When two or three events, in one day, seem to say the same thing, it is almost as if there is a message in your day.
Yesterday I saw a couple who had been together for 25 years, never married but, living as a married couple and as a family. They had originally come together in their twenties as girlfriend and boyfriend and accidentally made a pregnancy. So, they each suddenly found themselves in a family without really knowing each other, much less being in any way prepared for the responsibilities of marriage, home, and family. They, like many people, found themselves in a situation,- an intimate, demanding, consequential situation- without ever having made a decision to be in it. They had no courtship to speak of, no ritual to mark the beginning of their life together, and no time to work out the kinks in their couples union before suddenly having to deal with parenthood.
The result? Twenty-five years later: Two very unhappy people, with one grown son whom they both loved, and who were quite stressed in each other's presence. The woman had un-fulfilled dreams of higher education which somehow had never happened. The man had a vague sense of missing out on himself, on the fun of life and harbored a resentment for what seemed an undue life of burden.
So, they had their challenges but the real cause of their unhappiness was destructive patterns. Granted life and their unconscious choices propelled them forward at a fast pace in their youth. However, they never, in all those 25 years stopped the action long enough to think: Is there a way we can do this differently? Can I shift my attitude in some way that might contribute to more positive problem-solving for us? Why are we arguing over the same issues again and again and, how can we change that?
Now, with their youth behind them and their relationship in tatters, they are in my office seeing the destructive patterns they have developed over the years. One of their habits is to argue to win. This, of course, is about as far from listening to your partner as you can get. A communication mode that I observed in both of them was waiting for the other to finish, or even take a breath, only so that person could jump in to make their own point. There is certainly no "I" and "thou" in this type of exchange; there's no regard, and there is no experience of feeling understood. This has led to a pattern of mistrust, a pattern of blame, and a belief in being victimized.Feldenkrais class, the teacher made a statement about how if you move in a particular way, a way that may be unhealthy for your body, it becomes a pattern. I understood her to mean that until you have reason to question it (pain maybe?), it will be customary for you. I thought of my couple and how much disappointment and emotional pain they have suffered because of practicing something not healthy until it became the pattern.
Lest I leave you feeling discouraged by this story, I should add that, while, yes, I do have my work cut out for me (!) with this couple, there is hope:
+ They have enough commitment to come to counseling.
+ They are intelligent and willing to learn.
+ I have some things to teach them.
Patterns can be good. But your usual practice, although familiar, may not be your best choice. Patterns are worth questioning.
Have you ever reflected on what patterns you might have? Good or bad ones?