Monica and Chandler (clearly not their real names if you are a Friends fan) are hard working 30 somethings who have been married for three years. They are both fit and good-looking, climbing the corporate ladder in higher education and oil and gas. If you saw them at a trendy restaurant in your area, you would guess that they are on top of the world and their big smiles and contagious laughter seem to confirm that. If you saw them at home, however, your thoughts of couple perfection would be shattered. Chandler takes his coat off and goes upstairs and plays video games up until the wee hours of the morning. Monica takes an melatonin and tries to sleep because she's already worried about the meeting she has tomorrow with the executives. They cannot remember the last time they went to sleep together, let alone the last time they had sex.
So what happened? It wasn't an affair, it wasn't porn addiction or binge drinking. It wasn't in-laws who butted in and caused trouble. It wasn't even that they worked long hours. No, it was just what happens to all of us at one time or another, particularly in the age of instant gratification on social media or web-browsing. It was just that they got lazy or less harshly, too comfortable. I see this every week in my office, and, if I'm honest, in my own living room with my husband and me. We all forget at times to pay attention.
I tell every couple that sees me the following story:
We are on Flathead Lake in Montana (go someday--it is gorgeous!) and our children are having a great time with their grandmother and we are taking a much needed break. We get on a canoe (But only because the water is almost still, the weather perfect and there's not a cloud in the sky. I hate water without being able to see the bottom.) and row into the crystalline lake. At some point we put the oars down and just visit, floating gently in the water. After a while, we decide to go back and the shore is so far away that I feel a bit panicky. And then just like that I think, "Wow. This is what marriage is like. You are coasting along and before you know it, you cannot see the shoreline." And it was there that I was clear that I will always have to pay attention in my marriage. Not that I always do, or always have, but I knew that if it was going to last and be fulfilling, one of us had to pay attention!
Back to Monica and Chandler. What brought them into therapy was that Monica began to notice that she was more excited to see her co-worker Joey (it couldn't be Ross because, you know, no.) than her husband. She had the courage to tell Chandler that that was the case, and she wanted to rekindle what they had before things got out of control. We talked about what habits they had gotten into, and what things they needed to change. After a month of meeting with me, they were more connected and excited about how their relationship had changed.
I don't often talk about clients in my blog (everything has been changed that could identify them), but once again I was reminded that we have to pay attention to our relationships. Ask yourself, if my partner was a plant, would that plant be dying or growing? Ask yourself this too; if I feel like I am withering away, have I asked my partner to do something so that we can get reconnected and begin to bloom again?