The only way not to be disappointed is to expect nothing. The expectations of marriage today are much too great. Throughout my life I have done my best to understand what makes us tick and how we respond to each other. Two people who have lived together for a long time go through three phases. First, a honeymoon process when everything seems wonderful, then reality creeps in because we cannot be on our best behaviour forever, then disillusionment takes over and finally they either get divorced or try to find out how things could be better.
Today, many people seek out therapeutic help.
Very soon after I began my private practice I had more couples clients than single ones. Their ages varied from quite young to bordering on old age. Since what I know most about is how and why we talk to each other I soon devised a method of my own that proved to work very well.
This is what I discovered. First, many people wanted to come on their own because their spouse refused to. I soon realised that that was a waste of time. Those who came alone invariably blamed their husband or wife for all their problems. As I always believed that it takes two to tango, I knew that the only path I could follow was to find out what was going on between them. I could only do so if both attended.
In the first session I encouraged them to talk to each other. I let this go on for a while. They soon forgot I was there and went back to their usual aggressive habits of talking with each other. I said nothing until I stopped them, which didn’t take very long. They either tried to get into an argument which I quickly brought to a full stop, or they went into a sullen kind of silence. I told them that I would give them some written homework to do and bring back to me at the next session, if they decided to come back.
I asked each one in turn what was the worst thing they disliked in the other. I asked each to listen carefully and tell me what each thought the other had said. They invariably got it wrong. This action in itself shook them up a bit. They had to think hard because they were conscious of my presence; wondering all the time what I would say, something that they never did with each other. I gave each one of them a piece of paper and asked them to write down all the other things that annoyed each other most but to say nothing until the next session.
I realised the value of the presence of a listening therapist. If clients did the homework they usually came back. Then the fun began. I asked them who would like to go first? Understandably neither did, but eventually one of them broke the ice because they found the silence embarrassing. They were not used to silence.
What I did was to take every complaint each made and analyse what they really meant. I learned that both had misunderstood each other because neither of them listened. All they did was to pull a disagreeable face and turn their eyes and ears away. I learned long ago that if anyone says something to me that they think I will not like because they intended to annoy me, they will look anywhere except straight into my eyes. Only if both participants genuinely wanted to improve their lives would they begin to realise the uselessness of such behaviour. There are many different methods that I adopted to help them to come back to reality and retrieve their sense of humour, if they ever had one. Most of us do.
The last resource is for all of us to realise that no matter how much we like another person we need a rest from each other now and then. We cannot expect people to be as perfect as we want them to be because we all know that we are far from perfect ourselves. I use the ‘we’ because I have been through all these phases myself not once but many times. I now know that it is possible to keep a real friend or spouse provided we improve our ability to be tolerant without overdoing it.