Part One: From the “Me” to the “We”

A lot of couples say relationships are hard. We know it, but many people don’t really know why or what to do about it. Couples may be shy about seeking counseling or therapy. We don’t like difficult things. Many couples want to change things, but when things are hard, couples don’t want to go much deeper, go through couples counseling, or get more help about what’s required to make the difficult change. We have too many demands and not enough time!

If you really want to know why couples relationships are hard and what to do about it, then this article will help clarify some of those issues.

Many life experiences are hard. Take weight loss, for example. People have a general sense that in their life to eat better and exercise to maintain their health. Aside from that, most people don’t get into the details unless they are really determined.

Not many people want to know how many calories equal a pound (it is 3,500) or what a macro is (grams of proteins, carbs, and fats) and how to balance them. If you really wanted to experience weight loss, you might learn about the right things to eat to maintain health or get a coach who knows about it.

If you want to learn about your relationship, it’s the same. You want to know what makes a relationship or marriage so hard and you want some therapy help. In this 2-part blog series, I am going to give you two of the biggest reasons relationships are difficult.

When you begin to understand these two concepts, you can start to work towards challenging yourself to accept how things are and find the right way to apply these concepts in your relationship and life. Similar to a diet, when you know the principles of the equation, you can change things up.

The first reason that couples relationships are hard is that we desire what we had in the beginning and want to find that agin. This sounds very straight forward, but, from experience, it’s definitely not. I am not just talking about the heightened emotions, the butterflies, and the long talks at night – although many do miss these new-relationship experiences! What I am talking about is more than that – it’s the idea that we could talk so easy. We didn’t feel like strangers in life.

When we first meet someone, we form a new creation. The two people – the two separate “me’s” – meet in life. They become a “we” very quickly over time. They talk about themselves like this: we experience, we find, we went, we are going, we love, we have, we don’t have, etc. You and your mate are officially a “we” in life. Biology supports this intense integration of two people being enmeshed over time.

When we are bonding with our mate in the “we” phase, we are also on our best behavior and our anxiety is biologically decreased. Things that usually bother us are duller sensations.

Don’t like loud chewing, hummers, or cheering at sports events? That’s ok – you are amped up on oxytocin, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These are chemicals that fuel the falling-in-love feeling so you’re not as likely to notice the annoyances.

According to Dr. Patricia Mumby, Doctor in Clinical Psychology from Loyola University, “The phrase ‘love is blind’ is a valid notion because we tend to idealize our partner and see only things that we want to see in the early stages of the relationship.”

After this attraction phase, we enter into a new and challenging yet also rewarding phase of the relationship. Remember the weight loss example? The first few pounds are easy to lose. Now begins some work. So, too, in relationships and marriage, does the work begin to stay healthy.

What we now have is the differentiating phase of work. We are trying to balance what we want and what our partner wants.

The extra challenge here is that the differentiation phase is sometimes different than initially thought. Have you ever told someone you liked the same thing they did, only to realize that you said that because you wanted to spend time with the person?

It might be that you said you like watching football or you don’t mind going to antique shows. When you said it, you probably didn’t mind these experiences because you were with your person. And your person did the same. Now, you realize that while you love your person, you don’t really love watching football and would rather be doing something else.

Relationships are so hard in this respect because the “we” that we formed needs to change.

In healthy relationships, the “we” isn’t that “we love the same things,” it’s “we each have different likes and dislikes.”

The problem is that you really liked it when you both liked those things, and now, not liking the same things is a very hard pill to swallow. There is some sense of loss. I was taught to ask about the first “disillusionment.” This is usually when the “we” started to become two “me’s” again.

Somewhere inside of us, we might want our partner to do what will make them happy and you do what you want? Right? Well…sort of…like somewhere deep inside. I want to have a healthy BMI (that’s body mass index, or measure of body fat based on height and weight). That doesn’t mean that I like it or want to give up eating chocolate cake.

It really is normal to have some grief after the initial bonding period starts to mature! It’s also a really tough pill to swallow that after you get older – you have to watch what you eat for your health. It doesn’t seem fair.

But wait! If we work on the health of our bodies, they reward us with increased strength! Similarly, we work on accepting our partner’s desires (while balancing our own), our relationship or marriage gets stronger.

In the next post, I will address the second reason I think couples have difficult relationships: communication! How do we talk about these differences or seek help or counseling for these differences – these things we want our partner to understand, like, or accept about us? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you want a counselor who personalizes in therapy help or if you seek a counselor for couples counseling to deal with your issues, schedule your initial therapy session appointment now or inquire about the couples counseling relationship boot camps available in Harrisburg, PA (completing one of these is like a fast-tracked 3 months of weekly therapy).