Relationships by Formula
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I have been together for ten years. We enjoy socializing with our coupled friends, but we find that we often like one member of the pair more than the other. To make it worse, we sometimes disagree about which of the partners we like better. Is there some formula we can follow to get this right?
Dr. Hurd replies,
The magic formula is this: You’re expecting too much.
Think about it. Why do couples come together? To some extent, it’s because opposites attract. People with different personalities are drawn together for what the other lacks, personality-wise. Nontechnical people are often drawn to technically competent ones. Empaths are drawn to thinkers. Outgoing people are attracted to wallflowers, etc.
One of the great things about a relationship is that you enjoy certain qualities in your partner that you might not possess yourself. There are always exceptions, but it stands to reason that any couple you encounter will include one person with more of the qualities you admire.
So here it comes (fasten your seatbelt): Your time is precious. Life should be fun. You (or your partner) are not obligated to waste precious moments with people whom you don’t enjoy. Of course, you can’t be entirely rigid about this, but if there are opportunities to do one thing with one member of the couple, then each of you might consider doing that. “Oh, you like macramé? I like it too, but Joe can’t stand it. Let’s whip up a hammock sometime while the others go shopping.” Of course you have to be careful not to deliberately exclude people or hurt their feelings unnecessarily, but Joe will probably be more than happy to go shopping after he hears about that hammock.
Where is it written that you must do everything as a couple? If you and your partner love your time together and don’t get enough of it, then fine. That’s not rigidity; it’s simply what you prefer. But it is rigidity when you do things because you feel you’re “supposed” to, and for no other reason. In business they refer to “thinking out of the box.” The same applies to personal relationships. Don’t box yourself in.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My girlfriend and I are pretty happy, but I often feel anxious and conflicted about everyday things. She has suggested that I consider psychotherapy, but I’m not sure what it can do for me. What should I expect if I decide to give it a try?
Dr. Hurd replies,
People go to therapists for all sorts of reasons. Though medication can temporarily lower your anxiety, therapy is always advisable for emotional conflict. It has nothing to do with “mental illness,” and often the presenting problem is simply…life. People sometimes need a “neutral” person with whom they can talk things out in order to gain a more objective viewpoint.
In my forthcoming book, Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference), I state that you pay a psychotherapist “not to care.” At first that may sound harsh, but if you think about it, it’s really true: If you want advice from someone in your personal life, you can get it for free. In fact, you can get uninvited advice from just about anyone who’s bossy or who needs to feel superior. It’s important to consider the source. What does the advice-giver get out of it? It might not be the most honorable of intentions.
A therapist—a good one at least—will not try to run your life for you. He or she will offer an objective assessment of what you’re saying. “It sounds like you really want to change jobs. But you seem conflicted because you don’t want to live with less income. You need to think about your priorities.” This sort of feedback helps the client think more clearly without being told what to do. By “not caring” about all the things that tend to upset mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, partners and spouses, therapists are in a unique position to be truly objective. You’re free to remove a therapist from your life at any time, so there’s no negative consequence to how you handle the feedback.
Therapy is not a medical procedure. A psychotherapist holds either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, is an M.D. and can prescribe medication. In a medical situation, you go to a doctor to remove symptoms with pills or maybe surgery. Therapists don’t fix you with surgery. They help you fix yourself by guiding and coaching you over a period of time.
I believe everyone should try therapy at some point. It might take a few tries to find the right match, but it’s not much more complicated than that. Pills may have their place, but five minutes with a doctor and his prescription pad will never be the same as quality time spent talking with a skilled psychotherapist.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.