My typical day is spent listening to couples describe their difficulties. Sometimes they don't know where to start and sometimes they launch into a rapid-fire, detailed account of wrongs done and slights endured. Often, the descriptions are laid out on a blanket of anger or sadness and almost always with disappointment and fear. The desire to unburden themselves of months or years of pain is palpable. Once it's all out, relief sometimes comes like a balm. What we are left with is usually the scene of substantial wreckage and a simple question, "Well, now what?"
The "now what?" question hangs there holding all the anticipation of an expectant parent moments before delivery. Of course, the reality of the situation is that there is no easy resolution to the difficulties laid out. It's unlikely either partner is going to have a sudden attack of unconditional love and forgiveness. The road ahead will be winding, hilly and littered with potholes.
It's at this point that I often succumb to the temptation to ask what probably seems like a really stupid question. I ask, "Is any of this interesting to you? Or, is all this just a huge pain in the neck?" Naturally, most respond by telling me how awful it is and wonder out loud how it could ever be interesting. It strikes me, however, that the ability to find one's circumstances interesting is a first step toward experiencing something different. If I look at the wreck my life is currently and respond to it with exasperation, I've doubled my burden and added nothing to its resolution. On the other hand, if I'm able to find my circumstance interesting, I've at least stepped back from it enough to have added perspective and I've laid some groundwork for a shift in behavior and attitude.
It all reminds me of times I've tried to fix something like a broken appliance or one of my son's toys. If I go into that enterprise frustrated or annoyed, I take the stance that this is just a colossal pain the neck. What usually happens next is that I wind up breaking the thing, essentially making it irreparable. But, if I look at the project and find a way to make it interesting, patience grows and I'm able to notice details that my frustration would otherwise mask.
I'm not sure there's anything more interesting than the complexities of a relationship. Stepping back from frustration and noticing the interesting features of a life circumstance can go a long way toward smoothing the road to reconciliation.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.