Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
DEAR STACY: My live-in boyfriend of two years and I have been having trouble for about six months. We argue a lot and say mean things to each other. At the root of this is the fact that we have very different ideas about what a good relationship is supposed to look like. My friends keep telling me to get counseling, but I worry that doing that means this relationship is definitely doomed. As you can see, I’m a pretty black-and-white thinker, and I don’t really want to spend the time and energy to have a professional confirm what I already know. Isn’t counseling for really messed up couples? If we need counseling before we even get engaged, doesn’t that mean this is the wrong relationship for me? – Communication Crossroads
DEAR CROSSROADS, This myth about counseling being only appropriate for “really messed up couples” absolutely needs to be discredited. Listen to me: those couples are just like you, and started out right where you are – wondering if their problems really warranted the time and energy that it takes to work through. Many just ignored the piling frustrations until they poisoned the entire system with the deep resentment that makes counseling harder and exponentially less effective. Being in a relationship is hard work for everyone. It just is. That’s the truth. Stop tricking yourself into believing that your friends’ relationships are perfectly attuned, and that they will never have any disappointments because they have found exactly the right person and have made all the right decisions. They haven’t. There are many ways to approach the natural frustrations that occur when two people try to build a relationship/home/family together. Yes, some people (READ: a tiny fraction) are effortlessly able to communicate their needs, but most of us need help or else we learn to adapt in unhealthy ways – isolating, acting out, using passive aggression, etc. Another choice is taking the time to learn about Boyfriend’s unique communication needs, and to teach him about your own. A therapist knows how to do this and can get you there faster.
Let’s do a quick experiment. Let’s assume that you actually need counseling, but are unwilling to try it because you think it means the relationship is doomed. Isn’t the relationship doomed then anyway? Why not try something that actually could help? Let me appeal to your all-or-nothing thinking: there are more than a few of us who make a living helping couples work through these issues, it has to have a positive outcome for some or else we wouldn’t stay in business, right? Put down your defenses and try something that could help. Otherwise my advice is to just move out today, because a person who is unwilling to work on things now isn’t going to know how to show up for the relationship later. That’s not a muscle that we magically grow, it’s one that needs regular strength training so it’s ready when the lifting gets really heavy.
Stacy Notaras Murphy www.stacymurphyLPC.com is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.