
from, the therapist who says that her favorite clients are people who are brave enough to work on both their part in the relationship AND their individual “radical acceptance and distress tolerance,” even after hearing such a bizarre pep-talk.