Being in the business of providing relationship counsel, you’d think I’d be saying the opposite. But even I’m up to here with reading about communication and sex and date nights.
People who read relationship advice are unhappy in the relationship they have. Duh. They stay that way, too, because if all that advice worked the problem would be solved and no one would need to write all those how to’s.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think relationship pain is dislodged by advice.
Saving a relationship is about more than a cartful of communication, sex, and date nights. All those things are necessary, to be sure, but too often the true reason for distress is rooted deep in each partner. And it’s portable, too. People arrive at a new marriage – and the next marriage and the next one after that — with all their luggage packed up and trailing behind.
Each of us is responsible for self-fumigation: get rid of the dead bugs, black mold, and outdated newspapers that are part of what trails behind us. The clutter comes from way, way back and is responsible for putting thoughts in our heads. Whether taught or told, exploring what we came to believe about ourselves, each other, and the world of relationships is not only an interesting exercise, but a necessary one.
You may decide that those spoon-fed automatic thoughts no longer fit. Be warned: challenging automatic thinking is lifelong work.
For example, when I see crumbs on the kitchen floor the automatic thought is David’s the one who’s been sloppy. And I’m the one who has to clean up the mess. Again. Children’s beliefs about themselves arise from what they’re taught by caregivers — parents, usually. The you-as-a-child won’t, can’t, challenge that thinking but you-as-an-adult can.
In the example of crumbs on the kitchen floor, the early message to me was that I was responsible for cleaning up a mess, whether I’d caused it or not. I grew up critical of myself and others – they made a mess I had to clean up – thereby maintaining the emotionally-reasoned automatic thought that the actions of others came down on me especially since I never ever make a mess.
Always being right is lonely. Thinking of myself as a “victim” created and perpetuated continual anger, disappointment, defensiveness, and resentment while bringing about the disregard I most dreaded.
And that’s just my baggage. Relationship advice is about the two of you only because each of you carries baggage into it – guaranteeing you stub your toe not once, but twice. I know, I sometimes still do.
No amount of relationship advice will budge that luggage until you unpack and put away your own stuff.
Kathe Skinner has been a Marriage & Family Therapist for over 20 years. Her private practice focuses on working with the baggage people bring to their lives. She and her husband-of-the-crumbs have been married for 30 years and share their Colorado Springs’ home with hooligan cats Petey and Lucy. You can read more about what’s behind Kathe’s work at www.coupleswhotalk.com where you can sign up for a free weekly curated newsletter.
copyright, 2016, Being Heard, LLC