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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Great Expectations in Love or Taking the High Road

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Great Expectations in Love or Taking the High Road

"I have fallen in love...without measuring the risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and then I have hung on for a long time...waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism." ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

I just really like this quote. I think it speaks to the heart of many folks who are struggling to feel good in their relationships. When it comes to relationship therapy, lots of times, by the time someone walks in my door, they are already in quite a bit of pain. Not always, but often. Sometimes people come in before they are on the verge of an affair, or in one, or before their sex life has completely tanked, or before they have started either avoiding each other or yelling at each other more often than not. But usually things are pretty bent, if not broken, before I get the call for help.

It seems to me that over my many years working with difficult relationships, heartaches, struggling marriages and disappointments of all kinds, that while we tend to come into relationships full of hope and fantasy, with all of our ideas about how things should be, how we would like them to be, and while we know in our head that of course romantic loves dims as the newness and excitement fades, hopefully into deeper more connective love, with all its benefits and unique thrills, we sometimes still hold onto that strain of wishful (wistful) thinking that believes in sustaining the dream, the fantasy, the belief in what we want things to be. What we want the relationship to be. What we want the other person to be. And what we want ourselves to be.

When things start to breakdown in our relationships we have several choices, though we may not even know we have them. We can keep on keeping on, or we can pay attention to what's happening and get help. Keeping in mind that old saying, "If you always do what you always did, then you'll always get what you always got," we can choose to unpack what it is we are doing, and what our partner is doing, and whats getting replayed, repeated, revisited and why it is not working out the way we would like. It does take some studying. In therapy, reflecting on the past is one way to learn about what is going on in the present.

Of course, good communication skills, which even when practiced and we are gentle and confident with our words, can get lost in the torrent of big emotion, especially fear and disappointment. Sometimes there is no way around studying what's going on underneath. We can do this by talking, by analyzing our dreams, by calling up our relationships with our parents, siblings and teachers even. We can learn about what shaped us, what protected us, what made us feel safe, and what we did, or had to do, to survive or get our needs met. And how we were responded to, and what effect that had on us.

Yes, sometimes its that complicated. And sometimes its not. Sometimes it's about acceptance of who our partner is, and how to work best with their character and personality, needs and limitations. And how to keep our own expectations and disappointments in check.

The good news is this: when tended to properly, we can help each other reach our highest potential and ascend to greatness. I really do believe this. I have seen it, too. I have seen couples plow through the disappointment, worry, fear and anger and reinvent their love, their sex life, and their own sense of self, both within the relationship and as their own unique person.

It requires a lot of grace. And a bit of work. And sometimes an objective analytic outside ear. But I have seen progress. Good work usually results in a deeper understanding of the past, better communication in the present and more hope for the future. Seemingly, there is no way around the need to get to know ourselves well and deeply. This carries our relationships along in ways that we cannot always imagine.

When we are in relationships with seemingly difficult people, who we love, or want to love, who are ruled by their own set of fears, temperaments, and insecurities, that block their progress, we can often help move things along by tending to our own ideas, wishes and goals, and learning to work with the reality in front of us. We can make good decisions, whether to move on, or to keep at it. Either way, I believe we can have much more of what we need and want. We can give, we can get and we can love and feel loved, in many, if not most, of the ways we would like.

The possibilities are endless.

And just a P.S. : A link to an Article on Marital Resiliency (scroll down to page 9)that I authored for the good folks at the Children's Cardiomyopathy Foundation. While it deals with keeping a marriage strong when you are a parenting a sick child, there are some tidbits that apply across the board.

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