Inspiration: This post was inspired by a friend. He calls it “Nurture the Coupledom.” He and his wife arranged for their child to be left with grandparents for her first overnight to enable them to “go out”, as in a “date night.” I could hear his pride both in his daughter’s readiness for this big step and in being that couple who cares for itself.
Too Late? In contrast, many of the couples who come into my office have been married for years and years, raising children, paying bills, and losing their Coupledom each step of the way. It gets a back burner position to work, kids, house cleaning, in-laws, volunteer jobs, girlfriends and golf dates. Is it too late? Sometimes it is.
Ego: Western society has been celebrated and chastised for being the culture of I: narcissistic or egoistic or egotistical. Baby formula is mixed with vitamin success, personal achievement, and self-expression. When we partner, we convert the I into we, but a we that includes a very ambitious I.
Here’s the story: We meet, we marry, we agree on career choices and numbers of children, more or less. And then it all spirals out of control. why? We get caught up with the I: “bread-winner” I, mothering I, community I, overworked I, angry I, sexually frustrated I, overweight I. And the “us” which is not easy for us “westerners” in the best of circumstances, devolves into an unrecognizable “it” that doesn’t work anymore.
And Your Point? Don’t wait! Couples come in after ten, fifteen, twenty years of feeling disengaged or enraged. This slow-growing mold accrues over time, slips in between the bed sheets, oozes into the walls while you are busy being a “family” but not a couple. I know this is easy to say but hard to do. Someone in The Coupledom is sending out distress signals, even verbalizing “we are in trouble;” perhaps it is a whisper or just a thought never shared, or one of The Coupledom called a therapist, made an appointment but the partner refused to go.
Groans of Regret: Scared, you bet, so nothing happens. Or he goes but she won’t. So only so much can really change. Or they both go but neither likes the therapist. “Waste of time and money.” Fine. But don’t stop. There are lots of therapists out there. It is money, they say, or magical thinking (it will get better when the kids leave, we get richer, I lose weight, he loses weight, the mother-in-law moves out, we move back home), or fear that “I will get blamed, be less able to defend, have to acknowledge an addiction, an affair; the kids will find out and get scared.” I have heard so many groans of regret in my office: “If only we had done this ten years ago.”
Nurture the Coupledom: Too late are two of the saddest words we can utter as a Coupledom. If one of you, one I, thinks there is a problem, then there is a problem. One I is all you need to have an unhappy coupledom. Don’t dismiss. Fix.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011