The Therapist’s Road to the Altar
As a woman in my early thirties, I had several relationships that “failed.” As I approached my 33rd year I concluded that I was going to be a single lady the rest of my life. Yes, I, the relationship therapist had allowed the societal foreboding message sink in; that after thirty it is impossible to find a match. After all, men want women in their twenties right? I had become very comfortable with it being my best friend Tracy and I drinking wine on the porch and becoming the “cat ladies” in our elder years (I completely adore cats so there was real potential for this to happen). Then on New Years Eve 2010 I met Chris. When I met Chris I told myself he will be “just for fun,” after all he was six years my junior and there was no way that relationship would work. Or so I thought. Chris and I got married this year in June 2014. I guess my preconceived notion of the “younger” man not working out was false. But was it that he was a younger man or was it that I didn’t put on the act that I had in so many other relationships.
Prior to Chris one of the things that I noticed about myself in relationships was that I was always trying to please my potential partner. I would mold myself to what I thought they wanted in an attempt to be the perfect mate and as a therapist I should have known better. I put all of my energy into making my partner happy and left none for myself. This also resulted in my past partners being unhappy as I created a false sense of self and they could feel the incongruence. No one wants to be with someone who can not be genuine to his or her self. I should have been following my own therapeutic advice; you need to do what is best for the relationship, which is not necessarily what is best for yourself or for your partner. I was too worried about what was best for my partner and this was not good for the relationship.
When I met Chris I had finally learned this lesson. I started to do what was best for the relationship and that meant being genuine to the person I am inside. If who I am genuinely isn’t what he was looking for I told myself I wasn’t the right fit for him. No longer did I view my past relationships as “failures” but as men that were not a good fit. I started to view these past men as learning lessons in discovering what I really want in a partner. Honing into the essential values I held and was no longer willing to give up. I thank every one of those past men for helping me recognize what is essential in my relationship and helping me get it today. It was this change of framework which opened me up to the relationship that would become a marriage.
Now is it because I am the couple’s therapist that I found a loving match? Clients often think couple’s therapists have the perfect relationship. Let me tell you a secret, therapists make all the same relationship mistakes you do. We only know how to talk about it better. I am notorious for expecting my husband to read my mind. I fall into the societal traps that I should know better than to believe. I am even a bit critical and judgmental at times, a trait that I often ask my clients to remove or reduce from their own relationships. Couple’s therapists are not perfect. I have had many of the same thoughts, worries, and concerns as you do and this was especially true when I said yes and as we prepared for our wedding.
The one thing that helped this process go smoother was that we kept the communication open about expectations throughout the process. In my therapy office so often couples are not truthful with their partner in the fear of hurting them. Yet sometimes it is essential to say things that are hurtful to have the lasting relationship we want. The engagement period is a crucial time as the merging of family patterns takes place. This is the time that you start creating what YOUR family will look like and it can’t look exactly like your family of origin. To be honest this has been a frustrating process at times. One example from early on in our relationship is the ritual of eating dinner together. In my family you always waited until all family members were home to eat. Chris and I would have arguments about eating dinner without both individuals being present. But after a few discussions we have figured out our own system. The key for us has been better communication. We talk about what we have planned for the upcoming week and it allows both of us to prepare accordingly. This continues to be a process that Chris and I continue to refine as we navigate the newly wed phase.
My hope from this article is that you are able to recognize your genuine self and open up the opportunity for the perfect mate. As that is the essential component of finding a relationship that will be what you want. So often in my therapy practice I see clients attempting to be what his or her partner wants or attempting to follow the societal path that is scripted. For quite a while I did it myself. As you can tell from my personal story my path did not follow the script, just the one that was right for me. Being my genuine self was the key to getting the loving relationship that would result in my first marriage at 35 years old.