by Dr. Kathleen Quinn
When couples make the decision to begin marriage or couples therapy, they are generally entering therapy for one of two reasons. They are either sick to death of the problems associated with the relationship and see themselves as better off without the other, or they are trying to save the relationship and continue for reasons they may or may not understand.
In either case, the decision is always painful and it is usually based on one person saying, “I cannot live like this anymore; I am out of here.” Or, “I want to stay, but I can’t live within this relationship as it is.” Usually, when the partners are asked, they will say, “I cannot live with what the other is doing.” I always smile at this point. Short of partner violence, it takes two to make a relationship work or fail. It also takes two to transition into a new kind of relationship or move on to another lifestyle. If we look at what draws people into a relationship in the first place, there is usually a period of attraction for a number of reasons. We choose based on the alikeness of the other to ourselves (a sort of brother/sister compatibility), and we choose because the other person is different (opposite and thus exotic). Said another way, we must have enough in common to make it possible, and we must be different enough to make it interesting.
Very seldom do we see people who have made the decision to begin a relationship based on who they see themselves becoming over in the next 5-20 years. When I inquire with a couple about their relationship, I often hear, “Well, I loved him/her and we got along just fine, and then we got married/lived together and it all went to heck!”
My father, who was a wonderful healer, used to say, “You can make a marriage work with almost anybody.” Well, yes and no. We can learn to negotiate around our differences, make choices and learn to live with almost anyone. But, I am not sure this makes a “marriage.” By definition, marriage is a merging of self with another for the benefit and growth of both. It should be more than a negotiated arrangement.
I believe that we are required, during couple’s therapy, to learn about who we are and who we want to become. Our fundamental choice, usually on an unconscious level, is to connect with another person to answer to the question, “Who am I?” and then answer the question, “Where am I going?”
On some very basic level, we make the decision: This person is someone I can take that journey of self-discovery with and be happy. Then, we enter into an unspoken agreement to do just that, and a struggle ensues. Getting in touch with our depth self and then building a relationship of sharing self and growing together is what a marriage is about. Having joy, celebration, love and a healthy family within this context is what we all really wish for, and what we often struggle to find.
Dr. Kathleen Quinn is board-certified in Integrative Healthcare and holds a doctorate in Marriage and Family Psychotherapy, and master’s degrees in Women’s Health Nursing, and Guidance and Counseling. Dr. Quinn’s clinical practice is Discovery Integrative Healthcare & Psychotherapy Centers, where she offers a variety of treatment services and consults with clients’ physicians, as needed. For more information, visit www.drkathleenquinn.com, or call 210-727-9234.