Relationship column: Love isn’t enough to sustain a relationship
VAIL CO, Colorado
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 at night 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 don’t understand about intimate relationships. (1) Love isn’t enough in order to sustain a relationship. (2) You cannot lose connection with each other, because if you do even small things can grow large. (3) A relationship takes more time than you think it should.
Many people fall in love relatively easily. Some fall in love very easily. Falling in love, although vital, isn’t the hard part for most people. It’s living together afterward that’s hard. It’s doing the hard work of a relationship: blending, compromising, being kind and gracious even when you don’t feel like it, giving in at times, 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 certainly not sexy.
The central dilemma you described is that you and your fiance are having a hard time resolving your differences so that the relationship can grow and progress. Because you have been unable to resolve those differences, the two of you are in a standoff that is threatening to derail the relationship and sever the connection. 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 lie regarding the future of the relationship. Those are what connect you to each other, and you cannot afford to lose that connection again in the future. Ways to reconnect include affectionate touch, and someone calling even 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, if not decades. And you want it all finished and resolved right now, which is understandable, but perhaps not realistic. To get solid and feel compatible, a relationship takes way more time than you think it should. Living with someone else is hard. You have different habits, different ways of feeling comfortable at home, different tastes, a different sense of 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 syndicated column is in its 19th year of publication. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com.