You don’t get all the amazing things in life and love unless you believe they exist.
I spoke to a couple recently in which one of the partners was feeling extremely dissatisfied with the state of their relationship. The woman, we’ll call her Nancy, said, that while she and her partner Carl weren’t fighting, weren’t in crisis, there was just this nagging feeling she always had that she had somehow fallen short or settled for less than she was destined for when she married Carl 9 years ago.
“Carl’s great”, Nancy told me in her individual assessment meeting. “He’s solid, trustworthy, and smart. I always know where he is, he’s hardworking and he loves me. How horrible am I to say, that’s not enough for me? I always believed that I was meant for a great love. I thought I’d have someone who would be so into me that I would be the center of their world. They would think the sun rose and set in my eyes and just my kiss would be enough to transport them out of reality. I wanted to have that. Am I wrong?”
Was Nancy wrong to want to have this great passionate love affair in her life? No, I don’t think so. We all deserve to have the best that life has to offer. The key, I told Nancy, was to create that level of passion and devotion with her husband. To never settle for less that the most beautiful love story two people can create. It is possible to have that with Carl, I told her. All it takes is a shift in your perspective.
What Nancy and a lot of people don’t realize, is, that you often have the great love of your life right there in front of you. The problem isn’t with Carl, as Nancy so clearly stated. The problem is with her perception of Carl as not meeting her needs or expectations. Now that she’s telling me about him, he actually might be; and with a little coaching from me, can show her that he IS that great love of her life. She didn’t settle for less than a beautiful love story when she chose him. My goal is to help her to see it.
I also had an individual session with Carl, who was having trouble understanding where this dissatisfaction was coming from. “I work, I come home, we have a nice house, we have all the things we need, two great kids, what’s the problem?” Carl admitted to feeling a little bit picked on and defensive in our discussion. I did my best to reassure him that I was trying to get to the bottom of his and Nancy’s issues, and I thought I could help them to be happier and feel more connected.
I gave them each an assignment to bring back to their first couple’s appointment. For Carl, his assignment was to come back with a list of all the ways he could think of to show Nancy how much he loves her and to give some descriptions of the way he feels about her.
Nancy’s assignment was to come back with a list of every way that she can think of that Carl demonstrates his love for her. In addition I wanted her to list those qualities and characteristics that she always hoped her forever love would have.
Their instructions were not to talk about or share the lists until they came back to their next appointment together.
When they came back for their couples’ session they had their lists. I had them swap lists and read their partner’s list. It wasn’t surprising to see that Nancy’s list was about feeling loved and important and having her partner feel that she was his whole world. She’d already told me that this was what she’d always hoped for. What did surprise us both, and Nancy was visibly moved by reading Carl’s list that stated, among other things. “Nancy is my whole life! She’s the woman I’ve always dreamed of sharing my life with. I can’t imagine living without her. I need her like the air I breathe. I wish I could make her understand what she means to me”
This was the starting point for Nancy and Carl to connect. For Nancy to realize that Carl WAS that great love in her life, and for Carl to learn how to show and tell Nancy just how special and important she is to him. Carl was not raised in a family that was too demonstrative, and he wasn’t comfortable with letting everything out. As time went on, he learned to express himself more easily and authentically to Nancy.
Nancy had a shift in her perspective. She began to see Carl not just as a good guy, but as THE guy; the one person in her life that loves her more than anything. She started to see how important she was to Carl and began to realize that he was just as important to her. They started to connect differently and it didn’t take many more sessions of the two of them exploring these feelings about one another to realize that Nancy wasn’t feeling so dissatisfied anymore and she and Carl had a spark and a passion for each other that wasn’t there before.
Me? I didn’t really do much. I only brought to light how oftentimes it’s our perception of our partner and our relationship that makes us feel unhappy or dissatisfied, not the actual reality of what’s happening. We sometimes need that objective third party to shine a light in the dark places and help us with our understanding.
Not all my couples’ relationships have happy endings, but this was one story that I am happy to share that has had a happy beginning and is well on its way to having a happy ending.
Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters.