Love Ain't Easy

A significant part of my practice is dedicated to working with couples. I often find that couples come to counseling because their relationship has become so fraught that they are contemplating splitting up. Research shows that couples tend to wait about 10 years after they first start having problems to get professional help. I often wish I could have met with couples earlier in their relationships as there are many elements of couples therapy that can help people avoid some of the smaller aches and pains of coupledom. Successfully handling some of these smaller issues can often prevent more significant problems arising over time. For example, we all have different ways of handling emotions. Some people prefer not to share their feelings too much because they have not found it to be very helpful or productive. It's a 'stiff upper lip' mentality that leads you to roll with the punches and get on with life. This might work fine until you fall in love with someone who does like to express and explore their emotions and uses feelings as a guide to life. Two people with different emotional styles can find it a challenge if they don't recognize what's going on and communicate accordingly. For example, an emotionally expressive partner who feels anxious or sad will need the other partner to pick up on these feelings automatically and empathize with him or her. Yet the other partner, through no fault of their own, may not know how to respond or may not even be aware of the other person's feelings. Either way, the first partner feels emotionally lonely and misunderstood while the other feels negatively judged and possibly blamed for being uncaring. The issue is that close relationships, unlike casual acquaintances or professional relationships, do require emotional engagement. And that means engaging with the negative as well as positive feelings. When one partner has difficulty with this (or when a partner is too demanding emotionally), things can head south real quick. But understanding each other's emotional style can help to create a new framework, and a more compassionate way of looking at each other that minimizes misunderstandings and maximizes effective communication.