The Messy Truth of Relationships

by Amelia Kaplan Romanowsky on 02/21/2012

It is not easy to be in a long-term relationship. If only your partner just changed already.

But the messy, unfortunate truth is: to have the best relationship you want, YOU are the one who has to do the work.

It’s a sad fact. How much easier would it be if your partner could do it all? Be nicer to you. Appreciate you more. Not criticize. Come to you gently with requests, not complaints.

The dirty little secret is it’s not about how your partner can change.

(Unless he or she is doing really unrelational things such as abusing a substance or you. Then you are not in a safe enough place to work on the relationship.)

You know it’s true, but you have to feel it in every pore of your being: you can’t control your partner. The only one you can work on is yourself.

The Adult Swim is about learning new strokes, making new habits and enjoying what works so you can swim in your life and relationships more enjoyably.

So why am I discussing these issues? I am a fellow traveler on this journey, swimming the shark-infested, murky waters of modern marriage.

I’ve studied relationships all my life. I am a Harvard graduate with a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I have also been married for more than five years, and survived the transition to being a parent, and now we have two children (ages 2 and 4).

I continually look at my part. And when I step over the line, I do my best to apologize and step back on my side of the line.

I will talk a lot in this blog about two different styles of couples work which I blend:

Sue Johnson’s Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) and
Terry Real’s Relational Life Therapy (RLT).

Consider yourself going to be swimming in both.

Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) teaches about attachment – we are hard-wired to be social beings. Once you understand attachment, a lot of crazy behavior makes a whole lot more sense. When we feel unresponded to, people will go to great lengths for a response. EFT focuses on getting each partner to show his/her emotions to the other and getting a comforting response. Doing so strengthens the bonds of the relationship.

What does that look like?
In short, a therapist helps the couple become vulnerable and open again so each can respond emotionally to the other.

Relational Life Therapy teaches people to live in a respectful intimate way. Terry Real is a genius conceptualizer. He teaches intimacy skills. No one talks about boundaries and self-esteem the way Terry does. I will share many gems from RLT’s wisdom.

Last but not least I draw on the wisdom of my mentor Leigh McCullough, a world-class therapist and professor at Harvard Medical School for over 30 years.

We all want our mate to clean up. But “communicating cleanly” is a life practice – one we will discuss here. I welcome your questions and comments.

When you feel ready to throttle your partner, or even just tell him or her what to do to behave better, try this: stop, take a deep breath, and turn your focus to yourself and your own behavior. Ask yourself if you are proud of how you are acting right then. If not, correct that first.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan March 30, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Amelia! This is great! Good for you! I liked this article and so relate as we have had a very challenging time and though we still have issues, are in a relatively good/great space right now… in bolivia. sending love, susan


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