Editor’s note: This is from “The Best of Neil Rosenthal.”
Dear Neil: My fiance and I are in a 15-month relationship, and we’re planning on getting married five months from now. But before we marry, we need some help. First of all, you would think that we have been together long enough so that we would have worked out basic living agreements. But no, we focus on very different priorities in our day-to-day lives. He leaves the toilet seat up, leaves his clothes in a pile on the closet floor, leaves dishes in the sink for days at a time and wants the bedroom window open so that we can freeze all night long. All of these just drive me bonkers.
It has gotten so tense between us that we have recently been avoiding each other — going to sleep at different times, eating at different times and so on. The odd thing about what I’m describing is that I trust that we very much love each other, and we want to marry each other. But we are having a hard time coming to agreement about almost anything right now. Can you help?
— Rattled in Toronto
Dear Toronto: Your letter is a perfect illustration of three “truths” that most people struggle to understand about intimate relationships: (1) Love isn’t enough in a relationship. You need more than love in order to live compatibly and work through your differences and your disagreements. (2) You cannot lose connection with each other, because if you do, even small things will grow large. (3) A relationship takes more time than you think it should.
Falling in love isn’t the hard part for most people. It’s living together afterwards that’s hard. It’s doing the complicated and complex work of a relationship: blending, compromising, being kind and gracious even when you’re not happy, picking your battles, being empathetic, reaching out, apologizing, considering the other person’s wants and needs to be equal to your own, occasionally bending to someone else’s will — these constitute the hard work of a relationship — and they are often not fun and they certainly aren’t sexy.
The solution to your dilemma is to reestablish the connection the two of you obviously once had. You’re telling me about the differences, but there is perhaps more power in looking at the similarities right now, including your common interests, your long-range goals together, what you like, appreciate, admire and love about each other, what attracted you to each other, what you like about the relationship, and where your hopes, dreams and goals lie regarding the future. Those are what connect you to each other, and you cannot afford to lose that connection again. Affectionate touch will also help, as well as one of you calling a temporary truce to the power struggle the two of you are currently in.
The third problem you’ve presented is that you expect to be finished with the blending process that takes many couples years. To be compatible, a relationship takes way more time than you think it should. You have different habits, different tastes, a different style, different values about what’s truly important — of course you’re going to have growing pains when you try to live as one.
Sit down with your fiance, call a truce to the hostilities and find ways of reconnecting. And welcome to marriage.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 23rd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com. His book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive” is now available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.